The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


ELCA membership down, giving steady, while diversity up

From 2007 to 2008, the number of ELCA congregations dropped from 10,448 to 10,396, according to the summary of congregational statistics (parochial reports) recently tallied. The report also revealed the loss of 76,069 members.

The annual report tracks everything from deaths to ethnicity, from giving to worship attendance.

Average worship attendance is one of the items that gives ELCA Secretary David D. Swartling pause—1,330,709 (28.71 percent) of members attend weekly worship, down 31,411 from the previous year when it was 1,362,120 (28.92 percent).

Good news came in categories related to giving and diversity.

Total receipts for ELCA congregations exceeded $2.7 billion in 2008, dipping 2.64 percent from 2007. But average giving per baptized member actually increased slightly, continuing an upward trend from 2000, Swartling said. Total assets of ELCA congregations remained $20.6 billion, virtually unchanged since 2007.

“Despite the challenging economic times that began in 2008, ELCA members continue to be faithful stewards of the resources God has provided,” Swartling said. “Our challenge in these turbulent times is to find innovative ways to translate the asset wealth of our congregations into enhanced ministry.”

The reports from 2008 also indicate that 3.35 percent of ELCA members are people of color or people whose language is other than English—a slight increase from 3.20 percent the previous year.

“The number of congregations reporting more than 5 percent multicultural membership has increased by almost 40 percent since 2000,” he said. “More and more congregations are coming to appreciate their calling to be more intentionally inclusive.”


Barry Anderson

Barry Anderson

Posted at 11:45 am (U.S. Eastern) 9/30/2009

How about an extensive churchwide study of why ELCA membership and attendance have both been dropping for years, and are now in steep decline?  Why are so few people joining?  Why are so many leaving?  Where are they going & why?  The information we find may not be pleasant, but they may be worth knowing.  As of now, we can only guess; we need the information if we are to address the issue intelligently.

David Daggett

David Daggett

Posted at 11:04 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/13/2010

I believe a part of the issue of declining membership in the ELCA has to do with organizational structure. Certainly Bishop Hanson and synod bishops have been very clear in their call for change to mission but, unfortunqtely there seems to be a huge disconnect when it comes to action at the local level. There simply appears to be no human accountability within the overall ELCA structure.   If more local pastors and more congregational councils would actually embrace the guidance of leadership beyond the walls of their church building, then perhaps God's mission for His Church would once again bring health-and the natural growth which accompanys health-to the churchwide organization.  

Too many congregations hide under a thin veneer of clever mission statements or annual smorgasbords to "prove" they are "missional".  The term "country club" has been used to describe attitudes in such congregations and sadly, local pastors and church councils too often prefer to take the well worn, predictable road rather than risk change. 

The choice for an increasing number of church members and others who see this hipocracy is to either attempt to change the local system or just find another congregation that puts more emphasis on lifestyle rather than on labels.  

Part of the answer to the decline in attendance then, rests in how far the churchwide organization is willing go in affecting change to ineffective leadership and obsolete policy at the local level. 

Really, considering what is at stake here, why not allow synods to get a little more agressive?  With the extraordinary giftedness and leading of the Holy Spirit, there is no question in my mind that more synod involvement in local congregations would bear much fruit, and in short order.


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