Each year, WELS collects data from all congregations and schools. That data is compiled in a statistical report—hundreds of pages containing information for every church, circuit, conference, and district. WELS Congregational Services also publishes an annual Statistical Summary & Analysis. It translates those hundreds of pages of numbers into information that can be used by congregations and the synod as we plan how to best steward the resources God provides as we seek to do all we can with the gospel.
The 2022 Statistical Summary and Analysis is somewhat more comprehensive, as it examines the data of how WELS is “recovering” from the challenges of COVID. Some items of note:
2022 is unusual. It marked the largest one-year decline in membership in WELS history—2.8 percent, which amounts to about 10,000 members. Yet, in the same year, WELS had its largest one-year increase in in-person worship attendance, with almost 9,000 more souls gathering weekly than in 2021, an increase of 8.1 percent. Clearly, there is a post-COVID sorting going on. As congregations strive to encourage members to return to in-person worship, many members are doing so. However, congregations are also discovering many members who quietly quit during COVID or perhaps left even before COVID. This intensive shepherding work is ultimately good for churches.
2022 also marked the second time in three years that births in WELS fell below 3,000. In one decade, the birthrate in WELS has been more than cut in half. This is partially due to Millennials and Gen Z having fewer children than Gen X. However, the birth rate in WELS has not declined that much. The bigger issue is WELS has fewer childbearing-age couples today than it did a generation ago.
The Statistical Summary and Analysis also points to opportunities before us. For example, in one decade, the unchurched students enrolled in WELS’ early childhood ministries and Lutheran elementary schools has skyrocketed. It doubled in the elementary schools. And with WELS’ birthrate in decline, there will be room to bring in more unchurched students. Yet, in that same decade, adult confirmations coming out of youth education ministries have remained relatively flat. The prayer is that as we study the harvest strategies of the youth education ministries the Lord seems to be blessing, we might identify tactics that can be used more broadly, so that we might reach more unchurched students and parents for Christ.
Another opportunity is potentially provided through church consolidations. Those are becoming more common in WELS, as churches seek to improve their “critical mass” by merging. In many cases, those congregations rebrand themselves as a “new start.” It will be interesting to watch how the Lord blesses these efforts to increase gospel ministry in future years.
Rather than me providing more examples, why not take a look for yourself? You can find the WELS 2022 Statistical Summary and Analysis at welscongregationalservices.net/stat-summary-2022.
Author: Jonathan Hein
Volume: 110, Number 08
Issue: August 2023