Lutherans grow globally, but not in Europe or North America

By agency reporter
March 8, 2009

The combined membership in churches belonging to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) last year rose by 141,792 to reach a global total just under 68.5 million (68,464,091). While Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean reported increases in membership, churches in Europe and North America once again experienced a slight decline.

According to the annual statistical survey for 2008 conducted by the LWF Office for Communication Services, the organization’s 140 member churches, 10 recognized churches and congregations and one recognized council, spanning 79 countries, combined for an annual membership increase of approximately 0.21 percent. In 2007, the LWF churches worldwide had some 68.3 million members, up from 66.7 million in 2006.

The membership total of all Lutheran churches worldwide rose over the past year by 150,147 to approximately 72 million (71,973,570), an increase of 0.21 percent. In 2007, all Lutheran churches worldwide counted some 71.8 million members, compared to approximately 70.2 million in 2006. The number of Lutherans who belong to non-LWF Lutheran churches rose by 8,355 or 0.24 percent to reach 3,509,479.

In Africa, LWF church membership over the past year rose by 158,047 or 0.9 percent to a total of 17,287,277. The membership of non-LWF Lutheran churches on the continent dropped by 1,854, or 3.3 percent, to total of 54,215.

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, LWF’s largest African member church, registered an increase of 143,329 members or 2.9 percent, to reach 5,012,486. It remains the second largest Lutheran church in the world after the 6.8 million-member Church of Sweden.

The highest annual growth in the region was recorded in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, whose membership figures rose by approximately 17.6 percent or 15,000 new members to count 100,000. The Lutheran Church of Rwanda had a 12 percent increase for its 4,276 new members, bringing the total to 40,000.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) with 21,034 new members saw its membership increase by 3.2 percent, bringing the total to 673,229. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon recorded an additional 4,995 members to 220,015, an increase of around 2.3 percent.

The Moravian Church in South Africa saw its membership decline by 30,000 members or 37.5 percent to 50,000, explained as a result of a recalculation of the membership figures. Membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Botswana declined to 18,650, representing a loss of 2,460 members or 11.6 percent.

Africa’s second largest Lutheran church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, did not report any changes in its membership of 4,632,480, nor did the Malagasy Lutheran Church, the third largest on the continent, with 3 million members. Membership in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria remained unchanged at 1,745,050.

The total number of Lutherans in Asia rose by 270,061 over the past year to reach 8,545,479, representing an increase of 3.26 percent. Non-LWF Lutheran churches in the region reported 182,921 new members, corresponding to an increase of 42,563 or approximately 30.3 percent.

The region’s largest Lutheran church, the Protestant Christian Batak Church (Indonesia), reported 4 million members last year, an increase of 250,000 or 6.7 percent.

The sharpest membership increase in Asia in terms of absolute figures over the past year was reported by the Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church (India), with an additional 40,331 members to 50,168 or five-fold. This increase, according to church sources, is due to a restructuring which resulted in the incorporation of new congregations into the non-LWF member church.

The Chinese Lutheran Brethren Victory Church (Taiwan), also a non-LWF member church, more than doubled its membership with an additional 2,178 members (130.6 percent), to attain a total of 3,846.

Other churches reporting significant membership increases included the Bangladesh Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church (1,116 new members, or 12.6 percent, to 10,000); the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia (8,000 new members, or 16 percent, to 58,000); the Gutnius Lutheran Church Papua New Guinea (9,455 new members, or 6.8 percent, to 149,455); the Taiwan Lutheran Church (2,044 new members, or 15.7 percent, to 15,088) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thailand (195 new members, or 6.9 percent, to 3,007).

The Arcot Lutheran Church (India) registered a loss of 2,000 members (5.4 percent) to the current 35,000, while the Lutheran Church in the Philippines counted 9,000 fewer members (33.3 percent) for its current total of 18,000. The decline in the Philippine’s church dates back to the split which occurred in 1992, resulting in a recalculation of the membership figures.

The total membership of Lutheran churches in Europe fell again over the past year by 223,252 or 0.6 percent, to a current total of 36,954,216. LWF member churches registered a loss of 223,025 or 0.6 percent to the current total of 36,914,349.

