The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is fairly typical of the many older churches in America these days. I recently looked at some ELCA "quick facts" about membership and clergy and discovered that the ELCA has 4.9 million baptized members, making it the eighth largest church grouping in America. (Catholics are number one, with 67.2 million members, while Southern Baptists are second with 16.4 million members.) But only 2.3 million of the ELCA members, i.e., less than half, are communing and contributing members, a far more important category it seems to me. What is even more telling in these numbers is that the average weekly attendance in ELCA churches: 1.5 million, or only 30% of the total membership. There are 10,585 congregations in the ELCA thus the average ELCA congregation on Sunday morning has 142 people present. There are 17,696 clergy in the ELCA, which comes out to about 1.65 clergy per church, still a fairly significant number it seems to me. Only 54,000 of the ELCA members are African-Americans, while 38,000 are Hispanics and 22,000 are Asians. So, very simply put, the ELCA is a dying, predominantly white (and mostly more liberal) church. It is a church that appears to still be seeking for its soul in many ways. Declines in membership are normative and the politics of sexuality threaten the very future of the ELCA. For all the talk of mission the denomination promotes these days it still does not plant many new churches. As I am getting to know more about the ELCA I have discovered that it shares in all the post-denominational problems that threaten the future of all the older historic Protrestant churches in America. And, like so many mainline churches, the ELCA does not have a way to renew pastoral training unless it is done in the approved seminaries. There are some wonderful pastors and professors in ELCA congregations and schools. We ought to pray for these folk as they work for the renewing of this large, but declining, church family.

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  1. Adam Shields November 21, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    According to this article ( only 37% of Southern Baptist are in church on an average Sunday, so I am not sure that this is such a shocking statistic. Using the same idea (total average attendance divided by number of churches) SBC has only 138 people at the average church on Sunday. Even our “healthy” denominations are failing.

  2. John Armstrong November 22, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Sadly Adam you are so right. But we remain asleep to these facts. It seems the Lutherans who pay attention to the “real” facts are few in number but then so are those in the much more conservative groups too.

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