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Lutherans and Roman Catholics - By the Numbers

by Paul Sauer January 08, 2011

One of the many hats that I wear is as the leader of the Atlantic District team on our local trialogue with the ELCA Metro-NY Synod and the Archdiocese of New York. Given the significant changes in the American church political landscape over the past few years, the dialog determined to spend the first few meetings just reintroducing ourselves. Each tradition shared some of its history as church bodies and regional incarnations of church bodies, documenting developments over the years, and identifying challenges and pressing issues that their respective communions will face in the years ahead. It was a rare and helpful opportunity for each tradition to describe itself in its own words I had always known how big Roman Catholicism and the Archdiocese of New York was. But to work with actual numbers was astounding. Arch-NY has nearly 3 million members. Comparatively, the whole of the LCMS has approximately 2.5 million members (the ELCA, 4.8 Million)....

One of the many hats that I wear is as the leader of the Atlantic District team on our local trialogue with the ELCA Metro-NY Synod and the Archdiocese of New York. Given the significant changes in the American church political landscape over the past few years, the dialog determined to spend the first few meetings just reintroducing ourselves. Each tradition shared some of its history as church bodies and regional incarnations of church bodies, documenting developments over the years, and identifying challenges and pressing issues that their respective communions will face in the years ahead.  It was a rare and helpful opportunity for each tradition to describe itself in its own words.

I had always known how big Roman Catholicism and the Archdiocese of New York was. But to work with actual numbers was astounding. Arch-NY has nearly 3 million members. Comparatively, the whole of the LCMS has approximately 2.5 million members (the ELCA, 4.8 Million). What is surprising is that Arch-NY has only 371 parishes serving those 3 million members. By comparison the LCMS has just over 6000 parishes serving almost half a million fewer members! The numbers of ordained pastors/priests are equally disproportional, 1505 in the Arch-NY versus around 9400 in the LCMS.

I am still not entirely sure what to make of the numbers. It is hard to imagine the average 8000 members per parish receiving the same level of pastoral care that the average 400 members per parish in the LCMS receive (The ELCA has a similar average of 450 parishioners/parish), even if unlike most Lutheran pastors, the Roman Catholic priest doesn’t have competing vocational responsibilities as a parent or spouse.  And yet having a critical mass of parishioners allows Roman Catholics the luxury to fund social service, parochial education, missions, and other agencies in a way that Lutherans in recent years have not.  Due to their smaller size, a Lutheran parish must devote a comparatively larger percentage of their resources simply to pay pastoral salary, to cover church overhead, and to keep the actual physical plant operational.

At some point, the question must be asked – how large is too large for adequate pastoral care? But the question must also be asked – how small is too small to be good stewards of the resources God has given? Given their hierarchy and wider-church loyalty, Roman Catholics are able to ask the questions and restructure in ways that are at least seeking to balance critical mass and pastoral care. Given Lutheranism’s fierce congregational autonomy and even more fierce loyalty to the local congregation (and building) it is doubtful that such questions could even be asked, or possibilities for restructuring considered. This institutional paralysis in the face of growing organizational challenges, more than any other factor, may be the key contributor to Lutheranism’s continued slow steady decline in the United States.

  

numbers

Posted by Peter at January 10, 2011 01:07
Where do those numbers come from? Is that the number of confirmed Catholics in NY, or based on actual service attendance or number of people who made donations or what?

Numbers

Posted by Paul Sauer at January 12, 2011 13:45
The comparison that I made is baptized members to baptized members. The information comes from Arch-NY which puts out its own statistical yearbook similar to the LCMS Lutheran Annual.

church size

Posted by Peter at January 14, 2011 01:03
What about average attendance and distribution of churches? It's my sense that while there are plenty of Lutherans who were baptized and never been back, there are even more non-practicing Catholics. Are there many Catholic churches in Arch-NY that regularly see even 1000 members each weekend? I suppose I expect that most ELCA churches there are above the 52 members/weekend a similar attendance rate would indicate.

The "Numbers Game"

Posted by Mark J. Mathews at January 11, 2011 19:44
The only numbers that count as far as church stats is average worship attendance and giving dollars. All the other "stats" are meaningless. In the United States we as pastors/priests are trying our best to make a convincing argument for why public worship is important to one's Christian faith. We face a stiff headwind in a culture that has become increasingly private and individualistic. In other parts of the world people are dying or being imprisoned because they are in a service or giving a Bible to someone. And we talk about "numbers"?

