How to Find a North American Lutheran Church Near You
The North American Lutheran Church (NALC) tradition thrives as a famous Lutheran confession. But if you’re new to the faith, you may need help figuring out where to start. Your duty as a Christian is to attend a weekday or Sunday worship for spiritual enlightenment and nourishment. So knowing what Lutherans believe and how to find a parish is an essential step in your faith journey. While this article is designed to help you find a North American Lutheran Church near you, it is not your only option for Christian fellowship. Read on to learn about Lutheranism basics to decide what will best fulfill your spiritual desires.
What is the North American Lutheran Church?
The North American Lutheran Church (NALC) is a confederation of Lutheran churches in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Lutheranism traces its roots back to the 16th century in Germany, where Martin Luther initiated the Reformation. The NALC has its origins in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from the early beginnings in 1820, but separated in 2010 and has an estimated membership of 142,000 people with more than 430 congregations within North America. Today, it is the seventh largest Christian denomination in the world after:-
- Catholicism (1.34 billion)
- Pentecostalism (280 million)
- Orthodoxy (220 million)
- Anglicanism (110 million)
- Baptist churches (100 million)
- Non-denominational Christianity (100 million)
- Lutheranism (~90 million)
What are the main two branches of Lutheranism?
Within the global Lutheran mainstream are two main branches of Lutheranism:
- Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was founded in 1847 in Chicago by German immigrants under the leadership of Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, currently with a membership of about 1.8 million. As a conservative, reformed, confessional Lutheran church body, it militantly defends the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures and opposes the liberal social Gospel of mainline Lutheranism (the ELCA).
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was founded in 1988 by merging two Evangelical Lutheran bodies: the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, ELCA ecumenically represents the progressive wings of liberal Protestantism and gives a coherent expression of the Lutheran theological tradition amid many Evangelical denominations.
What is the largest Lutheran church in America?
As a single church entity, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is the largest Lutheran church in North America. It has an estimated membership of over 3.3 million as of December 2020. More than 8,900 affiliated worshiping communities serve in the US and the Caribbean Islands, including congregations and specialized ministries.
How many Lutherans are there in North America?
Over half a decade ago, Pew Research reported that approximately 1.5 percent of Americans identified as mainline Lutherans. Five years later, in 2020, the Lutheran World Federation estimated that the number of Lutherans in North America had reached a total of 3.6 million. The region also boasts more than 40 Lutheran denominations with active congregations and seminaries.
What do Lutherans believe?
Creedal Biblicism or legalistic faith are not characteristics of the Lutheran Church, at least not all of them. Therefore, knowing what they believe about faith and salvation is essential if you want to join a Lutheran congregation near you.
Driven by the mission of the Gospel of God’s redeeming love, Lutheranism has always emphasized the centrality of faith in God. However, Lutheran churches have the most varied liturgical traditions of any Protestant denomination, especially when including forms that predate the Reformation.
Confessional Lutheran churches agree with the Lutheran expositions found in the Book of Concord, a collection of documents that define Lutheran theology. As an accurate restatement of the interpretation of Lutheran doctrine in its purest form, the Book of Concord is considered the authoritative source for what the historical Lutheran Church believed.
Here are a few things that you can expect in any Lutheran church:
- Jesus rescued humankind from sin
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God ransomed us from our sins. His death reconciled us to the Father. His resurrection restored us with the promise of eternal life. He is the only Savior. (John 3:16, Romans 3:24)
- The Bible is the basis of the Christian faith
God has spoken to us through the Scriptures. He has not left us without means of finding him. Therefore, the Bible is our final authority and a reliable and trustworthy guide to God’s will.
- Only faith is necessary for salvation
Just exercising faith in Jesus Christ and what he did is enough to deserve the gracious gift of salvation. In contrast, the Roman Catholic church teaches that to achieve salvation, you must demonstrate good works in addition to faith.
- Baptism is the sacrament of forgiveness
Holy Baptism is more than just a symbol of cleansing. It is a sacrament of forgiveness and adoption. The Holy Spirit works through baptism to change us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, making us partakers of his life and divine nature.
- Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion)
Further assurance of God’s forgiveness binds us to our Savior. And the memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the closest communion we can have with God. It is also a sacrifice of thanksgiving and gives us a foretaste of his heavenly banquet.
Is the North American Lutheran Church different from other Lutheran branches? If so, how?
Former members of ELCA did not welcome the decision to ordain ministers in monogamous, same-sex relationships. They wanted to preserve the conservative practices of the church, which they were accustomed to, and felt that the church’s new direction was inconsistent with the Holy Scripture. In 2010, a group of these traditional Christians broke off from ELCA and formed the North American Lutheran Church. Homosexuality is not the only issue of disagreement. Fundamental differences in mission, theology, and practice between the NALC and other Lutheran branches of American churches can be summed up as follows:
- The NALC allows both men and women to participate fully in all ministries and offices in the church. Unlike Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), which still has a ban on women pastors and elders, NALC will ordain women as pastors of congregations.
- NALC officially rejects universalism. Contrary to ELCA, the NALC teaches that salvation is attainable only for those who have faith in Jesus Christ alone. And not all people will qualify to be saved or receive salvation.
What are the NALC worship services like?
Worship centers around Bible reading, prayers, and hymns. NALC holds Holy Communion every Sunday. Depending on location, some churches may hold services and worship in their native language. Others may share sermons online or in other media. Luther’s Small Catechism also remains a focus of worship where the youth participate in a Bible study. Besides these standard practices, the worship services vary from congregation to congregation, depending on each church’s mission, denomination, and Lutheran tradition.
Where can I go to join an NALC congregation?
If a person lives across the United States, their best bet would be to contact their local Lutheran church and inquire about the possibility of joining a church nearby. Most North American Lutheran Churches have their contact information posted on their website. For instance, you can find Lutheran congregations listed by state on this page. Likewise, you can follow this link for the contact information of the clergy sorted in alphabetical order.
How can Church.org help answer my questions?
We developed Church.org to help like-minded believers locate North American Lutheran Church congregations near them. With a database of over XXX churches and Christian organizations across the globe and numerous search filters, it’s easy to find a church that suits you. We come in handy for anyone looking to join a local worship service of their choice and also provide Christian resources and materials that complement what church you have decided to attend.