Reporter — More LCMS congregations return statistics report

Found on Pastor Matt Harrison’s facebook, a link to a Reporter article with the comment “Read. Weep. Repent. Lord have mercy upon us.”


The number of Missouri Synod congregations that reported their annual statistics increased from 3,953 for 2010 to 5,289 (from 64 percent to 86 percent) for 2011.

The 22 percent increase in congregations submitting reports provided better statistical information and an improved snapshot of the Synod compared with past years, explained the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of the Synod.

“Having statistics from more congregations provides a better understanding of what takes place in congregations as a whole,” he said. “While a greater effort was made to obtain these reports, it may also be that the 2010 convention’s bylaw change declaring these reports to be ‘expectations of membership’ is prompting more congregations to respond.”

While the 2011 report shows a slight (2.05 percentage) loss in overall membership, it also highlights an increase in official acts, such as Baptisms and confirmations.

In 2011, congregations reported that:

  • 28,627 children were baptized (up 5,163).
  • 20,883 teenagers were confirmed (up 3,113).
  • 15,770 adults were confirmed (up 3,549).

The number of professions of faith (“lapsed” members reinstated into membership) increased by 1,480 (14.62 percent) to 11,604, but the number of “back-door losses” — adults removed from congregational rosters (for reasons other than death or transfer) — increased by 7,080 (19.6 percent), to 43,209. Overall, baptized membership fell by 46,728 (to 2,231,858) and confirmed membership decreased by 32,502 (to 1,731,522).

The report also shows members’ contributions increased by 1.9 percent, with the average congregation reporting that its income from all sources exceeded its expenses, despite the recent recession and rising costs.

In 2011, LCMS members gave their congregations $1,376,155,314, up $371,099 in total contributions. Giving for local expenses increased by $1.25 million (0.10 percent) to $1,255,443,938 and the average amount given per-communicant member was $795, an increase of $15 from the previous year.

The number of member congregations in 2011 fell by 13 (to 6,145), although the long-term trend over the last several decades shows that the total number of congregations has not decreased in that span of time, according to Gene Weeke, director of Business Services for the Synod, in a review of the report at the Synod’s Board of Directors August meeting.

“It appears that closing congregations does not significantly impact the overall number of members,” he added. “In other words, significant declines in membership are not due to church closures.” He also said that there are numerous opportunities for mission and growth as the LCMS currently has no congregations in 28 of the 100 fastest growing U.S. counties, as identified by the 2010 census.

The report shows that the number of ordained clergy serving in parishes was up by 195, to 5,564. The number of clergy serving in other capacities fell by 51 to 579, while the number of retired clergy decreased by 192, to 2,736.

The average attendance at weekly worship reported in 2011 was 141, compared with 153 in 2010.

The increase in the number of “specialized ministries” reported by congregations was another positive note in the report, as congregations indicated that they conducted 45,063 such ministries in 2011 (up 1,950 from the previous year).

These included 19,381 “education ministries” (up 477); 14,455 “human care” efforts (up 818); 7,061 “media efforts” (up 405); and 4,166 (up 250) “special-needs ministries,” such as among the developmentally disabled, the elderly and armed forces personnel.

Some 443 congregations reported providing 909 “specialized worship services,” including 308 (up 25) serving language or ethnic needs, and 601 (up 29) to serve those who are vision- or hearing-impaired.

The report showed that both the number of Sunday-school classes and the number of students attending those classes decreased. Congregations reported the following in regard to Sunday schools:

  • 4,893 Sunday schools (down 51).
  • 355,945 enrolled in Sunday schools (down 7,444).
  • 1,185 weekday religion classes (down 3).
  • 82,655 students in weekday religion classes (down 1,544).
  • 18,940 non-members in weekday religion classes (down 1,304).
  • 3,520 vacation Bible schools (down 42).

Statistical report forms are sent annually to all congregations in January to report data from the previous year. Results are compiled from February through May by the LCMS Office of Rosters and Statistics.

Statistical information for 2011 will be included in the 2013 Lutheran Annual, available by year’s end from Concordia Publishing House.

Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lakeside Lutheran Church, Venice, Fla.

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


Reporter — More LCMS congregations return statistics report — 10 Comments

  1. This is interesting, but I am having trouble interpreting it.

    One thing that jumps out with clarity is the big drop in the number of Sunday schools and VBS’s. I find that extremely troubling. I can believe that drops in birth rate as well as other less innocent factors lead to a reduction in the number of children in churches, but not to have Sunday School or VBS at all is terrible for any congregation. So pretty much anytime the number of Sunday Schools is not right up there with the number of congregations, that’s bad.

    The rest of the numbers are more difficult to interpret with certainty. If there is a 22% increase in the number of reporting congregations, then what would be an apples to apples comparison between the remaining statistics? Has anyone looked at the reports of just the congregations that reported in both years, and compared those? Those would reliably show changes in membership and other factors.

    Or alternately, one could normalize the raw numbers in 2011 vs. those in 2010 by dividing through by the number of reporting congregations, perhaps–that depends on whether and how the 2010 and 2011 data were used to extrapolate to the Synod as a whole.

    I sense that there is a lot of useful information here, but that it needs more background information and calculations to really interpret it.

    In the meantime, though, stats aren’t everything. We need to be about our Father’s business, regardless of our statistics, and to pray that God’s Name be hallowed–kept holy among us also.

