At the 2017 synod convention, Jonathan Hein, director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, published the findings of a two-year study that looked at the demographics and trends of WELS’ membership. The study demonstrated that Christian churches in America are experiencing some significant declines and that WELS is not immune. WELS has approximately 56,000 fewer members than it did 25 years ago.
Hein cites a number of reasons for the statistical decline. In the last decade, at the same time WELS has seen a steep decline in the number of infant baptisms, it has seen an increase in the percent of members who are dying annually. WELS also has averaged about 8,000 “back-door losses” annually for over two decades. Back door losses are when WELS members join another Christian church or when they simply quit church altogether.
Adding to the challenge, Hein notes that adult confirmations are trending down. The study demonstrated that WELS has 15% fewer adult confirmations in 2016 than in 2012. Synodwide, annually, WELS will have only one adult confirmation for every 83 communicant members.
Part of the study forecasted WELS’ membership in the future if current trends would continue. “If the current rates of decline would hold steady, in 20 years, WELS would lose about 21% of its current membership—about 73,000 souls,” says Hein. “That would translate to approximately 300 fewer congregations in just one generation.”
The study also contained what Hein called “prayerful projections,” a forecast of what could happen if WELS congregations were able to increase their gospel efforts and, more important, the Holy Spirit were to bless those efforts. One hypothetical scenario had WELS congregations cutting back-door losses by one-third through increased elder work and greater efforts at retaining young members who go off to college. This scenario also had WELS members increasing their personal evangelism efforts, so that the ratio of communicant members to adult confirmations went from 83 to 1 to 45 to 1. In this scenario, WELS would gain 33,000 new souls for Christ in the next 20 years.
“Our only job is to proclaim the gospel as zealously as we can,” writes Hein in the study. “The Holy Spirit then produces the results when and where he sees fit. Moreover, our satisfaction in ministry comes only from serving Christ, not by achieving numerical success. . . . [These projections are] simply a snapshot of what is feasible if we were able, walking together, to increase our ministry efforts, and if the Holy Spirit saw fit to bless those efforts according to our prayers”.
Congregational Services is producing a new synodwide campaign called C18 in an effort to reach one million souls with the gospel this upcoming Christmas season. Look for more on this next month.
Read the full report at wels.net/ccc. See how you can make a difference through personal evangelism.
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Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018
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