In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Friday, September 07, 2007

Decline in ELCA Membership: Analysis

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.


Blogger LoieJ said...

1. Keillor wasn't brought up Lutheran.

2 He may have been Lutheran for awhile, but he isn't Lutheran now.

I could always tell from his hymn choices that they weren't Lutheran, so I suspected as much, then I read about him.

So....he may "know" us as an astute observer, but not from the inside.

I don't know how to put links in comments, but refer to for 9/6/2007 and read the last item.

I think that some of our churches which have been in declining neighborhoods start to "do something" when they realize that they need to do something to save themselves rather than to spread the Good News. [Not to say that is easy in an urban environment.] Maybe God's power doesn't reside with those who work from selfish motives.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Anna Sorenson said...

I believe Keillor is a presbyterian.

I am, unfortunately, in a church that would rather die than sing in Spanish (even once in a while). Meanwhile, the neighborhood is full of people who need to hear about God's grace, especially when our society is so slow to be gracious and welcoming to them.

2:50 PM  
Blogger LoieJ said...

wikepedia: Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota, and raised in a family belonging to the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian denomination he has since left. He is six feet, four inches (1.93 m) tall and is of Scottish and Norwegian ancestry. Keillor is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He is currently an Episcopalian[1], but has been a Lutheran[2]. He often uses his religious roots in his material. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in English in 1966. While there, he began his broadcasting career on the student-operated radio station known today as Radio K.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Scott Alan said...

Regardless of whether Keillor is actually Lutheran, he is certainly American Lutheranism's most recognizable public face - and your critique is right on. Part of our problem is location: living in Minnesota means dealing with Lutheranism as the local civic religion, and frankly our generation has little time, patience or inclination for such things.

10:04 PM  
Blogger LoieJ said...

more on GK:

10:17 AM  
Blogger David said...

I suppose as it has to do with Scandinavian culture where you live, it is the German strain of Lutheranism that seems to be stuck in low gear in other places.

I think that over all the Church is healthy, ut we do need to realize that the mission field is not only in the third is also in our back yard.

7:39 AM  

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