Reversing the LCMS membership decline: not just by having more children

Comments (32)
  1. Kyle says:

    This is both surprising and unsurprising to me. The latter because of the way our culture, and the world, is moving, and the former because I have spent many many hours, days, and week, months, even years searching for a place that is true to the Word. The LCMS doctrinal position, as a whole, is the only one that I felt I could consciously be 100% behind and supportive. I will be praying for the Synod.

    1. Mick says:

      Hi Kyle,
      You are so right; doctrine is everything!! You might want to check out the book “Has American Christianity Failed” by Bryan Wolfmueller. I am starting a Bible study based on this book soon, and it has some very insightful observations as to why sound doctrine is so hard to find now in mainline American churches. It is available through Concordia Publishing House, definately would recommend it! I was born, baptized, confirmed LCMS and find the teachings of our church body are even more important today due to our societal decline! (And no, I’m not an LCMS employee or CPH employee, but truth is truth, and this is what the LCMS teaches!)

  2. Cade Pippin says:

    The LCMS should look at the churches in Ft. Worth, TX. Between St. Paul and Peace Lutheran Churches, there has been tremendous success with growth, church planting, reaching out to Sudan immigrants, reaching out to Latin communities, a thriving school and preschool, service and medical missions abroad. The people at either church would be happy to share information to help other churches

  3. Norma Rosol says:

    I believe that it is extremely important to address apologetics within the church youth and even within it’s adult members. This is an area of weakness which allows the secular worldview to invade and infect Christians with doubt about their own unanswered questions. I know there are many out there that simply would not ask questions for the fear of looking ignorant or feeling like “less” of a Christian in front of their Pastor and congregation. I am a true believer that classes on apologetics should be included in every confirmation class and also intermittently for the congregants with questions being posed purposefully for those too afraid to ask.
    Thank you,

  4. Josh Peterson says:

    VERY glad to see nobody brought up the idea of seeker-sensitive churches, stronger youth programs, more ‘hip’ music, and praise bands.
    Whether we draw more or not is not even the point. The MAIN point is to stay faithful to the living/written Word.
    You don’t change the church to make it more attractive to the outsiders. You send out the believers into the world to make converts – THEN bring them into the church. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any kind of Sunday School lesson, church seminar, or sermon preached about how to evangelize. The Great Commission isn’t for pastors only – it’s for the sheep.

    1. Paul says:

      Some of us older pastors have seen some disappointing and arrogant attitudes and theologies rise in portions of our synod iduring the last 25 years. While we were taught to share the gospel in every possible manner, circumstance and condition, I hear young pastors today tell me that it’s not their job to evangelize in the community because they are shepherds of their flock alone. I’ve heard young pastors claim that evangelizing isn’t that important, because if God wants someone to be saved then they are part of the elect and they will be in heaven one way or the other anyway, and God doesn’t need me to do it. This is a twisted version of the doctrine of election, and frankly is laziness. Saint Paul tells us in first Corinthians nine, “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… to the week I became week, to win the week. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul is working his tail off to share the gospel day and night in every possible way as if souls we’re at stake.
      Some in our beloved synod put great effort on practicing ‘proper, elegant, historic, traditional, classic’ worship forms. Seminarians are taught today not to deviate from the hymnal in any way, while 40 years ago many of us were regularly using special worship services provided by synod’s own evangelism, stewardship, education, and other departments. These were biblical and well written, focused and relevant. Nine times in Holy Writ we read, “sing unto the Lord a new song! ” One of the reasons our churches are declining is that we are speaking in a foreign language to folks today. God’s Word has not lost any power, but we must use creative and relevant ways to bring God’s Word to this generation. One can hold onto God’s pure Word and still use some more modern worship forms. The congregations in our synod that are growing by leaps and bounds are generally the ones that use creative worship music and instruments. It is heresy to claim that one must use specific worship forms and instruments, vestments and genuflecting to properly worship our good and gracious God. There is a subtle Aryan arrogance flowing in our Synod by some who have confused the pure gospel with German traditions. We have churches and schools closing in the inner cities, purchased by a different denomination, and then thriving within a few years. And many of those new churches are proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes our traditions can get in the way of the gospel being heard by both believers and unbelievers. We make them jump over cultural hurdles and hoops that turn them away. We now have great new Lutheran, BIBLICAL conferences and workshops to help young pastors grow, such as our Best Practices conference, and Pastoral Leadership Institute. These and other training opportunities can bridge the gap between our wonderful and ancient gospel, and people and situations of the 21st-century. True wisdom is knowing what we must never change, and what must change as we reach a new generation of people for Jesus Christ.

