Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Immanuel faced a problem almost inexplicable to contemporary urban church leaders. The problem was: excessive growth.
Growth came in at least two forms: sheer numbers of people, and their wider geographic distribution in the metropolitan area. Thousands of Swedes came to Chicago, making it the third-largest Swedish city in the world. Most of them brought with them religious traditions or at least the desire to spend time with people of their nationality.
Churches were eager to respond, most notably the Lutherans and Roman Catholics, who were feeling the greatest pressure from the waves of immigration. Existing congregations, however, were placed under great stress. Buildings designed to hold a hundred people did not function well with ten times that number present. Moreover, immigrants, including Swedes, had begun moving well beyond the immediate vicinity of downtown and were now spreading north, west, and south of the central district. Many now lived several hours’ journey from their churches.
Immanuel began a process of establishing ‘sister’ or ‘daughter’ congregations throughout Chicago. The first was Salem Lutheran on the south side, in 1868, a mere 15 years after Immanuel’s founding. Two years, later, Immanuel moved to its new home on Sedgwick Street and turned over its old building to a new congregation, First Gethsemane Lutheran (now part of United In Faith Lutheran).
This pattern of ‘spinning off’ new congregations was to continue until 1905, at which time the development of new mission churches was assumed by the Augustana Synod. Among the congregations developed or assisted by Immanuel were Zion (1881), Trinity (1883), Saron (1888), Ebenezer (1892), Emaus (1895), Messiah (1896), Concordia (1898), Nebo (1901), Lebanon (1904), and Irving Park (1905). By 1905, the combined membership of these congregations was well in excess of 10,000.
Two other congregations did not follow this pattern. Realizing that it might be desirable to relocate in the Edgewater neighborhood, Immanuel established Bethel Lutheran in 1911. When Immanuel did relocate to Elmdale Avenue, the Bethel chapel rejoined its mother church. At the same time, Central Lutheran was organized to serve the near north community and took possession of the Sedgwick sanctuary. In more recent years, Immanuel has been instrumental in the creation of the Chinese Christian Church and St. Elias Arabic Church.
In one instance, the formation of new congregations was something less than harmonious. In the 1870’s, a large number of Swedish Lutherans had begun protesting what they sensed as moral laxness, uncertain theology, and a lack of personal piety within the Augustana Synod. By 1884, disagreement and dissent had led first to personal withdrawals from Augustana churches, then formation of new independent congregations, and finally to the formation of two new denominations, the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Evangelical Free Church. In the years from 1869 to 1884, parish records show that nearly 1000 Immanuel members left to join the covenant movement and were responsible for creating at least three Covenant congregations.
The fate of Immanuel’s ‘daughter congregations’ is certainly not uniform. Some remain strong and active. Some were involved in mergers and continue to live in that way. Some, sadly, simply disappeared. Together, they still provide an instructive look at the growth of Swedish Lutheranism in Chicago.