Contributions Rise while Membership Drops in Lutheran Church

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod reported a net membership drop of some 23,778 members, and a gain of $53 million in contributions for 2003
( [email protected] ) Nov 04, 2004 06:35 PM EST

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) reported a gain in financial contributions but a loss in membership in 2003. The report, which was released on November 3, 2004, analyzed different statistics including the number of confirmed members, baptized members, weekday religion-class attendants, pastors, and the total contributions from members and congregations, to measure the health of the 2.5 million-member denomination.

According to Dr. John O’Hara, research analyst for the Synod, the most significant finding from the study was the fact that “membership is still declining” and is continuing “a trend of the past 30 years.”

Baptized membership for the year, based on reports from 74% of LCMS congregations, was 2,488,936 – 23,778 fewer than 2002. The number of confirmed members also stood at 13,101 fewer that that of 2002 at 1,894,822 for 2003.

Meanwhile, despite the loss in membership, contributions peaked last year at $1,256,382,217 - up more than $53 million than reported the year before.

In other measures, the results were mixed.

The statistics for the “weekday religion classes” showed a higher level of attendance that 2002: Non-members in weekday classes -- 26,568 (up 1,718 from 2002); Number of weekday religion classes -- 4,243 (up 13); and students in weekday religion classes -- 199,698 (up 4,500).

The number of Vacation Bible School attendants also increased to 3,991, up 23 from 2002. Sunday school enrollment was up as well, standing at 471,492. The total number of congregations went up to 6,160 (up 18 from 2002) and the number of pastors serving in those congregations went up to 5,281 – up 64.

However, in other areas, such as the number of children baptized and the number of confirmations went down. Children baptized went down by 1,647 to 33,959; children confirmed dropped 1,857 to 25,542; adults confirmed went plummeted to 19,197, dropping by 2,309; members gained from the outside also dropped by 5,632 to 38,399; and the number of Sunday schools went down 293 to 5,330.

According to O’Hara, one of the main reasons for the inconsistencies in the net gains and losses are due to the lack of total participation from the LCMS members.

"As has been true in past years, the main reason we will never get agreement between the net membership change and the gains and losses reported by congregations is congregations that do not report," O'Hara said. "For those congregations, the system automatically rolls forward their total membership numbers for the year that they last reported, but does not roll forward their detailed membership-change data."

The 2003 statistics, including charts and tables with breakdowns for the 35 districts, will be printed in "The Lutheran Annual" for 2005.