Membership among Lutheran churches in the last two years increased by 570,000, bringing the number of Lutherans worldwide to nearly 66 million by the end of 2003.
Regular statistics provided by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) indicate an average .9 percent growth from the 65,387,677 Lutherans registered in 2001 to the 65,957,685 recorded by the end of last year.
The LWF did not publish membership figures for the year ending 2002.
The highest regional growth (9.3 percent) was recorded among churches in Africa, where an additional 1,115,141 Lutherans were registered, pushing the number of Lutherans on the continent up from 11,953,068 in 2001 to 13,068,209 by the end of 2003.
The most significant increase percentagewise was recorded in the Lutheran Church of Rwanda (LCR), where membership more than doubled in one year. When the LCR joined the LWF in 2002 it had 7,600 members, and that figure increased to 17,000 by the end of 2003.
In Asia, Lutheran Christians increased by 2.5 percent since 2001, to 7,323,736. Lutheran membership in Latin America and the Caribbean remained stable, with a slight increase of 1,788, bringing the total to 1,128,335.
In Europe, membership in Lutheran churches fell by 640,467 over the past two years — from 36,642,084 in 2001 to 36,001,617 by the end of 2003.
The largest LWF member church worldwide, the Church of Sweden, counted 7,144,838 members by the end of 2003 — a decrease of 255,077 from 2001.
The number of Lutherans in Germany also fell, to 13,263,869 by the end of 2003 — a decrease of 385,445 in the past two years.
In North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recorded fewer members — 26,042 of them — bringing its total to 5,099,877, according to the LWF.
Membership figures for 2003 for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod were not yet available at press time. But at the end of 2002 the Synod’s membership stood at 2,512,714 — a decrease of 27,331 from the previous year.
The LWF, based in Geneva, Switzerland, represents 136 member churches in 76 countries, totaling 62.3 million Lutherans worldwide. The Missouri Synod is not a member of the LWF.
Posted Feb. 25, 2004