A Declining Church 500 Years After Martin Luther

Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, the church which he served is struggling to maintain parishioners. In Martin Luther’s Church the Pastor Asks: Where Have All the Protestants is a report by Newsweek. It examines the decline of this church that once stood as the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.

Five centuries is a long time undoubtedly with many peaks and valleys of membership and attendance for this church. Yet it appears that much of the decline has happened in my lifetime. Here is a list of some of the tidbits from the Newsweek article.

The church has experienced significant decline since the end of communism. Being part of the church during the reign of the communists put folks at odds with the government. Yet the freedom from that oppressive system has witnessed a freedom from both the government control and the involvement in the church.

The rise of personal autonomy has produced a throwing off of both church and state. During times of communal crises (local, national or global), folks usually find their way back to the church. But with peace and prosperity, they have stayed away.

During communism’s rule pastors were often seen as highly significant. That esteem has been lessened during a generation of freedom.

Perhaps the problem is not merely with the unaffiliated people. The church seems to have lost it’s voice. As one person said, “It doesn’t really stand for anything anymore. I could just as well join Greenpeace.” Others see the church as an institution merely operating social programs.

The church now competes with political parties, trade unions and other organizations in the same arenas.

As the 500th anniversary of Luther’s work dawns, the church is experiencing an increase in tourism activities. But this is hardly the purpose of its existence.

Please pray for this historic church that it would once again find its gospel voice.