GENEVA - Membership among Lutheran churches in the last two years increased by 570,000 putting the number of Lutherans worldwide up to nearly 66 million by the end of 2003. Regular statistics produced by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) indicate an average 0.9 percent growth from the 65,387,677 Lutherans registered in 2001 to the 65,957,685 recorded by the end of last year. In 2000, Lutheran churches worldwide included nearly 64 million people. The LWF did not publish membership figures for the year ending 2002. The 136 LWF member churches, including eleven recognized congregations and one recognized council, totaled nearly 62.3 million (62,297,025) people by the end of 2003, compared to nearly 61.7 million in 2001. The number of LWF member churches increased from 133 in 2002 to the current 136. This figure includes 133 churches with full membership in the LWF and three associate member churches. Membership in Lutheran churches that do not belong to the LWF decreased by around 22,400 to the current 3,660,660 worldwide.
Membership in African Lutheran Churches Increases by More Than 1 Million
The highest regional growth (9.3 percent) was recorded among churches in Africa, where an additional 1,115,141 Lutherans were registered, pushing the number of Lutherans on the continent up from 11,953,068 in 2001 to 13,068,209 by the end of 2003. Membership in LWF churches there grew in the same period from 11,896,817 to 12,984,282. The most significant increase percentagewise was recorded in a relatively young member church, the Lutheran Church of Rwanda (LCR) whose membership more than doubled in one year. When the LCR joined the LWF in 2002 it had 7,600 members, and that figure increased to 17,000 by the end of 2003. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi had a similarly high increase from 25,000 members in 2001 to 50,000 by the end of last year.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zambia grew by over 61 percent to reach 5,350 while the Lutheran Church of Nigeria increased membership by 50 percent to 120,000 by the end of last year. With an additional 673,730 members in the last two years, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, the largest LWF member church in Africa, recorded the highest increase in numbers pushing its membership up to 4,033,413. The Malagasy Lutheran Church now has 250,000 new members, pushing its membership up to 2.5 million. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) now has 609,093 members, an increase of 29,093. Membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania remained unchanged at 2.5 million.
LWF Vice-President for the Africa region, Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta attributed the growth of Lutheran churches in Africa to overall change sweeping across the continent. "The politicians call it 'Africa Renaissance.' We in the church see it as a re-awakening of the African spirit which was crushed by slavery and colonialism, and ownership-taking of our Christian and biblical heritage [that was] received in very difficult circumstances and situations," remarked the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN). Kameeta said he was "very happy and proud" about the increase in membership, and challenged the continent to "carry out into the world and especially Europe, the Christian message from the African point of view, faith and experience." He concluded, "This is indeed our century and it is now also the Kairos."
36 Million Lutherans in Europe, Church Membership Down by 640,000
There were 36,001,617 Lutherans in Europe by the end of 2003, representing a decrease of 640,467 from the 36,642,084 recorded in 2001. Membership in LWF churches on the continent went down by 642,342 to reach the current 35,959,982, while non-LWF Lutheran churches registered 1,875 new members in the last two years.
The largest LWF member church worldwide, the Church of Sweden, included 7,144,838 members by the end of 2003, a decrease of 255,077 from 2001. Membership in the third largest LWF member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, went down by 6,297 to 4,600,246. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark counted 4,526,693, a decrease of 5,942. The Church of Norway had 3,794,000 members, a decrease of 6,000.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland registered an increase of 1,045 pushing its membership up to 249,456 by the end of last year. Membership in the Lutheran Church in Ireland, an LWF-recognized congregation, increased nearly threefold from 1,104 to 3,068. The Lutheran Council of Great Britain registered 33 percent growth and now has 120,000 members.
Finnish Bishop Dr Eero Huovinen, LWF vice-president for the region of the Nordic countries, noted that the Scandinavian region had traditionally been an area where Lutheran church membership figures remained stable. "The Lutheran churches of the region have been able to serve and witness faithfully among the respective peoples," he said.
