Archived Sections, National Lutheran News

ELCA giving climbs while membership declines

Nation’s largest Lutheran body is patterning other denominations.

The country’s largest Lutheran denomination is not quite as large as it was a year before. At the same time, its members are contributing more dollars through its congregations than ever before.
Income in 2005 for the 10,549 congregations within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approached $2.7 billion, according to statistics compiled by the ELCA Office of the Secretary.
Total receipts amounted to $2,676,901,588 — an increase of 2.94% or almost $76 million from the previous year. The 2005 increase was more than the 1.79% growth experienced in 2004 and the 2.45% growth in 2003. In the 2002-2005 period, congregation receipts grew nearly $226 million.
Of the total congregational income, $1,846,578,404 was received in regular, unrestricted offerings — up $47,296,985 or 2.62% in 2005, compared to a more than three percent increase in 2004 and a nearly four percent increase in 2003.
Funds held by congregations in endowments and investments almost matched regular giving in 2005. Congregations held $1.87 billion in savings and investments, endowments and memorial funds — an increase of $78,788,575 or 4.39% from the previous year.
The average regular giving per confirmed member in 2005 grew to more than $598 for the year, an increase of 4.81%. The increase in 2004 over 2003 was 3.85%.
Total disbursements by ELCA congregations for local operating expenses amounted to $1,795,642,179. That represented an increase of $67,328,140 or 3.89% over 2004.
That was the good financial news. On the downside, regular “mission support” — monies passed from congregations to the ELCA’s 65 synods and to the churchwide organization to support the national and international ministries of the denomination — decreased 0.12%, following a three-year decline of 3.07%. Mission support funding for 2005 was $130,323,202. Regular mission support was $130,490,038 in 2004 — down from $131,538,299 in 2003 and $133,204,219 in 2002.
Synod-related “special benevolences” decreased by almost 5.95% or $1,092,214 to $17,244,535. Income for community benevolent causes increased $1,176,031 or more than 3 percent to $38,117,762 in 2005.
Continuing a multi-year trend in the ELCA, and one mirrored by other Lutheran church bodies and many other denominations, membership is still in decline.
The denomination rep-orted a baptized membership of 4,850,776 in 10,549 congregations in 2005, according to the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary. That figure represents a decrease of about 1.62% or a reduction of 79,653 baptized members since 2004, he said.
In the past 15 years the ELCA baptized membership has decreased about 390,000 from 5,240,739 members reported in 1990.
About half of the decline occurred between 2002 and 2005. The combined decrease for these four years resulted in a decline of 249,101 baptized members, according to annual reports from congregations compiled by the ELCA Office of the Secretary.
Parochial reports indicated the loss was due to a decrease in the number of new members, the disbanding of 31 congregations and “roll cleaning” in many remaining congregations. Roll cleaning resulted in a loss of 208,436 members in 2005 following a loss of 192,825 members in 2004. Those reductions occur when long inactive members who indicate no interest in continued participation are removed from the rolls of congregations.
Twenty-two congregations with a combined baptized membership of 14,083 withdrew from the ELCA in 2005. One congregation with membership of 111 was removed.
The average number of people in worship on Sundays decreased slightly in 2005, Almen said. A total of 1,439,747 or 29.68% of all baptized ELCA members participated in worship each week.
Average worship attendance, an indicator of active participation by members in congregations, has fluctuated in the ELCA between 30- 31%.
Confirmed membership in 2005 decreased by 49,039 to 3,636,948. Communing and contributing membership, which demonstrates active participation, decreased by 48,276 to 2,256,700 in 2005. That followed a decline of 44,879 in 2004 for a two-year total decline of 93,155.
A gain in ELCA membership last occurred in 1991, with a net gain of 4,438 baptized members that year.
For 2005 in the ELCA, accessions by baptism, affirmations of faith and transfers from other ELCA congregations declined:
* 3,498 fewer baptisms of children — 67,652 in 2005, down from 71,150 in 2004;
* 3,360 fewer affirmations of faith — 53,961 in 2005 and 57,321 in 2004;
* 3,201 fewer transfers from Lutheran congregations — 76,518 in 2005 and 79,719 in 2004.
There were 6,764 adult baptisms in 2005 — down from 7,168 in 2004.