    2. Josh Blankenship says:

      So the point isn’t to bring more people in and make more disciples, but rather to make sure we feel good about what we currently are doing? Not sure I agree with your stance on this.

    3. Mike Fogarty says:

      Josh I do not share your feeling of being glad at all. We are taught to serve not be served. As a past leader of an organization serving 18 churches many who have closed or combined to stay open. Serving our youth and young families like we do our older members is a must. Having more babies is not the answer to growth we would be growing if we just kept the youth born in the church membership.

      Service is the answer! You brought up music there is music that has been written after the 1700s that are just as pleasing to God! Bands can share the good word bring joy to praise and cause one to come and grow in the faith. There is no need to attack these things that people show their faith and want to share. These are all tools God gives us to use to come closer to him.

      Some churches say they only believe in faith healing and let their members die by things modern medicine can cure. Are they right or is modern medicine from God?

      Teach the word yes by all means. Outreach by all means. We have a sign now entering the mission field on our doors to remind us at our church. All the tools you mention can and are used and must be allowed to serve members as gifts from God. At times the church must change the way they share the word or just fade out. We are to share and show like a light on a hill, you seem to say to me. All tools can and should be used to serve.

  5. Michael Woon says:

    The LCMS should not concern itself with falling numbers. LCMS should concern itself with growing numbers – if the LCMS grew 5%, would that be enough? Why not 50%? Or 500%?

    If God wanted 2 million members to walk through our doors tomorrow, believe me, 2 million members would be waiting there before the sun was up. We have to ask, why isn’t God choosing to do that? Does He not care about the Church? On the contrary. How does God use members who leave our congregations to deliver to us faith in Him, in Him alone?

    The LCMS has the Word. When has that ever been insufficient?

    For every report the LCMS puts out on declining numbers it needs to put out two reports, when numbers are rising, focusing on why numbers aren’t rising fast enough. Otherwise, when growth occurs, it might grow content on a diet of American Evangelical spiritual food.

  6. Walther Rohlfing says:

    At 72 years of age I have observed one major change that is not being addressed. When I was in my teens the church had a very active youth group. Today the herding cat syndrome rears it’s ugly head. The kids have so many competing activities it is very difficult to get them engaged. If this continues church membership declines as they leave home and don’t feel any reason to attend church in their new community. As the chairman of our congregation board of youth I don’t see any support from the district or synod to address any of these concerns.

    1. Korrie Thomas says:

      Walther, I agree. We lose members sometimes because they know the importance of a youth group and we often have two few children to even form a youth group. Perhaps the answer is to ask churches in close proximity to one another to band together to put a youth program together. I would happily act as driver for our few youth to take them where they could connect with other LCMS youth but we need the Synod to get the ball rolling!!! My children are in their upper 20’s and their closest friends are still those they met in youth group at our little Houston church.

    2. Jennifer says:

      I agree completely! Too many churches fail to focus on the youth and keeping them engaged. They just confirm them and expect to see an absence from ages 14-25 in hopes they will one day return one day with their young families. Teens and young adults need a place and a purpose in the church. The church bodies that have made a place for these age groups have increased in numbers and the sense of community is amazingly felt through all ages.

  7. Donna Young says:

    Josh Peterson and Michael Woon I like your responses! Staying faithful to the living Word should be the focus. Our church is the constant in this crazy world. People may complain about church being the “same old thing” Sunday after Sunday but that’s the point. We have the living Word that is the “solid Rock on which we stand” and will not be taken away from us. We must continue to be examples in faithfulness.

  8. bill pruitt says:

    More and better Lutheran Schools! It’s been my experience that LCMS churches with the most vitality, focus and vision; and attract more new members, are those that incorporate a Lutheran Day School.

  9. Gary Timm says:

    “Noting that he is “amazed” by the “Synod rumor mill” to the effect that he finds “the answer to our decline of numbers in the LCMS is to have more babies,” Harrison responds in the March Journal.”

