|Ryan C. MacPherson, PhD (Notre Dame):|
Bethany Lutheran College.
Becoming Less Fruitful:
A Demographic History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1928-2008
A Research Report Submitted by Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D. to the President of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
February 25, 2010
Total baptized membership peaked in 1995 at 22,371. Membership increases have resulted primarily from the surplus of births over deaths. Persistent “back door” losses have exceeded evangelism gains.
“Net evangelism” has been negative: the synod’s membership would not have grown were it not for a high birth rate that offset both deaths and “net evangelism” losses.
A sudden and sustained drop in the birth rate during the 1960s has resulted in a birth rate that today is less than 50% of its pre-1960 average.
Meanwhile, the death rate has increased since the early 1990s as the population ages. Baptized membership has declined 12% since its 1995 peak and may plausibly be projected to continue declining, likely at an accelerating rate, unless: the birth rate increases, tending back toward its pre-1960 level; and/or “net evangelism” becomes positive (new members exceed “back door” losses). Recent and impending membership declines present financial implications that likely will reinforce current trends toward bi-vocational ministry and intensify current failures to place vicars and seminary graduates; unless one or both factors identified in Item 7, above, are reversed, similar pressure to “downsize” could impact missions, Lutheran elementary schools, and Bethany Lutheran College.
A higher birth rate may be encouraged by addressing one or more of the factors that have conditioned a sustained drop in the birth rate—and the attitudes behind them: delayed marriage; divorce; birth control. Efforts to increase “net evangelism” may prudently be focused on these two issues: How can pastors and the people assisting them draw new members into the church through the Means of Grace? How can pastors and the people assisting them guard existing members against the devil, the world, and their own sinful fleshes that would separate them from the Means of Grace?
GJ - The study is clear and well written, unlike most in this genre. The ELS is in rapid decline. Doubtless the Missouri and Wisconsin sects are too, based on the same realities.
Dr. MacPhearson cited an interesting effect from massive student loans - delay of marriage and children. Formerly, only those who could afford college participated in higher education. Now the typical student graduates with a large debt and finds marriage or children a large burden to bear on top of student loans.
Population decline means the schools will no longer have enough to stay open. File that under Bazingo.
I presume this is the self-study that predicted the ELS will be little more than a footnote in history books in 20 years.