Evangelical Lutheran Church Loses 55,000 Members in 2004

The decrease is not new to the denomination. In the past 14 years, the ELCA lost about 300,000 baptized members. It reflects a trend seen in most American mainline denomination.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost nearly 55,000 members, continuing the downward trend that began in the church 14 years ago.

The ELCA, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, has a membership of 4,930,429 in 10,585 congregations, according to a new report on 2004 figures released this week. This figure marks a decrease of about one percent – or 54,496 baptized members- from 2003.

The decrease is not new to the denomination. In the past 14 years, the ELCA lost about 300,000 baptized members, according to Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary. More than half of the decline occurred in the last three years; the church lost 169,448 members since 2002.

According to the ELCA news service, the loss was because of a decrease in the number of new members, the disbanding of 40 congregation, and “roll cleaning” in many congregations. Roll cleaning was adopted by many churches in 2003, where they would take inactive congregant names off their list of members. This process accounted for a loss of 192,825 members in 2004 and 181,022 members in 2003.

The report also showed that of the 4.9 million m4mbers, only about 30 percent – or 1,474,767 members – participate in worship each week.

The downward trend in ELCA is part of a larger trend of mainline churches losing its members and influence in recent decades. While the historic mainline churches, such as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the ELCA, grew rapidly in the mid 20th century, membership rates began to dwindle and fall in the 1980’s and 90’s.

For the ELCA, the last time membership actually rose was in 1991, with a net gain of 4,438 members. Losses in baptized membership for previous years were: 53,081 in 2003; 61,871 in 2002; 26,043 in 2001; 23,749 in 2000; 28,557 in 1999; 6,830 in 1998; 2,308 in 1997; 9,517 in 1996; 8,559 in 1995; 12,752 in 1994; 21,783 in 1993; and 10,609 in 1992.

A table summarizing membership statistics since the ELCA was formed in 1988 is at http://www.ELCA.org/co/news/table.html on the Web.