Challenges Facing Many Historic Lutheran Congregations

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Many historic Lutheran congregations are faced with multiples challenges: migration of families to the outer suburbs, declining membership, declining revenue, aging facilities with high-cost capital repairs, competition from mega-churches that offer every conceivable program and service, church neighborhoods that change from residential to industrial with dilapidated housing, and an aging congregation with little ability to repopulate itself.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Evansville, founded in 1841, faces all of these challenges. The discovery of a collapsing sanctuary ceiling in August 2010 led to a period of reassessment, an examination of all possible options, and a final decision to stay in the central city area and rebuild its 140 year old sanctuary. Here are two reports from the local television station, WTVW:

Video segment talking about issues in the church

Many churches across the country are facing challenges. From financial problems to low attendance to high maintenance costs. It’s a familiar story at Trinity Lutheran Church in Evansville.

Trinity was the first Lutheran church in Evansville. It has gone from being a thriving church to a church with an aging congregation and an uncertain future.

It was the mother church of Lutheran churches in Evansville back in the day.

“We’ve got some pictures of the church when it was full and it was just a joy to see all those people,” Helen Lurker said.

84-year-old Helen Lurker has been a lifetime member at Trinity Lutheran Church, which is located on West Illinois Street near downtown. Lurker says since she was a little girl, she has always looked forward to going to church, a place for worship, youth group, and socializing with her friends. She says it was important to wear her Sunday best.

… (click for more)


Return to worship in sanctuary after repairs

As Local 7 reported earlier this week, Trinity Lutheran Church is facing some challenges. But even with declining attendance and a faulty roof, the 171 year old Lutheran church has still managed to keep the faith. Sunday, the church had its first service with a brand new ceiling. Members and visitors of Trinity Lutheran filed in for their first service in the church’s sanctuary in almost two years. A cracked ceiling has forced the congregation to worship in the cafeteria. Church members enlisted the help of contractors and structural engineers. The $60,000 repair is similar to a suspension bridge. Since the ceiling was 80 years old, Pastor Noland says repair was necessary.

Due to the damage, members say attendance has slipped. The church has around 200 members but was averaging close to seventy when the sanctuary was inaccessible. Without the sanctuary, Trinity has been unable to conduct funerals, weddings and worship services. Members are hopeful attendance and participation will rise now that the ceiling is repaired. Church members say the new ceiling is fantastic and they are happy to worship in the sanctuary again.

(Click for video)

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Challenges Facing Many Historic Lutheran Congregations — 3 Comments

  1. a pastor of a 130 year old congregation I understand the issue of deferred maintenance. Blessings to the people in Evansville

  2. Thank you, Rev. Noland. I appreciate your wisdom.

    When I’m faced with challenges and rough times, I recall this gem from Sasse, which is picture framed over my desk.
    “The humble preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the simple Sacraments are the greatest things that can happen in the world. For in these things the hidden reign of Christ is consummated. He himself is present in these means of grace, and the bearer of the ministry of the church actually stands in the stead of Christ. That certainly puts an end to any clerical conceit. We are nothing. He is everything. And that means that the terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with as well. It is nothing but doubt and unbelief, for Christ the Lord is just as present in His means of grace today as He was in the sixteenth or the first century. And ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ is just as much His today as it was when He first spoke that promise to the apostles. And it remains so into all eternity. Do we still believe this?” Hermann Sasse, The Lutheran Doctrine of the Office of the Ministry in The Lonely Way: II, St. Louis: CPH, 1992, pg. 139.

  3. Dear Norm, TK, Pastor Weinkauf, and BJS Readers,

    Thanks Norm for posting the links to the television report someone sent you. When you asked permission to post them, I forgot to send you the link to the local newspaper article on the same subject. Here is the link to that:

    You can add this link to the post if you want.

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    I hope that our situation is of some encouragement to pastors or congregations that might be in similar situations or who might be tempted to “throw in the towel” for other reasons.

    Every situation is different, but the common question every congregation with serious challenges needs to answer is: “Do we care enough about the GOSPEL – as found in Lutheran preaching, teaching, and sacraments (Smalcald Articles III, iv) – that we will keep working together and spending our time, talents and treasures on this particular Gospel ministry even in difficult times?”

    My congregation’s answer was a clear YES – after a year of heartfelt soul-searching. It was not an answer that I coerced or persuaded them into. It was a decision they came to themselves, after looking carefully and considering all possible alternatives. I am sure that our Lord will bless their decision; in his time and in his way.

    May you all have a blessed Adventide!

    Yours in Christ, who came, and who will come again, Martin R. Noland

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