Calculus Matters – ELCA Membership Decline

@Feralpastor posted a excel chart of ELCA and predecessor groups membership levels from around 1950 up until recent times. A quick glance might lead one to think doomsday scenario… but I thought I saw some wobbles in the data.

As a result, I pulled the data off the ELCA website and took a look at the 2nd derivative… basically how quickly the change in membership numbers are changing, or in car talk, whether we are braking or stomping on the gas.



While a near continual loss of members since the ELCA”s inception is not good, to see such a change in rate of decrease is a significant positive.

The following graph adds in the yr-yr loss of members in green.


In a nutshell, we are no longer in brake lock up mode post CWA09, In fact, once the 2013 numbers come out, I would not be surprised if we are back to the same state we were in pre CWA09 as concerns the yr to yr loss of members.

Causality is always a tricky thing, and often is not correlation, but I’ve been pondering this for years and more and more my hypothesis seems to make sense. Namely I believe the ELCA since its beginnings has been undergoing a long term shift to higher Fowler models.

The predecessor bodies were quite ranging in approach. Some catered to a lower Fowler model, some catered to a higher one. Since the ELCA”s formation, many CWAs have leaned towards a higher numbered model. This seems to correlate with the negative peaks in the 2nd derivative as folks self selected out. The overall trend to a smaller size would also make sense, as the higher numbered Fowler models embrace smaller numbers demographically. Ie, a Fowler 2 or 3 is often a growing stage, where membership decline is pretty common in a Fowler 4-5.

2 thoughts on “Calculus Matters – ELCA Membership Decline

  1. More telling than the membership numbers is the percentage of members in attendance on a given Sunday. See and click on membership 1988 to 2010. There you will see that the percentage of membership (a number in decline) attending worship has been declining from 31% to under 28% from 2002 to 2010. 2002 was the year that “Journey together faithfully” was published — and began to make clear the direction the leadership of the ELCA was going to take the church.

    I have yet to see those same numbers for 2011, 2012 or of course 2013. From my (all be it limited) experience (in Ohio), both membership numbers, and percentage of members in attendance have continued in drastic decline.

  2. Thanks for the link, I am sort of surprised the numbers are as high as they are. As a general rule, I’ve used the 20% figure for years… seeing 31 or even 28 is much higher than I ever figured the numbers were. My personal experiences in MN are interesting to say the least. The ELCA church I’m a member of in MN is pretty stable, and seems to follow population demographics more than anything else. The Catholic church I play music at used to have massive attendence on Christmas and Easter, necessitating seating in the narthex, the basement, in some cases even outside… but such has not been the case for years. On the other hand, the church of my youth who used to have 2 pastors, 2 Sunday schools, and 4 services per week has shrunk in a huge way (1 pastor, 1 Sunday school, 1 service), despite only a small demographical area decrease. Alas, its decline was already in motion during my youth, which was well before the ELCA was even blueprinted.

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