    I’m not sure what the “rumor mill” is but I was at the district convention two years ago where the second vice president of our synod told our convention that our decline is due to less births in our synod. My congregational leader and I looked at each other in wonder. I then said to him, as his first child had just been baptized, that he “needed to share this dilemma with his wife and tell her that the future of our synod depended upon them.” lol, this brave sole did exactly that and she just stared at him.

    Somewhere in the past 50 years, we stopped making disciples of Christ and instead focused on building members. Instead of focusing on growing numerically, we need to build deeper relationships with God, one another in the Body of Christ, and our communities. Numerical growth comes naturally as people experience Christ’s love and forgiving grace in the lives of every day faithful Christians. Sounds simple and in all honesty, it is. I fear our problem is we’re so busy trying to prove we’re right that we’ve lost sight of the God who has chosen imperfect people throughout history to forward the Gospel of His perfect saving grace and eternal life.

  10. Barb Foster says:

    After 76 years as a member of the LCMS, I am leaving to join an ELCA church. Why? Nobody has asked. Exit interviews for persons dropping out or transferring could yield important information. The real question is why no one seems to ask or to care.

  11. Trenton Clark says:

    I really think we need to be Lutheran-and know what that uniquely means-why be a confessional Lutheran? It’s such a wonderful freeing, scriptural faith.

    Why be an LCMS Lutheran?

    I listen to EWTN/ where is our EWTN? We need to come home, this is real. I feel a traditional bias and worry over saying–this is the true way- Catholics don’t worry about that- evangelicals don’t either.

  12. Gerald Werth says:

    Our greatest strength has always been God’s Word. Where is His word spoken and taught 5 days a week? In our Lutheran schools., We will again see growth when our synod, it’s pastors and our congregations support and promote our schools.

  13. Lüzia Trexler says:

    Solid doctrine is the treasure of LCMS, but Christ pointed
    Out that one does not hide the household lamp under a bushel basket, but sets it out on a stand to light the whole abode. There is more to that than just listening to a sermon Sunday after Sunday (which can breed a certain type of false piety). We, as a family, have lived in several places, in different areas of the country, and one common thing we have observed is an insular mindset, which is unwelcoming, and tends to depress receiving new members. What does it matter if you love each other, but not the others who come among you? Didn’t Christ say something about that, too?

    1. Jack W. Reinking says:

      Luzia, I agree totally with your “insular” description of a typical LCMS member. Shortly after my wife and I were married 46 years ago, due to a confrontation with my home church minister concerning her beliefs concerning baptism and communion, we left the LCMS and joined an evangelical congregation. We stayed in that denomination for almost 25 years before joining a large ELCA congregation. We came back to the LCMS 4 years ago and I feel as if the life is being drained out of me. I no longer feel the joy at knowing Jesus that I knew in those 30 years. It is almost like venturing into a black hole. The LCMS has a handle on theology and God’s Word but the laity is so caught up in liturgy and 16th century german hymns that we forget that we are the only Bible that an unbeliever will ever read. Who wants to be a part of such a joyless group?

  14. Greg Schalk says:

    Walther, I have to agree. If you don’t have a youth program that is active they will wonder. I totally agree with Josh that we need to stay strong but if we don’t have the youth in the future we won’t have adults to strengthen.

  15. Kirby says:

    Everyone’s answers match what all churches say at every level. Need to improve youth groups, need to recruit outside, need immigrants, need to change our message, and all are failing to stop declines in all sects. You know why? YALL ARE MISSING ThE MAJOR ISSUE! WE AREN’T HAVING KIDS! The church has to get back into celebrating families, that having large families is a beautiful thing, that the best way to grow and spread our great church is to create our own through creation of life itself. Just looking at my friends I grew up with, a large number have 1 or no kids at all. A few more have 2, and a very small minority has 3 or more. I feel like a pariah in society because I have a large family, that I choose to bring gods little blessings into this world but we constantly hear everywhere “are you a glutton for punishment?” “You know how that happens right?” “Man you got your hands full.” It’s like having a actual family is a hassle, a black mark. Our pastors have to start preaching the greatness of having large families, that it’s how god meant us to grow our church by having our own kids, to bring life and children to this world. We can and should bring in , try to evangelize as many cultures as we can to the LCMS but what is wrong with doing something that no other Churches in North America does, try to grow our own culture too. Celebrate when our own members have more than 2 children, not frown on it, feel a sense of shame as I and my family has, as have all large families I know have. That parents who have 1 kid that gets to spend a month in Tahiti is Oh’d and Awe’d , because they choose to spend money on travel instead of family in most cases. Yes I have friends who have 1 kid or none because of medical issues, they would die for a large family, but to celebrate families that knowingly add to our decline, that chose monetary reasons or travel over gods blessing (I know and have many friends, MANY friends that have choose the route of self first) is wrong. Address the decline from inside and we will solve our own problem.

