Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why Don't Lutherans Like Babies?

I was talking with someone about my vicarage congregation on Long Island and teaching catechism there.  I believe I had about 100-120 in class (both years were taught together) so 50-60 were confirmed that year.  It was a huge group and the service had to be shifted to the gym because the nave only sat about 200 max (we had 5 services a week).  I think I can safely say they do not have such large classes still.  As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure that the numbers are closer to 10 than 50 or 60.

What has changed in 30 years or more?  Lutherans have stopped having babies.  In part this is because of the aging of the people in the pews but it is also due to the fact that Lutheran families capable of having children are having fewer children and many are having none at all.  Now some of you green people will think this is a good thing.  I think it is a terrible thing.  The chief reason Lutherans are not having babies is selfish -- we want to conserve and consume our resources for ourselves.  We no longer see children simply as blessings and gifts but more as burdens and responsibilities that accompany these blessings.  We complain about kids not being still during worship and we have come to believe that it would be better if children were not seen as well as not heard.

In the run up to Lutheran Book of Worship/Lutheran Worship hymnals, much was made of the baptismal rite and whether it should presume infant baptism with option for adult baptism or presume adult baptism with option for infant baptism.  LBW opted for the presumption of adult baptism with option for infant.  LW opted for infant baptism with option for adult.  While there was and is much to discuss in this, the very occasion for this debate was the growing realization that the number of Lutherans having babies was already going down, down, down.

In the more than 30 years I have been a Pastor I have noticed a shift in priorities in congregations.  Parochial schools are diminishing in size and even closing.  Preschools and day care facilities run by Lutheran congregations are filled with children from non-Lutheran homes and these things tend to be run as businesses to make money more than ministries to children and their families.  Where once it was assumed that any budget request or fund raiser for a child or youth program would be accepted and successful, some are complaining about the cost of children's and youth work in the congregation.  Even the National Youth Gathering dropped about 25% from over 30,000 in attendance to about 24,000.  Which brings up point two.

We as Lutherans are not doing a very good job of retaining the babies we do have.  Obviously this is directed more at the families of these children than the children themselves, but, the point is that we are misplacing large numbers of these children.  They are not around by the time catechism comes along and those confirmed are dropping out as well.  Look at any Sunday school roster in any Lutheran congregation and you see names of children who are never there or seldom there.  Their parents know how to make commitments (to programs for children and youth sports, dance, music, etc.) but they are not making that commitment to the Church.  This is not just their problem.  It is OUR problem.  What are we doing wrong that these Lutheran parents are thinking that sports or other youth programs are better for their kids than church, catechism, and Sunday school?  What are we doing wrong that these Lutheran parents are thinking they are good parents while failing at the job of raising their children IN the faith?

I am reminded of Jesus' words that he who is faithful in little will be given much to be faithful over... and that he who is not faithful in the little will have even the little he has taken from him...  Is it because we are not being faithful that Lutheran families are on average almost childless?  Is it because we are not being faithful that we are losing so many of these babies before they become children, and losing these children before they become youth, and losing these youth before they become teens?

You tell me... what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think a lot of it does revolve around being selfish. Why have small families - for some it can be fear and human frailty (which I am all for making concession towards), but in many cases it is just selfishness - I want X, Y, and Z, and a kid would take up the cash for Y and Z.

This also rolls over into how we handle folks. We encourage selfish approaches to church. "What do you want, what do you like" are questions that play off of a fundamentally selfish approach. We try to appeal to a person's particular wants rather than focusing on the objective realities of Christ's presence and forgiveness in the service.

And when we make that change, we've lost. We aren't going to provide all the services (you can be hip and call them "ministries" if you like) that people will want, and certainly not all the styles they want. I'm not going to out Baptist the Baptists... and if I try, I'll just lose. And of course, if I try to out Baptist the Baptists, the fellow who wanted the Anglican stuff or the Methodist stuff is going to say, "Hmmph, that fellow gets what he wants, but what I want is ignored, I'm outta here."

We've cared more about what people think rather than proclaiming Christ and pointing to him. Without the proclamation of Christ, there is no faith. Wherever the proclamation of Christ is diminished, there faith is diminished. This is what we see.

Lord have mercy upon us!

Anonymous said...

There are more women graduating from
college than men; there are more
women in the workforce than men, so
with more educated, young women in
full-time jobs, they have less desire
for children. Young women are no
longer content to be full-time, stay
at home moms. Some would say these
women are selfish, others would say
they want to achieve their full
potential as college graduates. The
reality is we live in a world of more
choices, and they are not all good

Brian Yamabe said...

I agree with your points on selfishness with regards to children, but I don't want your statement, "We as Lutherans are not doing a very good job of retaining the babies we do have." to get lost. We have largely lost an entire generation of people in our congregation. The children of the boomers who should be in church with their children are few and far between. I know many have left the area, but very few of those who are around attend. As a father of two young daughters the fear of this happening drives me to study and teach.

Anonymous said...

I think the selfish meme should be squashed before it stops us from answering the question.