They're connected

Posted by Paul at January 12, 2011 13:58
I don’t disagree with your identification of some of the important challenges that Christianity faces. I do believe, however, that the numbers are important because they are connected to the way in which we address these challenges. Are smaller congregations better able to address these challenges than larger ones? I believe that in some ways they are, but at what point does the limitations of their small size hurt their mission? When a growing number of small congregations must devote a growing percentage of its fiscal resources to keeping its doors open, and many are beyond the point of being able to afford to pay a full-time pastor/priest a livable wage, how will the argument be made, or the persecuted supported? What does it say about our valuing of public worship when it is more important to keep a particular physical plant open, even it means not being able to afford a pastor/priest to lead that worship when a consolidation or closing of parishes might allow our resources to better address the challenges that you have identified? The Roman Catholics are at least asking the questions about how to best organize to meet the challenges. We Lutherans seem to be resistant to even the notion that how we organize makes any difference at all.

Really?

Posted by Pastor David Ramirez at January 11, 2011 20:35
"This institutional paralysis in the face of growing organizational challenges, more than any other factor, may be the key contributor to Lutheranism’s continued slow steady decline in the United States."

Or, uh, the whole not having kids thing.


Lutheran Econ

Posted by Dan at January 15, 2011 21:21
The economics of the Lutherans have always mystified me. I was for many years a member of the big Lutheran church in my large southern city. At the same time my brother was the pastor of a small Baptist church in the country. The thing is, his small church had a much larger attendance than our large "mother Church". But since we were the big cheese in town (among Lutherans) we had a music minister, a youth minister, two associate pastors , paid kitchen help, paid nursery help and a very well-paid pastor. My brother had a secretary and a very part time choir director. Guess which church gave more to missions. Guess which church ran a VBS that brought in hundreds of children each summer. Guess which church was bringing unbelievers to Jesus Christ.

That big church is enough of a puzzle. But the little micro Lutheran churches are really hard to figure. Other denominations would use bivocational pastors for churches with 50 or 60 people, but Lutherans seem to have so many requirements for ordination that the bivocational guy isn't usually an option. So you have people going to seminary for several years to graduate and go to churches that can't afford them. At least they can't afford to pay them and pay for the other things a church is supposed to do. So you have all of these little churches just struggling to stay afloat when they should merge and take advantage of economies of scale. They would then be able have more an impact. The same problem exists at the Synod level. The weekly attendance in the SE Synod is about the same as some COUNTY level Baptist associations. To have a Bishop and associated staff for a unit that small is just nuts. Not surprisingly, the synod spends much of its time just planning for the next furlough. Then to make matters completely unsurvivable, we adopt policies that scare off people with kids. You watch this stuff and you just have to wonder if the ELCA really wants to survive. It looks like it is suicidal.

How do you know?

Posted by Johannes U. Oesch at February 12, 2011 20:43
Reading the post from Germany, I wonder about the RC-figures. Here in Germany each RC-parish has a complete roll of all RC-members resident in its vicinity, be they active or not. When people move, they get automatically transferred. Only if people renounce their church membership, they get out of the system. The same is true for the mainline Lutheran church bodies in Germany.
A couple years ago in our parish, a RC woman from the States was to be the sponsor at the baptism of her niece or so. But this woman from America could not produce any proof of being RC, she even did not know the address of her own parish. So I wonder how reliable are the number furnished by RC dioceses.

ELCA/Roman Catholics

Posted by Christine at July 11, 2011 19:35
<i>It's my sense that while there are plenty of Lutherans who were baptized and never been back, there are even more non-practicing Catholics.</i>

Oh yeah. I know of two, my husband, a "cradle Catholic" who has no use for the Catholic church since Vatican II and me, as a former ELCA and Catholic member.

I will say my stay in the ELCA did prepare me well in some ways to become Catholic for ten years, after which reality set back in and I had to spend a bit of time detoxing from the RC.

Cultural Catholicism? It's legion. Two things that the ELCA should never be impressed about, the numbers game in the Catholic church and their hierarchical structures.

Of course, having been raised Lutheran by a faithful Lutheran mother I came to my senses and have returned to my Lutheran roots but in the LCMS. The endless heterodoxy of the ELCA just makes membership there impossible.

But for heaven's sake, I wish the ELCA powers that be would quit mooning over the RC. There's not going to be any intercommunion between the ELCA and RC and frankly, I don't know why any orthodox Lutheran would want there to be.

Christine

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Spring 2014


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Reclaiming Luther's
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The Beatitudes are the Gospel

The Deprecations,
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Scattered Treasures of
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Lutheran Convents
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Illuminating the Desert

St. Johannes Honterus,
Reformer of Transylvania

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