    “How is God’s name kept holy?
    God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

  2. @Carol Broome #1


    I serve a dual parish in NW Minnesota. One mid-size congregation of 500+ and the other small (less than 50 members). The larger church is in town, the smaller in the country. The smaller congregation has only a couple of members that are school-age; almost all the rest are well over 50 years of age. That congregation stopped having its own Sunday School before I was called (and I have been here since 1999) and instead sends its kids (when there are any — many years there were literally no members who were not confirmed) to the sister congregation in town for Sunday School, confirmation, and VBS. So, while the smaller church does not have its own Sunday School, confirmation classes, and VBS it DOES still make sure these things are provided. I would imagine that similar things happen at some of the other churches in the synod that do not appear to have Sunday Schools and VBSs and such.

  3. @Rev. Steven W Bohler #2
    Good to know. Thank you.
    So do they go to a neighboring church for Sunday school and still attend their home church for Divine Services? That’s a lot of driving. I didn’t picture that happening–that’s why I specifically questioned Sunday school being absent. I know that churches team up for confirmation, youth group, and VBS sometimes, but I have to say that it’s hard for me to imagine them teaming up effectively for Sunday school.

  4. No, they attend in town for worship services. We have church at 8:00 and 11:00 in town, with Sunday School at 9:30. The country church has services at 9:30. So during those months when we have Sunday School (Sept — May), they would be attending their sister church in town. And, at the same time, we have members of the larger church who regularly (and by that I mean virtually EVERY week) attend the smaller church — some because it is closer, some because they like the time, some because they prefer the hymnal (TLH as opposed to LW and now LSB), some because they like the small church atmosphere. In fact, once in a great while the majority of worshippers at the country church is from the town church.

  5. The simple fact is that many of our congregations are in a state of decline in terms of membership and this impacts the number of children in our SS and VBS programs. Rev. Bohler’s explanation for the decline in numbers of SS and VBS programs may account for a small number of such situations, it is not the main reason.

    For example, if one looks at the two congregations served by Pastor Bohler, one notices that First English has now fewer than 20 in worship on average, and the baptized membership has declined since 2002 from 67 baptized members, to 43 baptized members in 2011. First English is 11 miles away from Our Savior.

    Our Savior had 660 baptized members in 2002, but now has 547 baptized members. Average attendance has declined from 217 in 2002 to 137 in 2011.

    These trends are not at all atypical across the majority of LCMS congregations. And please note, I am NOT suggesting any particular reason for the decline, but that there is decline is undeniable.

    The simple fact is that The LCMS is a church body experiencing continuing declining numbers of people who are members of our congregations and a declining number who attend, on average, each Sunday. This results in fewer children in Sunday School.

  6. Carol’s initial post was about churches that do not have Sunday School or VBS. My point was simply that because a congregation does not itself have a Sunday School or VBS does NOT mean that the congregation’s youth are without Sunday School or VBS (or confirmation). I mentioned how one of the congregations I serve is handling it. I imagine that a number of other congregations do something similar. And I imagine that a number of others have found a different way of instructing their youth. And, quite likely, there are some churches (like our little country church, some years) that really do not have any kids of Sunday School age and so would not show a Sunday School or VBS in their statistics — but which may at another time show a Sunday School or VBS if/when there are children present again.

  7. Several decades and millions of dollars spent on “consultants” such as TCN to emulate Willow Creek and Saddleback, and what does the LCMS have to show for it?


    Who will be the first to admit that the Church Growth Movement has been a failure? Would any district presidents care to comment? I thought so.

    What is the game plan now? More of the same fraud and waste, I assume?

  8. what I found most concerning in all those numbers is the decline in average church attendance. IF that rate keeps up, decline of 10 per Sunday, the LCMS will cease to exist in 15 years. Even if it only declines by the percentage rate of about 7%, that’s a sign of big declines to come. And the reality is, I think those big declines will continue.

    IT only makes sense. The younger generation is generally not continuing to attend church or are leaving the LCMS. They also are not having as many children as the birth rate declines. This all fits as I have heard that the average age of an LCMS member is about 60. IMHO, the leadership needs to be realistic in their future plans, and make them based on continued declines as this has been this way for many years.

  9. Rev. Zell: Bingo. I remain absolutely convinced that the single most significant “statistic” we should be paying attention to is average Sunday worship attendance. There can be quite a flurry of activity in a congregation and numbers can, on the surface, appear impressive, either by way of quantity or new members, or, etc. … but… if the average Sunday morning worship attendance remains flat or declining this would be, for me, something to the most concerned about and to give the most attention to.

    Holding congregational members accountable to their confirmation vows and, where necessary, waring them against sinning against the Third Commandment by absenting themselves from the gathering of the saints around Word and Sacrament is, to me, perhaps the greatest problem we all must confront.

  10. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #9
    I agree that the reported average attendance numbers are troubling if they reflect a trend, but I am still not sure how to interpret them. I would like to see the numbers for 2010 and 2011 just for the congregations that reported during both years. Here is why: The number of reporting congregations for 2011 is 22% higher than that of 2010. If the newly reporting congregations are and have historically been smaller in average attendance than the ones that reported during both years, that could cause the average attendance numbers to falsely imply a trend.

    If all of our churches tended to be more or less the same size, assessing trends from these data would be reasonable. However, we have huge variations in the sizes of our congregations Synod-wide, so changing the sample significantly (which is what happened this year) can lead to mistaken conclusions about trends. I wonder whether it would be difficult to dig a little deeper into the raw data to figure this out?

    Having said all that, you’re entirely right about how serious a Synod-wide downward trend in average attendance in worship would be–not as something to despair about but as a call to prayer and to repentance, as you suggest, and to better ongoing catechesis, and to evangelism.

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