Membership in the world’s largest Lutheran church, the Church of Sweden, declined last year by 73,740, or 1.1 percent to 6,820,161. The fifth largest LWF member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, saw its membership drop by 19,270 or 0.4 percent to 4,514,359.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, the sixth largest LWF member church, reported a relatively small decline of 1,421 or 0.03 percent, to a new total of 4,494,589. The Church of Norway likewise registered a modest loss of 2,570 members or 0.07 percent, to the current 3,868,943.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States reported an increase of 6.7 percent or 5,000 members, for a total of 80,000.

LWF member churches in France recorded significantly sharp declines, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France putting its membership at 10,400 members, a drop of 29,600 or 74 percent. The Malagasy Protestant Church in France lost 1,500 members or 15 percent, to 8,500.

The Lutheran Church in Ireland, an LWF recognized church, once again registered a sharp decline. Due to a change in the method used to count its membership, a drop of 514 was noted or 66.8 percent, to the current 256.

Germany, the country with the largest number of Lutheran Christians in the world, had a total membership of 12,543,179 in 2008, reflecting a decrease of 84,567 or 0.67 percent. Lutheran churches in Germany had around 12.63 million members in 2007 compared to 12.73 million in 2006. Membership in LWF member churches in the country fell by 84,180 or 0.67 percent, to 12,506,067.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, the church with the largest membership, recorded 2,981,313 members, a decrease of 42,584, or 1.4 percent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria reported 2,632,000 members, reflecting a 1.2 percent increase of 32,000. The Evangelical Church in Wuerttemberg also saw a membership decrease, with its total figure falling by 17,169 or 0.8 percent to reach 2,286,893. Membership in the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church decreased by 22,687 or 1.1 percent, to 2,076,628.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony recorded 810,558 members, reflecting a decrease of 12,929 or 1.6 percent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia saw a membership increase of 9,399 or 2.1 percent, to 431,467. The membership of the Evangelical Church of Pomerania fell by 1,191 or 1.2 percent, to 100,385, while that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg by 6,792 or 3.3 percent, to 201,740.

Membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick dropped in the course of last year by 5,299 or 1.3 percent, to 400,315, while the Church of Lippe (Lutheran Section) had a slight increase of 1,000 or 3.2 percent, to 32,000.

Membership figures remained unchanged for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (3,500), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oldenburg (463,448) and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schaumburg-Lippe (60,800).

The Germany-based Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad had 25,020 members, up by 870 or 3.6 percent.

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, a non-LWF member church, recorded a decrease of 387 or 1.1 percent, to 35,642. Membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany, likewise a non-LWF church, remained unchanged.

The total membership in Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 19,076 or 1.7 percent, to a total of 1,123,270. Membership in LWF member churches in the region was 837,890, an increase of 15,816 or 1.9 percent.

Lutheran churches not belonging to the LWF registered 3,260 new members, an increase of 1.2 percent, to 282,120.

While most Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean reported little change in their membership statistics, the region’s largest Lutheran church, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, registered a membership increase of 14,000 or two percent, to 717,000.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana had 13,000 members, an increase of 2,000 or 18.2 percent. Membership in the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (Argentine, Paraguay, and Uruguay) increased by 200 or 0.8 percent, to 25,200.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, which does not belong to the LWF, reported 233,416 members last year, a rise of 3,201 or 1.4 percent.

In 2008, total membership in North American Lutheran churches fell by 114,494 or 1.44 percent. Of a total 7,826,192 Lutherans, 4,879,096 belonged to LWF member churches. The North American LWF churches consequently recorded a decrease of 79,107 members or 1.6 percent.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the LWF’s third largest member church, registered 4,709,954 members in 2008, a decrease of 64,249 or 1.4 percent.
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (USA and Canada), not an LWF member, reported 2,383,084 members, a loss of 34,913 or 1.4 percent.

The Lutheran Churches of the Reformation, also an LWF non-member, reported an increase of 500 or 33.3 percent, to the current total of 2,000.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada last year had 161,142 members, an annual decline of 13,358 or 7.7 percent. Membership in the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (Canada) remained unchanged at 8,000.

The LWF membership statistics are based on information received from the LWF member churches, recognized churches and congregations and council, as well as from other Lutheran churches, organizations, mission bodies and congregations. The figures recorded for the year ending 2007 were used for churches that did not indicate any changes by the end of January 2009.

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