  16. Jack W. Reinking says:

    Kirby, My parents had a large family by today’s standards(5 boys) We are all baby boomers so my family rearing days are over. My parents did their best to raise us to be good Lutherans, sending us to 8 years of LCMS grade school, confirming us, involving us in Walther League, etc. Of the 5 of us, 1 has passed, 2 are nominal lutherans, 1 isn’t sure what he is, and I feel trapped in my present LCMS church. I do agree that larger families will grow membership rolls but my concern anymore is: Do my children really know Jesus Christ? If we impart only our lutheran traditions but forget Christ, we are still in trouble. Jesus did not say, Go ye and make large families so the churches may be filled. He said, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. If we as committed lutherans became less lutheran and more Christian and wear the joy of His salvation on our persona so others can see it, our churches would begin to fill. We have an incredible free gift of eternal life through Christ through faith in Him. It is our job to share it in our communities. That, in my opinion, is where we fail. It has very little to do with larger families.

    1. Jerry says:

      Jack, Amen and Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Jesus said go into the world and preach/share the gospel to all creation. he didn’t say, go to church. he said you are the church. be the church. we are not obeying God by going and telling the good news. and social ministry is not an excuse for telling someone with care and love about the Jesus who came to this earth to give his life for you and me and provide the eternal hope we all long for. some will respond. but we have to tell them. may the JOY of the LORD and HIS GOSPEL so consume us that we can’t help but share it wherever we are. it’s the one thing we can;t do in heaven, share the gospel with a lost soul. 1 Peter 3:15 gives guidelines, gentleness and respect. Let’s go!

  17. John Joseph Flanagan says:

    Evangelizing and outreach are the path we should take as a Synod.
    However, we should be looking for more than numbers, lest we fill the pews but fail to build a faithful church. Smaller is not bad, as a remnant is what the final church will look like after all is said and done. Those who want to mix spirituality with philosophy, and stand on shifting sand, will rarely stay anyway. They just move on. For them, the Gospel is fine, but it is not enough. Jesus still loves them, but they really have no room for Him. It is the world where many hearts desire to be. We may have to downsize in the future, but then again…who knows? But the faith will go forward as God plans, and we need to focus on sharing the Gospel, and being embedded in our communities. It is about people, our faith, and being witnesses one soul at a time.

  18. What youth group did Paul organize? What snappy hymns did Paul write? What unreverent worship did Paul endorse? What false doctrine did he proclaim? The answer is obvious to us all; NONE! Paul preached the Word, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. He distributed the sacraments, defending them against erroneous use while explaining their importance to the life of a baptized child of God. And he defended sound doctrine while encouraging new pastors to remain faithful to the doctrine they received. This is what we are called to do, nothing more, nothing less. Follow Paul lead and churches will grow.

    1. Mike Fogarty says:

      Do you think Paul would want to use him to say gifts from God are not to be use because Paul did not use them? There are different gospels from different people to reach different people. Not to use the gifts God gives is short sighted. We need to serve and use all the tools he gives to serve his people. Like Josh and Rev. Byrd say the word and the message from God are the value but there are many ways to share and reach out without casting stones at others valued gifts to do so.

