Congregations report more 'specialized ministries'

The increase in the number of “specialized ministries” reported by congregations was one positive note in the Missouri Synod’s 2008 statistical report, as 4,236 congregations (up 579 from 2007) responded to a “specialized ministries” questionnaire.  Tallies indicate that they conducted 36,440 such ministries in 2008 (up 7,174 from the previous year). 

These included 16,241 “educational ministries” (up 2,809), 11,389 “human care” efforts (up 2,435), 5,563 “media efforts” (up 1,215), and 3,247 (up 715) “special needs” ministries, such as among the developmentally disabled, the elderly, and armed forces personnel.

In addition, some 318 (up 73) congregations reported providing 658 “specialized worship services,” including 219 (up 48) serving language or ethnic needs, and 439 (up 98) to serve those who are vision- or hearing-impaired.

The 2008 reports show that baptized membership fell by 45,735 (to 2,337,349), with confirmed membership dropping by 31,164 (to 1,803,900), continuing a 30-year trend in declining church membership experienced by most Protestant denominations.

Dr. John O’Hara, the Synod’s senior research analyst, cautioned that much of the observed loss may be due to “roll cleaning,” as increasing numbers of congregations try to “correct” their records. (A line on the congregation form allows for “administrative adjustment” where congregations reported losses exceeding 14,000 in 2008.)

The economic recession that has plagued the country since early 2008 was a contributing factor in an almost $57 million decrease (to $1,343,086,275) in total contributions given to congregations by Missouri Synod members, while giving for local expenses fell by an estimated $55 million (to $1,223,607,882).

The average amount given during 2008 per communicant member is estimated at $744.55 — a decrease of $18.24 from the previous year.

O’Hara noted that, “Given the extended financial crisis, strains on local congregational giving may well have continued into 2009.” 

The number of member congregations in 2008 fell by 54 (to 6,021), with 102 new church starts — bringing the total number of congregations to 6,123. The number of ordained clergy serving in parishes fell by 14 to 5,359.  The number of clergy serving in other capacities rose by 39 to 842, while the number of retired clergy increased by 84 to 2,809.

The average attendance at weekly worship services reported in 2008 was 155.2, compared with 165.7 in 2007, mirroring long-term attendance declines that have been reported in both Protestant and Catholic churches in recent decades, said O’Hara.

The statistical reports are sent out annually to all congregations in January to report data from the previous year.  Results are compiled from February through May by the LCMS Office of Rosters and Statistics. 

Gene Weeke, LCMS director of business services, said this year’s higher percentage of returned forms (73 percent compared to last year’s 67 percent) was accomplished “with the assistance of the district offices, plus follow-up steps, including phone calls, to contact all congregations in order to obtain their input.”

Missouri Synod Secretary Dr. Raymond Hartwig said a “concerted effort” was made to have more reports returned because “the membership statistics for 2008 will be the basis for delegate representation to the 2010 LCMS convention.”

In the area of Christian education, congregations reported declines in both the number of classes and total enrollment in weekday classes and Sunday schools.  One bright spot in the report, noted O’Hara, was the nearly 1,600 increase in the number of non-member children in weekly religion classes, to nearly 28,000.

For 2008, the number of professions of faith (which are basically “lapsed” members reinstated into membership) rose by more than 1,000 to 11,504, while the number of “back door losses” — adults removed from congregational rosters (for reasons other than death or transfer) declined slightly to 41,753.

Among other official acts reported for 2008:

  • 29,039 children were baptized (up 1,126).
  • 21,079 teenagers were confirmed (up 406).
  • 14,112 adults were confirmed (up 243).

In the area of Christian education for 2008, reported were:

  • 3,571 weekday religion classes (down 301).
  • 169,644 students in weekday religion classes (down 9,050).
  • 27,869 non-members in weekday religion classes (up 1,596).
  • 3,544 vacation Bible schools (down 267).
  • 4,839 Sunday schools (down 357).
  • 371,204 enrolled in Sunday schools (down 43,862).

Posted Nov. 11, 2009

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