By Joe Isenhower Jr.
Although statistics that Synod congregations reported for the end of 2003 show a rise in contributions and “weekday religion-class” attendance, “the real story is that membership is still declining,” according Dr. John O’Hara, research analyst for the Synod.
Baptized membership for the year, based on reports from 74 percent of LCMS congregations, stood at 2,488,936, or 23,778 fewer than for 2002.
That reflects a slight slowdown from the 27,331 decline in the baptized membership from 2001 to 2002.
The number of confirmed members reported for 2003 stood at 1,894,822, or 13,101 fewer than reported for 2002, which posted a decline of 13,026 from 2001.
O’Hara noted that the membership declines “continue a trend of the past 30 years.”
Contributions that members gave their congregations in 2003 totaled $1,256,382,217 — a record amount, and up more than $53 million than reported the year before. That follows declines of $13.8 million reported in 2002 and $12.1 million in 2001.
Last year, congregations kept more than $1.1 billion for their own use, up $44.9 million from the year before.
They sent $125.2 million on to “outside causes,” including the 35 LCMS districts, which then send funds to the national Synod. In 2002, they sent $117.1 million to outside causes.
Statistics for “weekday religion classes” showed increases last year. Including confirmation instruction and other education besides Lutheran day schools, which report their statistical information in the spring, those 2003 numbers are:
- Non-members in weekday classes — 26,568 (up 1,718 from 2002).
- Number of weekday religion classes — 4,243 (up 13).
- Students in weekday religion classes — 199,698 (up 4,500).
Also up are:
- Number of vacation Bible schools — 3,991 (up 23).
- Sunday-school enrollment — 471,492 (up 2,489).
- Average weekly worship-service attendance per congregation — 158.9 (up 2.5).
- Total number of congregations — 6,160 (up 18).
- Number of pastors serving Synod congregations — 5,281 (up 64).
O’Hara said the 74 percent of LCMS congregations reporting their statistics for 2003 was down 10 percent from 2002.
He said that one factor in that decline is that there was a “concerted effort” to get a higher response for 2002 as preparations were being made for this year’s Synod convention. Membership figures are used as the criteria for makeup of electoral circuits that choose the delegates for the convention.
Other statistics for 2003 that are down from those reported for 2002 are:
- Children baptized — 33,959 (down by 1,647).
- Children (teenagers) confirmed — 25,542 (down 1,857).
- Adults confirmed — 19,197 (down 2,309).
- Members gained from the outside — 38,399 (down 5,632).
- Number of Sunday schools — 5,330 (down 293).
The Synod’s Office of Rosters and Statistics compiled the statistics from forms that congregations filled out and mailed back to that office.
“As has been true in past years, the main reason we will never get agreement between the net membership change and the gains and losses reported by congregations is congregations that do not report,” O’Hara told Reporter. “For those congregations, the system automatically rolls forward their total membership numbers for the year that they last reported, but does not roll forward their detailed membership-change data.”
The 2003 statistics, including charts and tables with breakdowns for the 35 districts, will be printed in The Lutheran Annual for 2005, which Concordia Publishing House is scheduled to have ready for distribution before the end of this year.