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Lutheran Church-Canada in numbers

August 17, 2015 No Comment

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Editor’s note: An image layering problem resulted in the province of Quebec being unintentionally hidden from view in the print edition of the July/August 2015 issue of The Canadian Lutheran. We apologize for the error. You can download a corrected pdf of the article here.

by Mathew Block

Lutheran Church–Canada has released statistics for the 2013 year and they show the largest drop in baptized membership in recent years. In 2013, LCC congregations reported 62,649 baptized members—a drop of more than 2,500 members, or approximately 4%, from the previous year’s reported membership. Confirmed membership likewise continues to fall, reaching a new low of 48,263 members.

This statistical analysis is complicated somewhat by a lack of reporting. LCC relies on its congregations to report their membership numbers on an annual basis. Failure to provide that information on a regular basis can lead to skewed results. In total, 132 congregations failed to provide membership statistics to LCC in 2013 (compared to 105 in 2012 and 135 in 2011).

That caveat aside, there is much to consider—both good and bad—in 2013’s numbers. Much to consider, yes, and much to pray over.

The Christian decline in Canada

In many ways, the story of Christianity in Canada in recent decades has been one of decline. Lutheran Church–Canada’s experience is no different; its declining membership mirrors similar declines facing Christian church bodies across Canada.

In 2001, self-identified Christians in Canada made up 77% of the total population, according to Statistics Canada. By 2011, those numbers had declined dramatically to just 67.3% of the population. A full 24% of Canadians now identify as having no religion.

The same decline is clearly visible in LCC’s reported membership over the past ten years. In 2003, LCC counted a cross-Canada baptized membership of 76,869. A decade later, in 2013, that number had dropped by 14,220, or by approximately 18.5%. The decline in confirmed members has been slightly smaller. In 2013, LCC had a confirmed membership of 56,979. By 2013, confirmed members had declined 15.3% to 48,263.

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Membership losses have been even more pronounced in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), which has faced a decline nearly twice that of LCC’s. From 2003 to 2013, baptized membership in the ELCIC declined by nearly a third (32.6%) from 179,861 to 121,219. Over the same decade, confirmed membership dropped by 30.5% from 131,131 to 91,199.

The membership drops in LCC and the ELCIC match closely the most recent numbers released by Statistics Canada. In the decade from 2001 to 2011, the total number of Canadians self-identifying as Lutheran dropped nearly 21.2% (from 606,590 in 2001 to 478,185 in 2011). Self-identified Lutherans made up 2% of the Canadian population in 2001; by 2011, they made up just 1.5%.

And it’s not just Lutherans. Over the same time period, the number of Canadians self-identifying as United Church of Canada members diminished from 2.84 million to 2.01 million (from 9.6% of the Canadian population to 6.1% respectively). Anglicans fell from 2.04 million to 1.63 million (from 6.9% to 5%). And Baptists shrunk from 729,470 to 635,840 members (2.5% to 1.9%). Thanks in part to a large number of Roman Catholic immigrants, the total number of self-identifying Roman Catholics remained largely unchanged (down slightly from 12.79 million members to 12.73 million members), but their percentage of the total Canadian population nevertheless fell dramatically from 43.2% to 38.7%.

The situation is clear: the Christian Church in general is facing a crisis in Canada. And Lutherans are no exception.

The Christian Church in general is facing a crisis in Canada. And Lutherans are no exception.

Positive Trends in LCC

As concerning as these membership drops are, there have been some positive trends in LCC’s membership numbers as well over the past few years. In particular, LCC has seen increases in the number of children being baptized, the number of adults being welcomed into membership through baptism/confirmation, and the number of children and adults enrolled in Sunday School and Bible Study.

The last two years for which statistics are available have seen steady increases in the number of children baptized in LCC congregations. In 2011, an all-time low of 598 children were baptized in LCC congregations (one less than in 2010). In 2012, that number rose to 633, and in 2013 it rose to 684. That two-year trend of increases in child baptism is good news for the church.

lcc-members-2Less good are the number of baptized children who actually make it to confirmation. In 2013, 406 juniors were confirmed, slightly more than 2012’s numbers of 404. Barring that small increase, however, there has been a downward trend in this area for some time. In just a decade, the number of juniors being confirmed in LCC churches has fallen by more than fifty percent (from 835 in 2002 to 404 in 2002). This speaks to a serious disconnect in our churches, as children baptized into the faith are not being subsequently presented for confirmation.

Much more encouraging has been the number of adults joining Lutheran Church–Canada through baptism and confirmation in recent years. 2012 marked the end of a four-year decline in adults accepted into membership into LCC, as 389 new members joined the church through baptism or confirmation. And 2013’s numbers remained high, with 370 adults received into membership. These numbers more than doubled 2011’s reported membership gains of 154 adults. In fact, we have to go back to 2002 before we see adult membership gains higher than 2012’s numbers.

This puts LCC on new ground, as adults being received into membership via confirmation or baptism have begun to take up a much larger share of confirmed membership gains. Historically, the vast majority of newly confirmed members welcomed into LCC yearly have been received into the church as youths completing confirmation. In 2012, however, juniors accounted for only 50.9% of newly confirmed members in LCC. That is the closest adult-membership gains have ever come to overtaking junior confirmations as the primary source of confirmed member gains in LCC’s history. In 2013, the numbers were slightly further apart, as juniors made up 52.3% of confirmed membership gains that year.

This puts LCC on new ground, as adults being received into membership via confirmation or baptism have begun to take up a much larger share of confirmed membership gains.

