Generational Generosity:

Handing Down Our Faith to Our Children and Our Children’s Children

By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.

Published in Journal of Lutheran Mission 26, no. 3 (Dec. 2016): 85–121.


  1. A pervasive pattern of numerical decline has challenged the LCMS for decades.
  2. The “Standard Stories” fail to explain the pervasive patterns of decline. Examples:
    • “If only we could evangelize like the Baptists” (... but in fact the Southern Baptist Convention also is in decline and cannot boast of an evangelism yield any higher than that of the LCMS).
    • “It’s because we were always a rural synod, but now the nation is urban” (... but in fact rural, urban, and subur- ban congregations all have experienced numerical declines).
    • “If only we weren’t so conservative, more people would come and more people would stay” (... but in fact liberal church bodies have declined even faster than conservative ones).
    • “If only we had better youth programs, then our young people wouldn’t leave after confirmation” (... but in fact a congregation cannot possibly retain a confirmand who never existed in the first place, and youth confirmations dropped 66% from 1969 to 2008).
    • “We need more early childhood centers to attract young families” (... but in fact the number of child baptisms per year plunged 55% from 1990 to 2010 — precisely the era in which early childhood centers were growing in both numbers and aggregate enrollment).
  3. One factor has overpowered all other factors in the synod’s numerical decline: a plummeting birth rate during the 1960s, which never rebounded but instead fell further during the 1990s.
    • The birth rate peaked in 1956 at 4% (four births per 100 baptized members).
    • In the 1970s and the 1980s, the birth rate averaged about 2%.
    • Today, the birth rate is scarcely higher than 1%.
  4. Seven factors jointly have contributed to a steep and persistent decline in births, most of which factors also have hin- dered retention from baptism through confirmation:
    • Delayed Marriage
    • Birth Control
    • Infertility
    • Divorce
    • Student Debt
    • Doctrinal Change
    • Vocational Confusion
  5. Three actions are recommended for rebuilding baptized/confirmed membership:
    • Revive the teaching of a biblical and confessional Lutheran understanding of family vocations.
    • Foster intergenerational models of ministry.
    • Provide economic support for young and growing families.


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