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The LCMS in the Face of Demographic and Social Change
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod claims nearly 2 million members, making it the second-largest Lutheran Church in the United States. However, its membership has steadily fallen since the 1970s, prompting questions about the church’s future. The LCMS commissioned University of Alabama researcher George Hawley to study the ongoing decline, and his report, published in December of 2016, laid emphasis on “low fertility among its adherents” alongside the overall decline in “religious identification and observance” in the United States.[2, 3]
LCMS officials now routinely cite Hawley to support their demographic explanation for membership decline. LCMS president Matt Harrison spoke about the report at some length in a speech he gave in 2018.
Engaging and Retaining Young People
Millennials* are the largest segment of the American population but “the smallest segment in the pews”, according to a 2017 study by the LCMS. The future does not look very different. Based on historical retention rates, “Generation Z will become the smallest segment of adults in the LCMS, but only until their children grow up and replace them as the smallest segment of adults.”
In the same speech from 2018, President Harrison claimed this study “blows up all kinds of myths” about the retention of young people.
President Harrison did not mention that LCMS Congregational Survey data reveal similar retention rates for Millennials as for previous generations. “Millennials are not leaving the church in any larger numbers than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers.”