For the first time, the total number of members in churches belonging to the Lutheran World Federation has risen to just over 70 million, increasing by 1.6 million from the preceding year.
On its website, the Geneva-based grouping says that in 2009, membership of LWF churches in Africa and Asia increased, while churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in North America, experienced a slight decline.
In a statement, the communications office of the federation said that the total number of members in churches affiliated to the federation in 2009 stood at 70,053,316.
In 2008, LWF-affiliated churches had around 68.5 million members worldwide, up from 68.3 million in 2007.
The total membership of Lutheran churches worldwide rose in 2009 by 1,784,556 to just under 73.8 million, representing an increase of 2.5 per cent. In 2008, all Lutheran churches worldwide counted some 72 million members, compared to 71.8 million in 2007.
The number of Lutherans belonging to non-LWF Lutheran churches rose by 195,331 to reach 3,704,810, an increase of 5.6 per cent.
Membership in churches belonging to the LWF in Africa in 2009 rose by 1,233,413, or 7.1 percent, to a total of 18.52 million. The membership of non-LWF Lutheran churches on the African continent was 196,989.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania is now the largest LWF member church in Africa, with an increase of around 670,247 members, or 14.5 per cent, recorded in 2009. This brings the church's current total to 5,302,727, and makes it the second largest Lutheran church in the world after the Church of Sweden, which has 6.75 million members.
The third largest LWF member church is the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, whose figures increased by 267 336, or 5.3 per cent, to 5,279,822. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia added 70,000 new members for a total of 420,000, an increase of 20 per cent, in a country with 2.1 million people.
The total number of Lutherans in Asia rose by 200,955 in 2009 to 8.75 million representing an increase of 2.35 per cent. Lutheran churches in Asia that do not belong to the LWF reported 189,653 new members, corresponding to an increase of 6732 or 3.68 per cent.
Asia's biggest Lutheran church, the Protestant Christian Batak Church in Indonesia, reported 4,178,256 members in 2009, an increase of 178,256 or about 4.5 per cent.
In Europe, the total membership of LWF member churches increased slightly by 250,062, or approximately 0.7 per cent, to a current total of 37.16 million.
Membership in the world's largest Lutheran church, the Church of Sweden, declined further in the course of 2009, falling by 68,209, or 1.0 per cent, to 6,751,952. The fifth largest LWF member church worldwide, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, experienced a relatively small decline of 2,468 members, or 0.05 per cent, to 4,492,121.
The Lutheran Council of Great Britain said it had an increase of 43,700, or 33.5 per cent, additional members for a total of 174,300.
The total number of Lutheran Christians in Germany in 2009 was 12.9 million, who do not belong to one single church but to a series of regional churches. Still, Germany continues to be the country with the largest number of Lutherans in the world.
The total membership in LWF member churches in Latin America and the Caribbean decreased by 198 to a total of 837,692. Membership in non-LWF churches in the region counted 285,331, a decline of 49.
Like most Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, the region's largest Lutheran church, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, reported no change in its total membership, which remains at 717,000.
In North America in 2009, there were nearly 100,000 fewer members in LWF churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the LWF's fourth largest member church, had 4,623,301 members, a decrease of 86,653, or 1.8 per cent.
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (USA and Canada), not an LWF member, reported 2.4 million members for 2009, an increase of 16,916, or 0.7 per cent.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada reported a decline of 8,354, or 5.2 per cent, and recorded 152,788 members.
Full details of LWF statistics can be gleaned here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): www.lutheranworld.org/LWF_Documents/LWF-Statistics-2009.pdf
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]