Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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
total baptized membership, by the end of 2002 was 5,038,006 members in 10,721
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
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
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
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.
Churchwide Assembly: this is the biennial general meeting of the
denomination, held during August of odd-numbered years.
Synod: This is the basic geographical unit within the church.
There are currently 65 synods in the U.S.
Memorial: This is a resolution presented before a Churchwide
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"ELCA Membership Reported Just Over 5 Million in 2002," ELCA News
Service, 2003-AUG-8, at:
"ECLA membership slips below 5 million in 2003," ELCA News Service,
"ELCA Membership from 1988 to 2006," ELCA, 2007-AUG-21, at:
"Baptized Membership of the ELCA by Race / Ethnicity," ELCA, 2008, at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson