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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:
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.
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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.