There was a decline of 9,000 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania in the past two years, putting its membership at 21,000. The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria now has 334,801 members down by 6,105, while the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania registered a decrease of 1,289 and now has 15,057. An LWF-recognized congregation, the Lutheran Church of Belgium: Arlon and Christian Mission, more than doubled membership from 305 in 2001 to 809 by the end of 2003.
Further Membership Decrease among Lutheran Churches in Germany
The number of Lutheran Christians in Germany stood at 13,263,869 by the end of 2003, a decrease of 385,445 in the past two years. Germany has the highest number of Lutherans in one country. In 2001, Lutheran churches there had 13,649,314 members compared to 13.87 million in 2000. The country's biggest Lutheran church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover registered the highest decline in the last two years, 166,241, pushing its membership down to 3,127,000 by the end of 2003. The Evangelical Church in W|rttemberg had 2,346,879, a decline of 103,121, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia had 479,298 members, a decrease of 35,282.
Membership in the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church went down by 21,018 to the current 2,212,722. A decrease of 21,000 was registered in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony, which now has 916,000 members, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick with 427,000 lost 13,000 members in the last two years. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oldenburg had 472,000 members, down by 12,000, while the Evangelical Church of Pomerania had 122,300, a loss of 6,983 members. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schaumburg-Lippe registered a decline of 1,500 and now has 64,500 members.
Membership figures remained unchanged in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (3,710); Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria (2,750,000); Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (40,000) and the Church of Lippe [Lutheran Section] (38,000). The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany had a steady membership of 2,000 but the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church had a decrease of 300 pushing its membership down to 37,460. Neither of these two churches holds LWF membership.
LWF Treasurer Oberkirchenrat Peter Stoll from Stuttgart, Germany, attributes the decrease in membership among German churches to the demographic changes there. He considers the effects on east German churches as dramatic. Another reason, Stoll says, is that people are leaving the church, which is a particular problem in urban areas as well as in northern Germany. Population migration from east to west and, to a lesser extent, from north to south is another. Stoll points out that the Lutheran churches in southern Germany have sustained stable membership figures, and that losses due to people leaving the church are largely compensated by the migration.
Increased Membership in Asian Lutheran Churches
The number of Lutheran Christians in Asia increased by 2.5 percent in the last two years. Of the total 7,323,736 Lutherans there, 7,200,069 belong to LWF member churches. Membership in the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church in India increased by 100,000 to the current 800,000, while that in the Gutnius Lutheran Church - Papua New Guinea rose by nearly 50 percent to reach 138,000 by the end of 2003. An increase of 15,885 in Indonesia's Protestant Christian Church in Mentawai pushed the membership up to 38,211.
The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church in India recorded 4,403 new members to reach 107,997 by the end of last year. Membership in the Chinese Rhenish Church Hong Kong Synod rose by 2,000 to the current 14,000 while the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore increased by 865 pushing the membership up to 6,865. The Lutheran Church in Singapore had 929 new members, increasing the total to 3,929.
The Lutheran Church of Australia registered 75,100, a decrease of 9,900 in the last two years. The Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church in India now has 133,000 members, a decrease of 7,000 while the Lutheran Church in Korea lost 541 members, pushing the total down to 2,584.
Stable Membership in Latin America
Membership in Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean region remained fairly steady in the past two years. A slight increase of 1,788 in the last two years put the total in the region to 1,128,335 out of which 847,165 belong to LWF member churches.
Membership in the LWF-member church, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Brazil, rose by 1,085 to reach 715,085 while that in the non-LWF church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazi, increased by 2,620 to the current 222,508. The Evangelical Church of the River Plate had 45,000 members, a decrease of 2,000. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Venezuela had a sharp decrease of 1,917 putting the total membership down to 2,233.
Slight Membership Decrease in North American Lutheran Churches
North American Lutheran churches lost 84,179 members in the last two years.