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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

LCMS Presidential Election: The Biggest Loser?

Voter registration will close for the LCMS Presidential Election today. The election will take place in June. As mentioned earlier on this blog, there is a lot of energy on both sides. The results will probably come down to turn out.

The incumbent, Rev. Matthew Harrison, is challenged by the Michigan District President, Rev. David Maier, and the senior pastor of St. John’s in Orange, Californian, Rev. Tim Klinkenberg. Both of the challengers have made the Synod’s numerical decline a central feature of their campaigns. Maier has focused on what a Debbie Downer the Harrison administration has been in daring to notice the decline and talk about it. And Klinkenberg recently flat out said that a Synod in “free fall” should be replaced by guys like him who know about “impactful ministry.” You can read his letter, which says “impactful” more than once, here

Since Maier and Klinkenberg bring it up, let’s talk about the numerical decline the Synod has been facing and how that fits with the question of leadership. Indeed, since both men have drawn attention to this, let’s compare the Synod, the Michigan District, and St. John’s in Orange, CA.

But what membership category should we use? Baptized membership? Confirmed membership? That would be unfair to the parish pastor. We all know how that game is played . . . the membership rolls are ignored for years, and then you look like a failure when you finally clean then up and suddenly show a decline. And indeed, that problem scales up to the district and Synod level. 

The only number worth talking about is average weekly attendance. That’s the real congregation: who shows up for services. Fortunately, we have those numbers for all three of the institutions under the care of our nominees. You can see them all for yourself—at the LCMS locator page for St. John’s in Orange, you’ll find the stats from 2009 to 2017, so we’ll use that range of years. And this happens also to work well for the MI District and the Synod since Maier was elected in 2009 and Harrison in 2010. For the MI and Synod numbers you just have to look in the back of the 2019 and 2011 editions of the Lutheran Annual (stats always lag 2 years).  

But just in case you don’t have them handy:

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So, yes, the Synod sure has been shrinking. And both the MI District and St. John’s in Orange have been underperforming the Synod average under the watch of their current leaders. This is truth and light, indeed.