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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Introduction

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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA):

A merger of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) during 1988 formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

With a baptized membership of almost 5 million, and approximately 10,600 congregations, the ELCA is perhaps the fifth largest Christian denomination in the United States. If one were to sort the approximately 1,000 Christian denominations in the U.S. along a conservative-liberal continuum, the ELCA would probably be regarded among the most liberal 5% of all denominations, along with the Episcopalian Church, USA, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ.

Churches use different methods to count members. Thus, it is difficult to make precise membership comparisons among denominations. The ELCA operates 28 high schools, 265 elementary schools and 1,910 early childhood programs.

Church membership has been slowly declining since 1990, when they had 5,240,739 members. This has occurred even as the population of the U.S. has been increasing. Their total baptized membership, by the end of 2002 was 5,038,006 members in 10,721 congregations. 1 By the end of 2003, it had slightly slumped to 4,984,925 and 10,657 congregations. 2 These declines were not as serious as in other mainline/liberal Protestant denominations.

By 2003, its membership had dropped below 5 million. Since then, the numbers of baptized members, the average attendance and the percentage of "baptized members in worship" have all declined more rapidly. 3

Their total number of baptized members dropped each year between 2003 and 2007, reaching 4,709,956 in 2007. The membership is 96.8% white and 1.1% African American/Black. Other races and ethnicities are each less than 1%. 4

About the term "Evangelical:"

During the Reformation, Martin Luther referred to his movement as the "evangelische kirche" (evangelical church). Later, "evangelical" became a synonym for "Protestant" in Europe. However, in North America, the term "evangelical" now generally refers to the most conservative wing of Protestantism.

The word "Evangelical" in the name of the ELCA is derived from the German usage, and is in contrast with the most common North American meaning.

About social policies:

Within mainline and liberal Christian denominations, there are major differences among individual members and individual congregations about "hot" religious topics. These include matters such as equal rights for homosexuals and bisexuals, same-sex marriage, abortion access, the death penalty, pre-marital sex, divorce, etc. Splits are often seen between young and old members, urban and rural dwellers, and geographical location in the U.S.

Fundamental to the lack of consensus over homosexuality is the diversity of beliefs about the fundamental nature of homosexuality itself. There are believed to be at least six common but different viewpoints among ELCA members, among Christians generally, and among the rest of the American population.

ELCA terminology:

bullet Churchwide Assembly: this is the biennial general meeting of the denomination, held during August of odd-numbered years.
 
bullet Synod: This is the basic geographical unit within the church. There are currently 65 synods in the U.S.
 
bullet Memorial: This is a resolution presented before a Churchwide Assembly.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "ELCA Membership Reported Just Over 5 Million in 2002," ELCA News Service, 2003-AUG-8, at: http://www.elca.org/
  2. "ECLA membership slips below 5 million in 2003," ELCA News Service, 2004-AUG-17, at: http://www.elca.org/
  3. "ELCA Membership from 1988 to 2006," ELCA, 2007-AUG-21, at: http://www.elca.org/
  4. "Baptized Membership of the ELCA by Race / Ethnicity," ELCA, 2008, at: http://www.elca.org/

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Copyright 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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