Let me throw at you two thoughts that might lead to the decline; Mobility and community. Those who move do not find community in the church. The "golden age" had less mobility and more community in the church. So there is no internal need for their children to be church.

Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

without engaging anything actually relevent.

Your vicarage congregation is confirming 30-40 every year at this point (and they teach them separately).

Just thought you might be interested.


Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

At a recent church baby shower someone wrote on our guestbook, "One child per family is enough." Huh!?

Anonymous said...

Our Lutheran Preschool in a suburban
church is viewed by the parish as an
evangelism tool to reach young
families. Tuition helps us break
even and pay salaries of staff.
Congregation pays utilities, etc.
The preschool has brought many new
families into the congregation via
child baptisms and adult confirmands.
In no way is this preschool looked
upon as a business to make money.

Carl Vehse said...

Rather than put the worst construction on why Lutherans don't like babies (an ad hominem question itself on what Lutherans are thinking), one might rephrase the question to why aren't Lutheran families having more children, a factual statement not requiring the spiritual gift of clairvoyance.

Here are some reasons, some of which affect the others:

1. Permanent reduction in German immigration starting in the first half of the 20th century
2. The transition of Lutherans in social class from blue collar farm/union workers to upper middle class business and professional workers
3. The slower but measurable transition of Lutheran families after WWII from single wage earner to double wage earner (especially in major cities, and also among pastors' families)
4. The increased level of education of Lutherans from high school graduates to having college and graduate degrees
5. The increased mobility young of Lutheran people and married couples in the process of achieving Nos. 2, 3, and 4
6. The use of the contraceptive pill by Lutheran couples, among other reasons, to help achieve Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5
7. The increased use of automation, electricity, and machinery to replace manual labor previously needed on family farms and in the home
8. The increased cost in money and time of Lutheran parents to raise a child to achieve an equal or higher level of education/job opportunities than the parents had when they grew up
9. The increase in the average age of Lutheran parents (especially the wife) at the time of their first child
10. The increase in the average time between the first and second child in Lutheran families
11. The loss of Lutherans from intermarriage with nonLutherans because of increased interactions with a pluralistic, and increasingly non-Christian, society

There's no doubt more, and some bad, but these will need to be addressed in any reasonable discussion on increasing birth rates.

John said...


Tend the sheep and lambs of the flock to which God has called you!

Be certain that you properly administer the Means of Grace!

You are not responsible for the souls that reject the Means of Grace!

God bless all faithful shepherds!


Sayville Rev said...

Unless we are bowing down to the pressures of society to not be intolerant of other's views, or dumbing down our theology and presentation of it (as per your Lutheranism 101 piece), I am not sure we are doing anything "wrong" per se.

One of the excuses I have heard time and again here are the difficult requirements placed upon students by colleges for not only academics, but also community service, activities, and the like, just to be considered for admission. Unfortunately the material wants of parents for their children, although well intended, really do get in the way of catechesis of our teens, as well as seeing them in church. In addition, there are many two income families now, and with both parents working and kids involved in so many (I would say too many) activities, something's gotta give and unfortunately church is sometimes at the top of that list.

I also see an increased number of people who just do not connect the idea of "going to church" as a necessary part of their life of faith. More and more, people are claiming "membership" in our church who do not darken the door as faithfully as they should, not because they don't like it, but because they think that what they do (coming 4 or 5 times a year)is enough. It certainly is not for lack of invitation/encouragement/pleading/teaching/etc, for that is certainly present in a number of ways. But perhaps that is because of the largely Catholic area in which I live, for there are many milestone Christians here. 6th grade Sunday School has somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 kids that are on the rolls each year on average, but when it comes time for 1st Communion class (2nd half of 6th grade year), 30 show up. Where have they been? I am not sure I understand it myself, but there seems to be a mentality of "making one's sacraments" that is seen in the Catholic church.

However, to say that we are doing something wrong, or doing something right, surely continues to center on what is being offered, and that should be the core tenets of our Biblical/Lutheran faith centered upon Christ and his salvific work and the means of grace as the vehicle for dispensing his mercy to his people. Certainly we seek to find ways to deliver these gifts in fresh ways and help students to learn what their faith gives them as they tackle life, but can any more really be done than presenting the pure Gospel? We can't force people to come, or to believe it, or for parents to set a better example for their kids. We can encourage such things, show people the benefits, deliver the goods so to speak, but when it comes to the faithfulness of Lutherans, we have to rely on God's grace and His Spirit to work where he pleases, and pray he pleases to do so in our midst.

This too is something I have struggled with over the past year...are we losing our children? Is it something we are doing or not doing? I am not sure it is. As I said, we may be living in an era where people just don't connect church attendance, catechesis, and the like with a needful thing for their faith life. Thus, it may take a generation to change people's mentality on this issue. But as I see it, we continue teaching the faith, taking advantage of the time that people are here and trusting the Holy Spirit to do his work as he promises. Maybe the youth will convince their parents. Maybe they will bring friends. Or in the least, maybe they will bring their children up mare faithfully. But we are to teach and preach and administer the sacraments. Anything less would be doing something wrong.

Rev. Brian Noack

P.S. - As the current pastor of your vicarage congregation, I can vouch for the anonymous post on this page...we currently have 28 in our second year confirmation class and over 30 in our first year. It certainly is not quite like the glory days of when you were here, but it is still a strong program, and still one of the larger ones on the Island...not that I am comparing or boasting, just stating the facts.

Sayville Rev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Betsy said...

As a former Lutheran, I found your post particularly interesting. My parents are still very devout Lutherans but all of their children (myself included) have become devout Roman Catholics. I can only speak for myself, but my journey from Lutheranism towards Catholicism began at the tender age of 12 when I sensed that the Lutheran acceptance of birth control meant that children weren't seen as intrinsic a child, that was a painful realization. So, I guess I'm saying that I agree that the reality is sad: the babies are dissapearing...and in my case, that very fact was the catalyst that started my search for a greener (baby-friendlier) pasture. (I should note that deep prayer, theology, history, etc. all went into my adult conversion to Catholicism; not simply that I liked the line drawn against artificial birth control).

Anonymous said...

Here's a fun math word problem for church growth enthusiasts.

Assuming only death (at age 100) will part congregants from the congregation, how many new converts do you have to get each year to maintain a congregation of 200 if both the new converts and the current members average 1.5 kids?


Anonymous said...

"There are more women graduating from
college than men; there are more
women in the workforce than men, so
with more educated, young women in
full-time jobs, they have less desire
for children. Young women are no
longer content to be full-time, stay
at home moms."

Sure they are.

However, their parents and teachers and friends are not. Women are relentlessly pressured to pursue education and compete with men at work and at home. If they do not comply, they are shamed as stupid, and brainwashed for obeying their husbands and derided as selfish for loving and serving their own families ahead of the community. The only good is the common good of the community. The family is a distant second and husband dead last. We women are constantly told that we are not content to be moms, we are reminded constantly that that a career is really what we are want and not to allow anyone to stop us from choosing a career outside the home. There is no end of reassuring women that we want to lead and serve the community.

Nevertheless, women who are doctors, lawyers, engineers and all other professions quit their jobs at far higher rates than men to stay home once they have proved to their parents, teachers and friends that no, we are not stupid or incompetent and we have finally gained the confidence to follow our hearts and serve our families first. We regret all the children we didn't have while we were following someone else's dreams. We know there is no sympathetic ear for our story. We are mostly silent. No one will feel the pangs of guilt for misleading us. We know that no one will shed a tear of remorse for the children we will never hold. We shed our own tears.

Anonymous said...

"There are more women graduating from
college than men; there are more
women in the workforce than men, so
with more educated, young women in
full-time jobs, they have less desire
for children."

First, look at the degrees they are getting. Many are not getting much in the way of education, more like indoctrination and credentials. Why do women now need a BA to be a secretary? In my mother's day a HS diploma was enough to get a secretary job.

"young women in
full-time jobs, they have less desire
for children."

Confusing desire with opportunity and women's natural instincts to comply and follow the dictates of authority. There is plenty of desire for children. Illegitimacy is around 50% despite plenty of birth control.

Untamed Shrew said...

I'm a pastor's wife in St. Louis. Most sem wives I know are on the pill or some other abortifacient in an attempt to postpone kids until both seminarian and wife are done with grad school. This is only responsible, right? If you try to tell them how these so-called "contraceptives" work and how ungodly they are, the message falls on deaf ears. It sickens me, especially because I used to be one of them. (You can read all about my repentance in the MO LFL current newsletter.)

Anon #14 nailed it--there is pressure for these gals to prove their intelligence. Once they have that expensive degree, they'd darn well better make use of it; otherwise, what poor stewardship!

Poor stewardship indeed. Matt 25:14-30. "Master I was afraid, so I hid your fertility in the ground.... Here you have what is yours." Yes, we're all afraid--afraid of what childbearing does to our bodies, our public image (doesn't she know what causes that?), our marriages, our finances, our standard of living, our freedom to be selfish.

Those sem families who trust God's timing and provision have commented to me how saddened they are at the lack of joy and acceptance for lots of children. Meanwhile, LCMS membership continues to decline. We've basically been operating via conversion-only since the 70's. Not working so well, is it?

Robert said...

The Evangelical Lutheran Church used to teach and preach what the Bible says about male and female, marriage, family, children and education.

Until that Church begins to teach what the Bible says about these matters, instead of relying on secular society, psychology, and sociology to do her work for her, she will continue to decline, decline, decline.

Concordia Publishing House has a great resource, endorsed by LCMS President Matt Harrison, on what the Bible teaches about marriage and family. Every Lutheran parish should have and use this resource as part of a parish-wide emphasis on marriage.

It's called "Marriage by God's Design." Just type that into the search window at cph dot org.

Robert at

ehartsay said...

Is there some reason that you title this essay "Why Don't Lutherans Like Babies?" when your REAL question is "Why Don't Lutherans want to HAVE Babies?"

There is a difference between liking or not liking something and whether or not you actually want have one.