Also encouraging were the number of pupils enrolled in Sunday School and Bible Study programs in LCC over the past few years. 2012 and 2013 both saw increases in the number of children registered in Sunday School programs across Canada, increasing from 2011’s record low of only 2,001 children. In 2012, those numbers swung back up to 2,591, and in 2013 they continued to rise to 2,748. This increase is good news. Still, the numbers are significantly lower than 2010’s enrollment of 2,982—itself the lowest Sunday School enrollment in LCC’s history prior to the 2011 plummet.

In other good news, the total number of people enrolled in Bible Study programs across LCC rose in 2013 to 4,125 people, a significant jump from 2012’s numbers of 3,379. That increase might be attributable in part to LCC’s recent triennial focus on the importance of Scripture reading. Near the end of 2011, approximately 150 LCC members in Winnipeg committed themselves to reading through the entire Bible. As news of their initiative spread, other congregations across the country began to take up daily Bible reading as well. In 2015, The Canadian Lutheran began including installments of the same reading plan in use in many of these congregations, allowing any LCC member to join in.

Increases in child baptisms, adult membership gains, and discipleship programs are good news indeed. But they come amidst other troubles. These gains are counter-balanced by significant losses. In 2013, for example, the average congregation in LCC saw a decline in weekly attendance by 17 people over 2012’s numbers (meaning that each LCC church had, on average, just 67 members in the pew any given Sunday). And, in keeping with Canada’s aging population, LCC congregations are conducting far more burials than baptisms. In 2013, the church conducted 955 burials as opposed to just 684 child baptisms.

New Opportunities

Despite some positive trends then, Lutheran Church–Canada is nevertheless facing difficult times ahead as the broader church in Canada declines. Some might ask whether it really matters. “Surely the point of our church is not the preservation of our institution’s numbers,” they might say, “but the furtherance of the Gospel.”

There is some truth to that. We must understand that growing membership numbers is not the ultimate goal of LCC. The goal of the Church is to introduce people to Christ, their Saviour. But a necessary corollary of that is that these new Christians be nurtured in their faith—and that takes place in the local church. It is the local church where Christians hear the Word of God proclaimed by trained shepherds. It is the local church where Christians receive the forgiveness of Christ spoken over their sin. And it is the local church where Christians receive the life-giving sacraments of baptism and holy communion. The reason that the decline in LCC’s membership numbers is concerning is not because it threatens the institution; it’s concerning because it suggests we are ailing in our attempts to bring Christ to those who do not know Him, and to nurture in the faith those who do. Put simply, as the number of self-identifying Christians in Canada declines, the number of people in need of the Gospel of Christ is increasing.

The reason that the decline in LCC’s membership numbers is concerning is not because it threatens the institution; it’s concerning because it suggests we are ailing in our attempts to bring Christ to those who do not know Him, and to nurture in the faith those who do.

So how do we address the decline in Lutheran Church–Canada’s numbers? Answering this question requires significant soul searching. More than that, it requires a significant turning to God in prayer. It is not merely lip-service when we say that God is the ultimate source of the Church’s life. He and He alone can bring the renewal our nation—and our church body—so desperately needs. And it is on Him we must rely for strength and guidance.

But God also works through means. He uses pastors to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. He uses deacons to support the work of the church. He uses faithful laypeople to share the Good News of Christ with friends and family. As we seek to live out these vocations together as Christ’s church in Canada, let us consider especially the following ways in which we might focus our attempts.

First, we can encourage faithful young Lutherans to have families. The birthrate in Canada has been declining for some time; as of 2011, it had dropped to 1.61 children per woman of childbearing years in 2011. Consider this: if faithful Lutherans follow the Canadian average, then that means for every two Lutheran couples only three children are being born. Four parents give birth, collectively, to just three children. Obviously, that’s not a self-sustaining model.

The Scriptures tell us that “children are a gift from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). Do we live as if that were true? We can all ask ourselves how we can better support young families in our churches, helping them to raise their children in the faith.

This means following up on baptism. We’ve already noted increases in the number of children being baptized in LCC congregations. Nevertheless, it is sad but true that a significant number of those baptized never make it to confirmation. It’s absolutely vital that church workers maintain a relationship with the parents of young children, visiting them and encouraging them to raise the children in the faith into which they were baptized. We have some reason for hope on this front: the number of serving pastors in LCC has grown to 245 in 2013, from 216 in 2010. And the average church member has a role to play here too, praying for the newly baptized and establishing relationships with these young families.

Something else all Christians can do to is to engage more deeply with Scripture. God tells us that His Word is both the source of faith (Romans 10:17) and its nourishment (Matthew 4:4). It is unsurprising therefore that a recent Canadian study found that those who regularly read Scripture are both more likely to attend church services and to talk to others about their faith outside of religious services. Those in the Word themselves are more likely to share the Word with others. One of the first steps in learning to share the Gospel with friends and family is to engage more deeply with Scripture ourselves.

Finally, we can look for new opportunities. As another article in this issue of the magazine notes, the face of the “average Canadian” is changing. Immigration is transforming Canadian evangelism. Maybe your Canadian-born friends are less interested in religion today than they were a decade ago, but chances are your immigrant neighbour is more receptive. How are you and your congregation reaching out to these new Canadians eager to hear the Gospel?

These are all thoughts on, not solutions to, the decline of Christianity in Canada. But discipleship—both of ourselves and others—begins with careful thought and examination. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Jesus asks (Luke 14:28).

Let us trust the Builder of the Church to make it strong, and then let us act accordingly. May the Holy Spirit bless us, giving us good words to speak and good works to do. And may He soften hearts to hear the Gospel He sends us to proclaim.

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Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran and Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada.