A look at the declining membership of the ELCA

August 15, 2008 · 80 comments

The ELCA released a news report this morning regarding the annual membership census. The data for 2007 shows “a decline in membership of 64,247 and a decrease of 22 congregations from 2006″. As this table shows, membership in the ELCA has been in steady decline since it was created in late 1980s.

Looking at tables is all well and good, but I’m a visual learner, so I decided to make a couple of graphs to put things into perspective. Using the data from the aforementioned table, the first graph shows the total “baptized membership” of the ELCA from 1987 to 2007.

You can clearly see a significant decline in membership over the last twenty years — but keep in mind that in the same time frame the ELCA also lost 685 congregations. If you lose churches, you’re going to be losing members. At the same time, I certainly don’t believe that the 685 fewer churches account for the entire loss of membership during these years.

The second graph shows the yearly change in membership as a bar graph.

The 1990s were up and down in terms of membership, but since 1999 — and even more so since 2002 — the ELCA has been losing lots and lots of members.

I can speculate as to why this is (and I certainly wouldn’t be the first), but I’d like to hear your opinions. Does the data surprise you? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!

  • Pastor Dave

    oh please. Every bit of scripture is not of equal value. And all of you who say you don't pick and choose are hypocrites. We all are hypocrites. Otherwise, we'd all eat kosher, none of us would eat shellfish, we wouldn't wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, and we certainly wouldn't charge interest on loans. We hold the words of Jesus to have more value than other parts. Let's get the logs out of own eyes, stop judging others and judge ourselves, and focus on evangelism. I don't care who you are, if you really care about people you will share the gospel, not just talk about it but do it. The problem is that we don't take the great commission seriously. If we actually focused on mission, if we actually loved people, we wouldn't have a problem no matter what our politics. If we really follow the sermon on the mount, we'd see that it's about grace and about good relationships with each other, not about rules and judging. We can play the rules and judging games, but if that's our focus, we condemn ourselves. And if we pray, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, and we don't forgive, then we cut ourselves off from forgiveness.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • NixonisLord

    If your church is so unconcerned about numbers, why does your presiding bishop Hanson talk about the ELCA as "the largest Lutheran body in North America"? Clearly he hopes to gain some credibility from size.
    You know you constantly say such things as "Most Americans support labor unions." ; "Most Americans want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."; "Most people in the developed world have government-funded health care." If majorities are so terrible, why quote them-or do you quote them selectively? Are you either too stupid to realize what you're doing or are you just too lazy to check on yourself?
    And yes, the Fundiegelicals do the same things all the time. Which means that you and they deserve each other. Which probably goes a good way to explaining why the fastest-growing group in US religion is "None of the Above", especially among those under 30 years old, more than 1/4th of whom belong to this group.

  • PastorW

    Umm…maybe it has to do with the fact that the ELCA leadership and many pastors and congregations have embraced a "progressive" agenda that is at odds with the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and Lutheran Confessions. God will not bless an unfaithful church.