A Response to Questions about CUWAA Students and the LCMS

Recently a few questions have been brought to my attention regarding Concordia’s students. More specifically, there’s an interest in knowing more about Concordia’s tremendous enrollment growth and how many of the students are LCMS Lutherans. In addition, there is a desire to know more about whether Concordia is reaching non-Christian and unchurched students with the Gospel.

Invariably, during this political season within the The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, there are going to be questions asked and issues raised. It’s entirely fair and appropriate to do so, and it is a helpful way for all of us to examine our church body’s situation and circumstance. Of course, transparency is imperative, and goodwill ought to frame our interactions. The goal must be to give everyone the best possible insight into legitimate topics of inquiry.

For example, it makes sense to closely examine the mission and ministry of the Concordia University System as institutions of the Church. Given my own participation in the political process this time around, it seems wise to look into the record of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor (CUWAA) during my tenure.

From the outset, I want to state that I am proud of CUWAA and gratified by all that we were privileged to accomplish under God’s blessing. In particular, and despite some exaggerated claims to the contrary, CUWAA has exhibited uncompromised commitment to the Church’s confession and has faithfully served the LCMS. In humility, I will add, CUWAA has fulfilled its charge with distinction and has been a blessing in its representation of the Church’s mission, interests, and priorities. Every aspect of the work sought to carry out CUWAA’s mission “for the sake of the Church,” preparing future church workers for our parishes and schools and helping to equip others to become well-prepared contributors to their congregations and communities.

This is not to say that the work has been easy. Nor has the university, including my service as president, been without room for improvement. However, I am more than content to stand on Concordia’s record of fidelity and achievement. It would be the height of hubris to claim the good as the result of one person’s effort, and it would be disingenuous to sidestep shortcomings and failures by attaching blame to someone else. It was an extraordinary honor and privilege to serve as president of Concordia University for 24 years, and I am more than willing to explore questions about the university in detail with anyone who might be interested.

Recently a few questions have been brought to my attention regarding Concordia’s students. There’s an interest in knowing more about Concordia’s tremendous enrollment growth and how many of the students are LCMS Lutherans. In addition, there is a desire to know more about whether Concordia is reaching non-Christian and unchurched students with the Gospel. I am to be counted among those who believe that numbers hardly tell us the entire story of the Holy Spirit’s work among us. Nevertheless, the questions asked for numbers and percentages, so I am hopeful that the charts below will oblige.

A few points of summary might be helpful. There is no doubt that the overall percentage of LCMS students at CUWAA decreased as our total enrollment expanded. However, the actual overall number of LCMS students remained quite steady over these many years. 

Trends of "LCMS" and "All Lutherans" at CUWAA
Source: CUWAA Data Warehouse 
Note: Academic Year represents enrollment across 12 months; Fall Census represents enrollment snapshot on October 15 annually.

This stable trend in total number of LCMS students seems like a rather large accomplishment given the precipitous decline in LCMS baptized membership and the corresponding dwindling pool of LCMS students from which to draw. 

Source: Synodical Research Office
Source: Synodical Research Office

This graph offers a helpful comparison between CUWAA’s Lutheran student enrollment vis-à-vis the devastating drop in LCMS membership. This includes the disappointing decline of confirmands —potential Lutheran students. 

New LCMS Frosh-Percent Jr. Confirmations: Source: Synodical Research Office; CUWAA Data Warehouse
Note: The percentage of new LCMS freshmen compared to the available pool of confirmed LCMS college-seeking-age youth.

I was also intrigued by this question about adult Baptisms: “Does expanding the number of paying customers translate to baptized membership?” For starters, I never regarded students merely as “paying customers.” Rather, each one — Lutheran or not — is one loved by God in Christ. And we had a sacred charge to “help students grow in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and in the world.” Nothing brought me greater joy than when an unchurched student was brought to faith in Jesus and made part of the Body of Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism. From 2011 to 2021, 90 students at CUWAA were baptized into Christ. Praise the Lord! The average of nine Baptisms per year on CUWAA campuses compares to an average of 0.5 adult Baptisms per year in LCMS congregations over the same 10-year period. 

Source: Synodical Research Office

The graph above would suggest that many congregations have had very few adult Baptisms over the last decade, if any at all. While Concordia’s primary charge has been to advance the Church’s higher education interests, Concordia has undoubtedly also played a valuable role in carrying out the Church’s Great Commission

CUWAA’s Lutheran mission grounds our identity as God’s children, our partnership with congregations and Districts of our Synod, and our unity with all believers. It enables us to embrace opportunities available like nowhere else in the Church. To that end CUWAA accepts students from all religious backgrounds, creating a vibrant student community composed of Lutherans, other Christians, and non-Christians. The Holy Spirit is at work among us in impactful and noticeable ways as He plants seeds, nurtures faith, and extends God’s Kingdom. This includes a robust campus ministry that over a thousand students participate in each year. Students are guided by three full-time LCMS campus pastors who tend to the spiritual needs of all students. Moreover, as part of their academic experience students are exposed to a strong, extensive curriculum in which they consistently encounter the certain hope of Christian faith clearly presented in Lutheran theology from dedicated, consecrated faculty members. 

It was at an LCMS college, like CUWAA, that the Holy Spirit worked through faculty, coaches, administrators, roommates, teammates, and friends to bring me to faith in Jesus. Because of this LCMS college experience, I was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran, ordained as a pastor, and later called to serve as president at one of largest and most extraordinary Lutheran universities in the world. My own personal experience has never been far from my mind in my interactions with Concordia students. I rejoice to see scores of examples of powerful, lifechanging, transformational experiences that occur on campus. CUWAA wonderfully effectuates and exemplifies the mission, our “co-mission,” to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


Sign up to hear about what's going on

* We don't share your data. See our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Patrick Ferry in his officePatrick Ferry in his office