The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, above the 5 million mark in baptized membership since the merger of three Lutheran bodies in 1987, slipped swiftly below that in the past two years—sharply punctuating losses experienced by most mainline Protestants in recent times.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America wound up with 4.98 million members at the end of 2003 as inactive members were expunged from church rolls, some congregations closed their doors and some withdrew from the ELCA. Baptisms, new adult members and start-up churches were hardly enough to offset the losses.
Over the past 13 years the ELCA suffered a total net loss of a half million members, though the annual drop was relatively gradual. But one half, or 250,000, of those losses occurred in 2002 and 2003 alone, said Lowell G. Almen, secretary at the ELCA’s Chicago headquarters in a report released last month.