Overall, the ELCA has been loosing a steady trickle of members in the last decade, yet some congregations are growing. Some of the growth can be explained by population influx to booming cities and towns, but not all. Some congregations have simply found creative ways to serve and reach their communities.
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“I saw a little brown church in a pile of weeds. Literally.”
That’s what David P. Beard found when he arrived at Trinity Lutheran, the church in Pleasanton, Calif., that he’s led since 1991. After mowing the grass, hanging a sign and raising a cross, he and the congregation—which had 100 worshipers at best on Sundays—started talking about their future.
|Dave Beard, a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Pleasanton, Calif., baptizes the Erickson family including John, 50, and Ian, 11. When Beard arrived at Trinity in 1991, 100 would gather on the best-attended Sunday—now more than 400 gather most Sundays. |
Trinity, founded in 1966 in the eastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, began focusing on worship, Bible study for all ages, and what Beard calls a “yes” attitude in allowing members to pursue ideas for ministry. “I have to at times scratch my head because underlying all of this is the Spirit’s work,” he said. “I don’t know which key words or which things brought people in, but they were eager and ready to jump in and put their time and energy into the ministry.”
As the high-tech and dot-com booms swept across the state, the population swelled in Pleasanton and the surrounding areas exploded. Sunday attendance rolls grew and worshipers came from as far as 20 miles away.
The church, where about 430 people now gather for weekly worship, dedicated its new sanctuary in 2001. The weeds that stood outside the church on Beard’s first visit have been replaced by greeters, who wait outside the doors to welcome all who come.
“I have to give credit to the established members because they’ve embraced the changes,” Beard said. “They didn’t want it to be the little brown church anymore.”