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For a study guide, see page 27. See also “Presiding bishop,” page 50.


traditional aspects of ministry may hinge on the loss of even one or two strong givers.


Is a congregation’s ability to do


Kisten Thompson takes one of her prayer walks in the neighborhood that surrounds North Emanual Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. The pastor uses these walks to help decide how the church can reach out into the community (see page 25).


effective ministry tied inextricably to its size? No. Small congregations are capable of effective ministry, as they demonstrate every day around the church. But declining attendance most often translates into declining numbers of people available to do the work of ministry—within the church itself and in the community it serves. The stagnating economy and declining worship attendance are just two of many possible reasons for struggling congregations. In some cases, congregations are still trying to deal with the fallout from clergy misconduct, even though the parties involved are long gone. Still others are coping with the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly regarding human sexuality. Changes in the general public’s attitude toward religion also have exacerbated the situation for congre- gations struggling to reach out to new members. The American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2008 showed that the number of respondents identifying themselves as atheist, agnostic or no religion grew from more than 14,000 in 1990 to slightly more than 34,000 in 2008. The study also showed that in the category “don’t know/refused to answer,” the number of respon- dents almost tripled, from 4,000 to just under 12,000. (It’s worth noting that although the U.S. population increased as well from 1990 to 2008, the number of people surveyed for the study each year stayed the same.) Over basically the same period, statistics from the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, gathered by the National Council of Churches, showed membership trends in the ELCA, the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran


March 2011 21


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