ELCA Reports Biggest-Ever Drop in Membership

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America witnessed its biggest-ever drop in membership last year, according to a recently released analysis.

By the end of 2009, ELCA membership stood at 4.5 million – 90 thousand less than the year before, reported the ELCA Office of the Secretary and ELCA Research and Evaluation. Before the latest drop, the biggest loss was 79 thousand – a drop witnessed in 2005.

The ELCA congregation count, meanwhile, was recorded as 10,348 – 48 less than the year before. The largest-ever drop in the congregation count was recorded in 2004 – a drop of 72.

Despite the losses, the reported total assets of ELCA congregations was found to have grown in 2009 by 1.2 percent to $20.9 billion.

And average giving per baptized member grew 2.8 percent in 2009 to $492, reported ELCA secretary David D. Swartling.

"During these challenging times, ELCA members have continued to be remarkably steadfast in their giving," remarked Swartling to ELCA's official news service.

"[A]nd many ELCA congregations remain surprisingly healthy from an economic perspective," he added.

Also included in ELCA's report was the average number of people in worship in ELCA congregations, which declined slightly from the previous year.

A total of 1,289,967 people, or 28.39 percent of baptized ELCA members, attended weekly worship in 2009. In the previous year, 1,330,709, or 28.71 percent of baptized members, attended weekly worship.

Like other mainline denominations, ELCA has witnessed a steady decline in membership. In 1987, the denomination reported a membership of 5.3 million and more than 11,000 congregations.

Despite the losses, ELCA remains the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The next largest, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, reports a membership of 2.5 million.

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