Evangelical Lutheran Membership Decline Continues With 79,653 Drop

Continuing on a decline in membership, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has reported another decrease in baptised members since 2004.

|TOP|Numbers in the USA's largest Lutheran denomination have dropped by about 1.62 percent (79,653 baptised members) with a current figure of 4,850,776 in 2005.

The decrease was larger than last year's one percent drop and the denomination has drawn similar conclusions on the cause of the lowering figure as it had last year.

Parochial reports indicated that the decrease in the number of new members accounted for the loss in membership along with "roll cleaning" – the removal of long inactive members from the rolls of congregations. According to the annual report, 208,436 members were cleaned out in 2005. There were also fewer baptisms of children and fewer affirmations of faith in the past year.

Additionally, 22 congregations with a total of 14,083 members withdrew from the ELCA in 2005.

|AD|According to the report, about half of the decline occurred between 2002 and 2005 – as heated debates over homosexual ordination and same-sex marriage blessings divided Lutheran leaders and churchgoers. In August 2005, the measure that would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active homosexuals while allowing exceptions for persons in committed relationships was rejected. At the same time, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson made clear that gays and lesbians are welcome in their church.

The last gain in ELCA membership occurred in 1991, with a net gain of 4,438 baptised members. Since then, losses have largely increased from 10,609 in 1992 to 54,496 in 2004.

The ELCA report pointed out a pattern that is not new among many U.S. church bodies during this period.

United Methodists, for the first time since the 1930s, have dropped in U.S. membership to just under 8 million. A preliminary report from the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration released in June showed that total U.S. membership decreased to 7,989,875 – a 1.05 percent drop – in 2005. And church attendance in the same year was 3.34 million, which was said to be the lowest level in reported history.

The Southern Baptist Convention – the largest U.S. Protestant group – recently reported a slight increase in 2005 to 16.27 million but a decline in the number of baptisms by 4.15 percent.

Lillian Kwon
Christian Today Correspondent

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