Lutherans Report Increase of 161K Members Worldwide

Member churches of the Lutheran World Federation reported a worldwide net increase of 161,792 individual members in 2008.

Most of the increase came from Asia, but member churches in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean also contributed to the growth, according to the annual LWF membership report released on Friday. LWF churches in Europe and North America, however, reported a drop in membership.

Overall, LWF now boasts a global total of nearly 68.5 million (68,484,091) people – 0.24 percent more than the 2007 figure. The membership total of the small number of non-LWF Lutheran churches also rose about 0.24 percent, reaching 3,509,479 in 2008.

Africa, the continent with some of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, saw nearly a 1 percent growth with an addition of 158,047 new membership for a total of 17,287,277 over the past year.

LWF's largest African member church, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, reported an increase of 143,329 members (a 2.9 percent increase) to reach 5,012,486. It remains the second largest Lutheran church in the world after the 6.8 million-member Church of Sweden.

But in terms of the largest growth by proportion in Africa, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) saw its membership soar by 37.5 percent in the past year to a total of 673,229.

In the same time period, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya also reported strong growth of 17.6 percent, or the addition of 15,000 new members for a total of 100,000.

LWF member churches in Asia reported the largest number of new members in 2008. More than 270,000 Lutherans were added, an increase of 3.26 percent.

The largest Lutheran church in Asia is the Protestant Christian Batak Church in Indonesia, which reported a 6.7 percent growth or an addition of 250,000 members for a total of 4 million.

Lutheran churches in Europe, meanwhile, are struggling, with LWF member churches reporting a decline of 203,025 or 0.55 percent over the past year for a current total of 36,934,349. The world's largest Lutheran church, the Church of Sweden, declined last year by 73,740, or 1.1 percent to 6,820,161.

The most drastic drop, however, was reported in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France, where a 74 percent loss (29,600 people) left its membership at only 10,400 members.

Notably, however, there were spots of growth in Europe, including the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, which registered the highest increase in the region – around 27 percent or 20,000 for a total of 95,000 members.

Like Europe, LWF-affiliated churches in North America also reported declines in membership. In North America, membership overall fell by 1.6 percent (79,107 people) in LWF member churches.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the LWF's third largest member church, registered 4,709,954 members in 2008, a decrease of 64,249 or 1.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada last year had 161,142 members – a decline of 13,358 or 7.7 percent.

The annual LWF statistical survey was calculated based on reports from the organization's 140 member churches, 10 recognized churches and congregations, and one recognized council.

LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. It was founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden and currently has 140 member churches in 79 countries around the world.

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