Membership decline in the ELCA
Primary data from Loren Mead, “Transforming
Congregations for the Future,” with more
recent statistics added.
By Tim Thompson
Originally posted Aug. 31, 2013, at The Feral Pastor. Republished with permission of the author.
Yes, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Yes, “membership” is not the best or only indicator of congregational vitality, much less faithfulness. Yes, for some people this is old, old news. Yet I continue to find people are generally unaware of the decline we are experiencing in my tribe, and those that have a sense of it don’t readily have a sense of scale to go with it. So, let me provide the visual (at left) that has haunted and energized me since I first began to attend to it about 10 years ago.
As a percentage of the U.S. population (which has continued to grow year after year) this shows a trend of decline, unbroken for half a century.
However people may parse the causes and debate the responses, it’s been clear to me since the get-go that a response is needed. And given the “inertia” stored in a system with such a long-term shape to its life (spanning at least two generations) I’ve always expected that the response will need to be very, very significant if it is to “turn things around” in any meaningful sense.
My own response has been to explore the possibilities for Christian missional community outside the core conventions of congregational life: pastors, property, programs and presentational (large group) worship. This led me initially to folks in the house church movement, and more recently to those who are focusing on making disciples per se.
They have a nifty saying: If you plant a church, you may or may not get disciples. But if you make disciples, the church will arise.
So, I am now moving my top ministry priority into directly discipling and equipping leaders. Not just “church leaders” in the typical sense. Leaders who will directly disciple and train others. I am learning how to do this from the folks at 3dm, as I have found their material and approach to be excellent, and their theology to be wonderfully lean and hugely resonant with Lutheranism.
Find a link to Tim Thompson’s entry on the blog The Feral Pastor at Lutheran Blogs.
You might also want to read:
Acting ecumenically for the sake of the world
Going to church