By DAVID YONKE ©2014 Religion News Service
For the first time in its long history, Thrivent
Financial is not just for Lutherans. The 111-year-old financial services firm
began taking applications this month from all Christians.
“We feel like we’re being called to serve more
people,” said Dick Moeller, chairman of the board.
The change from “Thrivent Financial for
Lutherans” to just “Thrivent Financial” was not a simple response to declining
membership in the Lutheran church, Moeller said, although that factor was
discussed during the lengthy transition talks. It’s more about having a
long-term strategy to share the company’s Christian business principles with
more people, he said.
“It will open many, many new doors for us in
terms of our ability to expand and help our members and communities,” he said.
The U.S. has three main Lutheran denominations,
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri
Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The ELCA, the largest of
the three with 3.9 million members in the U.S., reported a drop in weekly
attendance of 26 percent from 2003 to 2011.
CEO Brad Hewitt told the 1,600 members at the
regional meeting at the Henry Ford Museum that while Thrivent traces its
corporate roots to the turn of the 20th century, its history goes back to the
16th century and the founder of Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther.
Luther drafted a document in 1523 called the
“Fraternal Agreement on the Common Chest of the Entire Assembly at Leisnig,”
which established rules about pooling resources to help people in need. “The
phrase he used consistently was, ‘This is done for the honor of God and the
love of fellow Christians,’” Hewitt said, adding that Thrivent was formed by
Lutheran immigrants for the same basic purpose.
Moeller said the company chose to use the
Apostles’ Creed — a statement of Christian belief dating back to the 4th
century — as the determining factor in whether a person is eligible to join
“As a fraternal society we have an application
process. People have to apply. And as part of that they attest to believing in
the Apostles’ Creed,” he said.
He and Marie Uhrich, senior vice president of
communications, said that, in meeting with members over the last 18 months as
the changes were proposed, many told them they wanted their relatives who were
Christians but not Lutherans to be able to benefit from Thrivent’s insurance
policies and financial services.
Randy Boushek, chief financial officer, said
Thrivent’s core values as a company contribute “indirectly, but not
insignificantly” to Thrivent’s financial success with less fraud, litigation
and other costs often associated with major corporations.
Thrivent’s shareholders are its members, Boushek
said. Anyone who has a life insurance policy or an investment with the company
is an owner. “(That) means that we can and do manage our business for long-term
success, not short-term results,” he said.
It also means Thrivent, which ranks 325th on the
Fortune 500 list with $90.4 billion in assets under management, has been able
to stash away a “big rainy-day fund” of $7 billion.