LCMS Churches Close as Membership Plummets under Harrison's Leadership

LCMS Membership Plummets Under Harrison

At the 2017 Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Fall Leadership Conference, President Matthew C. Harrison cast a dark vision for future membership numbers in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

During a conference where attendees hope to hear positive motivation from our Synod President, instead Harrison spent his time attempting to convince attendees that numerical decline is inevitable.  His answer to LCMS decline is to focus ministry efforts on areas where Northern Europeans are in the majority in America.

Harrison spoke of the prediction that our beloved LCMS will decline over the next 10-15 years by over 500,000 members!  A decline of 500,000 members would be a 25% drop in LCMS membership rolls.


Harrison delivered the grim prediction after admitting he has presided over the steepest five year membership decline in Synod history.

LCMS membership has declined 2% per year during Harrison’s administration.  That’s almost TWICE the annual rate of decline under the Kieschnick administration.  There probably never has been, and hopefully never again will be, such a negative forecast for LCMS membership as was delivered by Harrison. He relentlessly sought to persuade his audience that steep numerical decline is demographically baked in for the Missouri Synod.


Exactly how negative was Harrison? Was his vision of our numerical future really THAT dark?

LISTEN TO HIM FOR YOURSELF and ask, “Is this the leader I want to follow?”

If you’re a doubter, consider watching and listening to his address for yourself by clicking on the link below.  (Caution! If you are a pastor or member in one of the thousands of happy LCMS congregations, listening to Harrison for 30 minutes may place you in a deep funk from which it might take you hours to escape.)

President Harrison’s “JOY!Fully Lutheran” presentation to the 2017 LCEF Conference.

Did Synod’s current President provide any positive plan or goal for increasing membership?  At 8 minutes into his speech, Harrison ponders the three “Conventional Solutions” that others have identified as “the answer”:  increase evangelism, increase natural growth, and expand our ethnic mix to “look like America.”  For most of the rest of his speech Harrison explains why these answers won’t work in the LCMS.

There was one positive comment about evangelism.  For 15 seconds — yes, literally from the 9:15 minute mark on the video until the 9:30 minute mark — Harrison spoke of Concordia Publishing House’s new evangelism tool, Everyone His Witness.  And he talked about the importance of retaining our own children in Synod.  But, then he quickly returned to his obviously favorite topics — demographic studies, and, wait for it … birth rates.


When he spoke of strategic church planting, Harrison’s plan is to identify all the zip codes where he says demographics are favorable to the LCMS but where we don’t have churches (watch minutes 23:45 and following for this point).

This is President Harrison’s ethnic-exclusive ministry growth plan verbatim:

“We are in the process of identifying zip codes across the U.S. where the demographics are favorable to the LCMS but where we don’t have churches.  We must have healthy, self-supporting churches in these places, churches that identify with their districts, sister congregations and Synod and are engaged in outreach in their community and beyond.  And let’s be joyfully Lutheran.”

Immediately before that statement, Matt had derisively linked New Jersey’s decline in LCMS membership to its lowest birthrate in the country for European Americans.

One may guess there is good news European Americans (whatever that means, but we can all probably guess):  a LCMS church plant might be arriving in your demographically-favorable neighborhoods soon!

Then suddenly, after his demographics lecture, Harrison rhetorically attempted to spin on a dime and smilingly exude about being Joy:Fully Lutheran as if his LCEF audience still had an ounce of joy in their bodies and spirits after hearing him energetically share a prediction of Synod’s demographic disaster.  It is depressing to repeat Harrison’s remarks in this article.  One can only imagine the profound unease of those who were listening live to him at the LCEF Fall Leadership Conference.

Earlier, President Harrison laid the blame for the decline of the LCMS on LCMS women and low birth-rates (click here to see the Congregations Matter article).  Now Harrison’s answer is to embrace and expand our ministry to Northern Europeans in America instead of people in our neighborhoods and towns.


The LCEF is vital to our current congregations and to future congregations.  However, LCMS congregations are poorly-led when a Synod President gives a well-rehearsed public address intended to convince LCMS congregations that numerical decline is inevitable.

After seven years as our president, Matt Harrison has no real plans to change what he sees as our “inevitable” decline.  By listening to President Harrison, one wonders if the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament ministry has anything to do with the growth of Christ’s Church, His Body.

Synod’s numerical rate of decline since Harrison was first elected President has been the steepest in our history – 2% a year. And, Harrison is now speaking of a prediction Synod’s decline will accelerate even faster — another 25% decline in the next 10–15 years.


About half-way through his presentation (watch minutes 16:45 and beyond), President Harrison makes one good suggestion.  Harrison states that we in the LCMS need to “make the necessary difficult decisions, change course and prepare for the future.”

Congregations Matter couldn’t agree more.  For our future, we must make a difficult decision and change course.  It is time for a change of leadership in the LCMS.

Two Simple Questions

  • Do you want to be led by a Synod President who is so deliberately negative about the numerical future of our Synod?
  • Do you want to be led by a Synod President whose evangelism answer is “Let’s open churches in zip codes where German-Americans live”?

Congregations Matter is concerned about President Harrison speaking in public for our Synod for even another year and half.  His effect on the morale of our pastors and our laypeople is devastating.  Few people want to be part of such a negatively-led organization with no real plan for the future.

When President Harrison comes to your local district convention in the coming months, ask him to justify his planned remarks and presentation to the LCEF.

Let’s focus on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and God will bring the increase.  Our Lord will never, ever let His church fail. God always wins.


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