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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Pulling together or fraying apart?

Yes, there is good news for being Lutheran

It has been a hard couple of years for the ELCA, from congregations, to synods, to churchwide offices in Chicago. A few hundred of the 10,300 congregations have left the ELCA since the 2009 Churchwide Assembly changed the denomination's policy to allow gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve on its roster. And the rift continues to divide congregations and synods.

Exacerbated by the economy and these conflicts, mission support dollars to congregations and the wider mission of the church continue to decrease. And now ELCA World Hunger, long impervious to swings in mission support, is also facing lower levels of contributions. For two years cutbacks in staffing and programming by the national expression of the ELCA, culminating in a reduction of 65 people this past October, has seen an attrition of about one-third overall in the workforce.

Synods, campus ministries, congregations and all institutions of the ELCA have been similarly challenged.

These difficulties are mirrored by almost all other denominations as well, especially the "mainline" Protestant denominations. Dwindling economic support and membership trends seem to tell the same story. Some suggest denominations as we have known them are coming to the end of their life cycle. Nearly all of the largest Christian denominations in this country are declining in membership. This has been going on for some time. A few see the ELCA as having run the course of its own demographic.

We've gone from building education wings for the boomer babies to a situation where most synods report a third to half of their congregations are "at risk" of not being able to afford full-time pastors. Unable to expand beyond our Germanic and Nordic niche, we are seen to be fading away.

Denominations are viewed as an anachronism from a former time when Christendom rose before the sun, when denominational loyalty could be assumed, when the surrounding culture supported the churchgoing of the next generations (released time, blue laws and the like).


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