Lutheran Churches and Organizations


The two largest Lutheran church bodies in America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), with about 5 million members in 2003, and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), which had about 2.5 million members in 2003. [6] Other large Lutheran churches include the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) (413,839 members), the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (36,400), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS; 24,000). [7]

The ELCA meets in assembly every two years, and elects a bishop to a six-year term. In 2001, the ELCA elected the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, who may be reelected in 2007. "In addition to fulfilling such roles as preacher, teacher and administrator of the sacraments, which traditionally belong to the office of bishop, the presiding bishop of this church serves as president and chief executive officer of the corporation and oversees the staff, budget, and overall administration of the church." [8]

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is more conservative than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA allows for the possibility of errors and cultural limitations in the Bible and interprets it using the methods of historical criticism. The ELCA ordains women and is tends to be open to the acceptance of homosexuality and abortion among its members. Similarly, although all Lutherans are guided by the 16th-century Lutheran confessions set out in the Book of Concord, the ELCA does not require its members to accept them in their entirety as normative standards for modern life. LCMS members, on the other hand, "accept without reservation all the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, normative also for the church today." [9]

Another important difference between the LCMS and the ELCA is in the area of ecumenism. The ELCA is a member of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches, and has entered into full fellowship with non-Lutheran churches. This means that the ELCA accepts sacraments, such as ordination and communion, performed by churches other than the ELCA as valid. The LCMS, on the other hand, "believes that the Bible requires full agreement in doctrine before it is possible to join in altar and pulpit fellowship with other churches (Rom. 16:17)." The practical difference for a Lutheran churchgoer is that LCMS members and certain other Protestants may take communion in an ELCA congregation, but one must be an LCMS member to take communion in an LCMS congregation.


  1. "The Difference Between the ELCA and the LCMS," Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Official Site.
  2. Beliefs: "Lutheran Confessions," Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Official Site.
  3. Practices: "What About Baptism?" LCMS website.
  4. FAQ: Homosexuality, LCMS website.
  5. ELCA/LCMS: The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
  6. Ibid.
  7. LWF 2003 Membership Details
  8. ELCA Office of the Bishop
  9. "The Difference Between the ELCA and the LCMS," Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Official Site.

Lutheran Publishers, Colleges, and Other Organizations

The Lutheran World Federation The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Augsburg Fortress Publishers - The publishing house of the ELCA. Beta Sigma Psi - A national fraternity of Lutheran men. Concordia Publishing House - The publishing house of the LCMS. ELCA Colleges and Universities - 28 colleges and universities associated with the ELCA. Journal of Lutheran Ethics - An online journal of associated with the ELCA. Lutheran Film Associates - Missouri-based agency that produces Lutheran films and television programs. Lutherans for Life - Lutheran pro-life organization. The Lutheran Magazine - The magazine of the ELCA. Lutheran World Relief - Lutheran humanitarian organization.


Article Info

Title Lutheran Churches and Organizations
Last UpdatedFebruary 13, 2021
MLA Citation “Lutheran Churches and Organizations.” 13 Feb. 2021. Web. Accessed 23 Jan. 2022. <>