I just stumbled upon this
story from the Chicago Tribune. It highlights the story of one Church in Chicago that was once one of the largest congregations in the ELCA. Now, it's membership has dwindled. The paragraph I took most note of was this:
The shuttering of North Austin Lutheran points to a challenge facing many Lutheran churches in American cities. While the ethnic makeup of many neighborhoods changed, churches focused on preserving the buildings and traditions of their European forebears rather than altering their liturgy to accommodate new cultures.
This is perhaps the first time I have ever heard this acknowledged publicly. With all the debate within the ELCA on various topics, most of the people blame our decline in membership on not believing in the Bible enough, or on our too liberal (and in some cases, too conservative) stances on social issues.
Could this perhaps be the real reason? The Chicago Tribune seems to think so:
That has contributed to an overall decline for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Since forming in 1987, the ELCA has steadily lost members, dropping from 5.3 million to 4 million in 2007. Empty churches have closed or consolidated with other congregations.
On a related note, today I'm having lunch with a co-worker who is not Lutheran. He is asking me to try to explain some of the basic tenants of Lutheranism to him. I'm comfortable doing so, but I realize that I have a lot working against me. Lutheran theology is not (or should not be) related to a culture or an ethnicity. Lutheran theology speaks to folks who do not descend from northern Europe.
I'm also working against a performer I like. It's possible that Lutheranism's most public face is Garrison Keillor. I really enjoy his show, but I don't think he represents us well. He is entertaining because he stereotypes us. And people believe that stereotype. Heck, we believe it and we try to emulate it. With his descriptions, it's no wonder that our membership is declining. We don't sound like we believe in anything, except false humility, according to Keillor.
What can we do? How do we understand who we are as Lutherans? Why are we Lutheran? I think these are questions that we are going to have to deal with if we want our church to make real impact on people's lives.