  19. Roland Rushman says:

    I am an LCMS member in a small church in western Nebraska. I am 50 now and have held every office our church has but most recently as elder. Our pastor and I would stay until the early morning ours after voters meetings and attempt to figure out the cause of church apathy especially for those members age 14-30. We always concluded it was a poor job of parenting……Please hear me out. A few years ago my youngest daughter, who was attending Concordia Seward, felt inspired to make a difference. She said dad I would like to start an evangelism team at church…what do you think? I said praise God. Go for it! Our pastor was serving three parishes at the time and was unable to attend but a group of us decided to get together and discuss possibilities. When we met the first time with glad hearts the pastors wife attended as well. As discussion started pastors wife immediately stated that pastor was very hurt that he wasn’t included. He later confirmed this, stating this was “his calling and not ours”. A youth program was to have evolved from this effort. Our pastor is loving and speaks the truth to us if we are in church. He encourages no community evangelism and has given up on the youth in his own words. I know now it wasn’t bad parenting at all….It is us and our pastor. I realize now that apathy comes from the fact that we are not allowed to share in Gods work and we do nothing to teach the danger of that. Now we are running low on voters and money. The evangelism team died and we have no youth program. He says nothing matters but that he preach the word even if our church dies. I feel so helpless as most of the membership sits in a trance during Sunday service and looks at me like I have two heads if I dare to question. I have met with the pastor and he gives me no response. If you are a pastor and are reading this or a president please help. Pastors please admit that we all share in the responsibility of declining membership. I in no way wish to stereotype. I have visited growing LCMS churches lately but they have an entirely different approach to Shepherding and evangelism. With sincere love to you all! Roland Rushman

  20. Michael Baun says:

    I believe LCMS membership decline will continue as long as pastors remain in fear of open dialog about the issues that confront the church. Furthermore suppressing dialog about interfaith participation and effectively keeping Luthern pastors out of the public sphere as chaplains will only accelerate its decline. This was done after the Sandy Hook shooting and no revision has been made. It gravely concerns me that the leadership of the LCMS does not engage in productive dialog with either its members or pastors. It is a sad state of affairs when even the president of the LCMS can not recognize his own negative impact on the ability of both pastors and members to engage in evangelism as a result of these theologically lazy guilt by association arguments present in the constitution of the LCMS.

  21. Mike Fogarty says:

    The feelings of the two members above need prayer. I share their age and feelings about our leadership. We have tried to lead our churches to serve the younger members of our churches. After attending many youth gatherings and taking families to the gatherings to see the future and get excited. Many of those children and families have stayed involved and active in our church. The leadership of the church national body needs to be more active and open at the gathering. Are politics above service?

    We have tried to have our youth and young adults take ownership in our church and feel that their input matters. We have a very good pastor who is leading us. At being over fifty years old and being one of the youngest in adult Sunday school makes one wonder though.

    Younger members have taken ownership of events our church serves the community with and work very hard.

    We had mega youth group where we invited churches district wide once a month to a youth group so those churches with few youth had an option. After three years and growth we were ask by DCEs to take it over and they let it die after only three months.

    Now district will not even provide address labels to restart it.

    1. Michael Baun says:

      ” After three years and growth we were ask by DCEs to take it over and they let it die after only three months.”

      I truely hope this is not a pattern.

      If youth were truely abandoned like this after getting connected I would say that a large portion of them will not be attending an LCMS church as adults. Not meeting the needs of their people in this case will be directly connected to a decline. Such a great opportunity apparently blown by so called well educated professionals that appear to have been less capable than mere lay education people. If this is the result perhaps professional youth educational workers was a step in the wrong direction for the LCMS and needs to be revisited.

  22. I hear the free-flowing frustration and sincere striving for solutions, such as more youth involvement, instruction in apologetics, help with evangelism, encouragement for larger families, more involvement from our leaders and culturally relevant instruction in the Word.

    In all of these responses, I hear a genuine love for the Church.

    Let’s look at a couple more things.

    We (including me!) need to be encouraged to frequently and fervently pray for the holy Christian Church, including the members of our local parish, both young and old.

    Families (including my own), need training in Christian parenting. None of us parent as well as we could. Families (including my own), need instruction in modeling Christ and His beautiful Bride, the Church. If the home is the Church in miniature — then the home is the ground zero of our attention.

    In our Lutheran schools, our Lord has given us a wide-open door to homes and families — not only to those in our parish, but also to those families in our community. By the grace of God, our local parish is able to support our small school enough so that we are able to offer grades K-8 tuition-free to any child, Lutheran or not, churched or not. The response of our community has been amazing. Unchurched families who cannot afford tuition are overjoyed that their children are learning about Jesus. We had five baptisms in the last few months, including one father. Sadly, we had to turn a few students away this past fall, because we had to limit class size.