If there’s a bright spot in the Synod’s statistical report for 2005, it’s that “back-door losses” — the number of adults removed from congregational rosters (not counting deaths and transfers) — have declined by 2,453 members. That figure dropped from 44,219 in 2004 to 41,766 in 2005.
But LCMS membership and contributions from members to congregations also declined, as did the number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students, according to 2005 congregational statistics reports.
Baptized membership fell from 2,463,747 in 2004 to 2,440,864 in 2005, a drop of nearly 23,000 members. And confirmed membership in 2005 was 1,870,659, a decrease of 9,554.
LCMS Senior Research Analyst Dr. John O’Hara attributes the loss of members to a “continuing trend” that is affecting most mainline Christian denominations.
In the 1950s and ’60s, churches saw a “natural increase” because families were larger, O’Hara noted. Today’s families are much smaller, and societal norms regarding religious participation have changed, he said.
“The expectation that you went to church [every Sunday] isn’t as prevalent as in the ’50s,” said O’Hara. “You have to work harder to get the people in the front door.”
The downward trend in membership and Sunday-school students — in spite of a rising U.S. population — also is a sign that “we’re not reaching as many people as we could reach,” he said.
Membership figures for 2005 were based on reports from 81 percent of the Synod’s 6,144 congregations. Nineteen percent did not provide information on membership, so figures from their previous reports were used to compile the data for 2005.
Also down are contributions from members to congregations, which fell $10,945,272 — from $1,307,764,010 in 2004 to $1,296,818,738. Those figures do not include contributions members give directly to LCMS entities.
The shortfall of nearly $11 million in 2005 is due primarily to the “under-reporting of contributions,” says O’Hara, who estimates that some 29 percent of congregations did not provide that information.
LCMS Secretary Dr. Raymond Hartwig, who supervises the Synod’s Office of Rosters and Statistics, which compiles the information, says it’s “less than helpful” when congregations choose not to report — a phenomenon that occurs every year. And, he says, “it’s a little puzzling, since we’ve simplified the forms to the extent that it would only take a few minutes to complete them and return them.”
Every three years, the Synod’s national office asks district staffs and circuit counselors to contact their own congregations in an effort to get the forms returned because “delegate representation at the coming convention depends on the statistics we receive,” Hartwig said. “Our [return] goal is 100 percent, and one of these years we’re going to get there.”
According to the 2005 report, of the nearly $1.3 billion congregations received in contributions, they gave $120.2 million for work beyond their own ministries. This “work at large” total includes money forwarded to the 35 LCMS districts, which then send a portion to the national and international work of the Synod. Congregations sent $3.2 million less for “work at large” than in 2004.
In 2005, the Synod had 6,144 congregations served by 5,343 pastors. The number of congregations declined by seven, while the number of active pastors increased by 20. Average attendance at weekly worship services was 164.2 in 2005, compared with 173.6 the previous year.
The number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students all fell between 2004 and 2005, according to congregations. But the number of adults gained by “profession of faith” grew — from 12,878 to 13,114, an increase of 236.
Among the official acts reported:
* 31,701 children were baptized (down 1,150).
* 24,572 teenagers were confirmed (down 753).
* 18,684 adults were confirmed (down 469).
In the Christian education category:
* 3,922 weekday religion classes (down 230).
* 184,934 students in weekday religion classes (down 13,120).
* 24,078 non-members in weekday classes (down 2,582).
* 3,804 vacation Bible schools (down 181).
* 5,106 Sunday schools (down 224).
* 423,958 enrolled in Sunday school (down 27,456).
Membership and attendance statistics for 2005 will be included in The Lutheran Annual for 2007, available from Concordia Publishing House by year’s end.
Posted Aug. 31, 2006