By Joe Isenhower Jr.
With more than a third of the 6,073 LCMS congregations not reporting statistical information for 2006, approximate totals indicate that baptized membership Synodwide decreased by 22,867 (to 2,417,999) and confirmed membership fell by 13,876 (to 1,856,783) during the year.
On the other hand, total giving to congregations rose by an estimated $58,639,820 (to $1,355,458,558) for 2006, and the amount for work beyond congregations increased by about $6 million, compared with 2005. The average amount given during 2006, per-communicant member, increased by $36.76 over the previous year, to $730.
Comparing year-end 2006 to figures reported for Dec. 31, 2005, the numbers of children baptized, as well as teenagers and adults confirmed, also were down, although gains were recorded in the area of Christian education — particularly the number of children in weekday religion classes, the number of those classes, the number of vacation Bible schools, Sunday schools, and children enrolled in Sunday schools.
Average attendance at weekly worship services was 172.5 in 2006, compared with 164.2 in 2005.
To reach the approximate numbers, the Synod’s Office of Rosters and Statistics tallied up new information on 2006 reporting forms returned by congregations, adding figures carried over from previous years for the congregations not reporting.
The number of “back-door losses” — the number of adults removed from congregational rosters (not counting deaths and transfers) — for 2006 was reported at 37,413. That figure is 3,853 fewer than the back-door losses reported for 2005, although the fact that a lower percentage of congregations reported 2006 statistics likely affected that total.
“Professions of faith” are tallied only from reporting congregations. For 2006, that figure shows a decline of 2,475 (from 13,114 reported for 2005).
“The end result cannot be totally accurate,” Synod Secretary Raymond Hartwig said of efforts to obtain reliable statistics when more than a third of LCMS congregations do not report requested information.
“It would be really helpful if congregations consistently returned their statistical report forms,” he said, adding that statistics gathered for 2005 were boosted by “a concerted effort” to obtain accurate numbers that would assure more equitable representation by delegates at the 2007 Synod convention.
For that concerted effort, staffs of the 35 LCMS districts helped gather information from their congregations, compared with simply using the information from reporting forms and the carried-over figures for 2006.
The result was that 81 percent of Synod congregations reported their statistics for 2005, compared with 64 percent reporting for 2006.
“At the same time,” Hartwig told Reporter, “congregations are reporting new information that is very helpful and demonstrates the zeal for the Gospel that motivates congregations to do more to reach out in their communities.”
He said that examples of that zeal are “83 congregations known to be hosting satellite worship sites — an increase of 18 over 2005, and more than 300 congregations providing regular specialized worship opportunities — 117 to serve language or ethnic needs and 187 to serve the needs of the vision- or hearing-impaired.”
He referred to the information that congregations reported about their specialized ministries as the result of “a new special request that we intend to continue in years to come, which should be particularly helpful to persons interested in locating congregations that serve specific needs.”
Gene Weeke, the Synod’s director of Business Services (including the Office of Rosters and Statistics) added that although the new form for specialized ministries is not part of the officially-reported statistics gathered from congregations, the statistics office is considering including information from that form on the Synod’s Web site, “perhaps through the congregation-locator feature that offers information about individual congregations.”
Hartwig said that results of information from the 2,292 congregations that reported via the new “specialized ministries” form indicate that they conducted a total of 15,834 specialized ministries in 2006, including 2,125 Lutheran schools that they sponsor, 5,371 “other educational opportunities,” 4,873 “human-care efforts,” 2,157 “media efforts,” and 1,308 “ministries to special needs” such as those among the developmentally disabled, the elderly, and armed forces personnel.
“We’re excited about the possible benefits in providing this information,” Weeke told Reporter, “for congregations and for those seeking out congregations that offer such ministries.”
Hartwig added that in addition to statistical information from individual congregations, district presidents also report official information. For 2006, they reported 6,073 Synod-member congregations (29 more than 2005), as well as an increase in new church starts. For 2006, new church starts totaled 73 (23 more than in 2005), with 11 of those becoming Synod-member congregations by the end of 2006.
“Our year-end reporting process will benefit greatly from better response,” Hartwig said, “but much of the information we did receive from 2006 certainly provides good reason to rejoice and be glad for the blessings that the Lord of the church continues to shower on The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.”
Among official acts reported for 2006:
- 28,507 children were baptized (down 3,194).
- 21,493 teenagers were confirmed (down 3,079).
- 16,092 adults were confirmed (down 2,592).
In the Christian education category:
- 3,902 weekday religion classes (down 20).
- 184,983 students in weekday religion classes (up 49).
- 25,924 non-members in weekday classes (up 1,846).
- 3,847 vacation Bible schools (up 43).
- 5,183 Sunday schools (up 77).
- 425,499 enrolled in Sunday school (up 1,541).
Membership and attendance statistics for 2006 will be included in The Lutheran Annual for 2008, available from Concordia Publishing House by year’s end.
Posted Nov. 12, 2007