THIS JUST IN! The annual stats on church membership are out from the official keepers of such data— and we’ll tell you in a moment how America’s “Top 25 Churches” stacked up in the latest ranking.
BUT FIRST, the bottom line: The Top 25 Churches only account for half of Americans: That’s 146,663,972 people out of the 305,881,064 residents in the U.S. (according to the U.S. Census this morning).
What’s wrong here?
Well, we know from years of research that virtually 9 out of 10 Americans describe themselves as religious. (Despite the prominence of atheists with new books at the moment, they’re a tiny minority in the population.) So, the obvious question in these new numbers is: What’s up with those 100-plus million Americans who say they’re religious or spiritual but they don’t belong to one of these Top 25 Churches?
The answer is: a bunch are children (some denominations count children while others don’t); a bunch belong to the hundreds of other small religious groups across the U.S.; some belong to non-Christian faiths and the bulk of them have a spiritual core to their lives, but they simply don’t want to join an official congregation.
THAT’S WHY, we want to alert you to three things going on this week that you won’t want to miss — outside the doors of churches:
Check Out the remarkable Darwin dialogue breaking out between evangelicals and scientists.
Check Out our Twitter experiment that’s designed to nurture a little stream of daily spiritual messages to folks who care to subscribe to these free Tweets.
And, Check Out “Our Lent,” which is just about to “go live” on Ash Wednesday with a broad daily array of spiritual resources for this spring season of spiritual reflection.
THEN, here’s the news from the about-to-be-released “2009 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.” (If you’d like to order a copy of this important annual reference work, check out the link at the end of today’s story.)
2009 YEARBOOK REPORTS DECLINES
FOR CATHOLICS, SOUTHERN BAPTISTS, BUT —
NO SINGLE DOCTRINAL PRINCIPLE IN SHIFTS
NEW YORK — The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a significant decline in membership of the U.S.’s largest Christian communions.
In the U.S., membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon. The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook. Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000 members.
This is the latest available compiled data, but this detailed reporting lags by more than a year — so actual declines may be even greater to date. Top membership figures were compiled by the churches in 2007 and reported to the Yearbook in 2008.
The 2009 Yearbook also includes an essay by the editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, on the various ways churches count their members. Lindner concludes that the Catholic and Southern Baptist figures are not earth shattering given the size of the churches. Roman Catholics compose the nation’s largest church with a membership of 67,117,016, and Southern Baptists rank second in the nation at 16,266,920.
But this year’s reported decline raises eyebrows because Catholic and Southern Baptist membership has grown dependably over the years. Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline.
According to the 2009 Yearbook, among the 25 largest churches in the U.S., four are growing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (up 1.63 percent to 5,873,408; the Assemblies of God (up 0.96 percent to 2,863,265); Jehovah’s Witnesses (up 2.12 percent to 1,092,169); and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn. (up 2.04 percent to 1,053,642).
However, there are no clear-cut theological or sociological reasons for church growth or decline, says Editor Lindner. “Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of church-goers — the Gen X’ers or Millenials in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them.” Beyond that general principle, the shifting membership patterns yield no single explanation.
Former Southern Baptist President Frank Page told the Associated Press that the decline in his denomination was troubling because of the Southern Baptist emphasis on winning souls. Page called on Southern Baptists to “recommit to a life of loving people and ministering to people without strings attached so people will be more open to hearing the Gospel message.”
Churches listed in the Yearbook as experiencing the highest rate of membership loss are the United Church of Christ (down 6.01 percent), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (down 3.01 percent), the Presbyterian Church (USA) (down 2.79 percent), the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (down 1.44 percent) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down 1.35 percent),
American Baptist Churches USA, on the other hand, cut its previous decline rate of 1.82 percent in half, now reporting a decline of 0.94 percent.
Membership of the Top 25 churches in the U.S. totals 146,663,972 — down 0.49 percent from last year’s total of 147,382,460.
The Top 25 Churches
in the 2009 Yearbook
in Order of Size in the U.S.:
Catholic Church, 67,117,06 members, down 0.59 percent. (Rank 1)
Southern Baptist Convention, 16,266,920 members, down 0.24 percent. (Rank 2)
United Methodist Church, 7,931,733 members, down 0.80 percent. (Rank 3)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,873,408 members, up 1.63 percent. (Rank 4)
Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no change. (Rank 5)
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., 5,000,000 members, no change. (Rank 6)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,709,956 members, down 1.35 percent. (Rank 7)
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 8)
Presbyterian Church (USA), 2,941,412 members, down 2.79 percent (Rank 9)
Assemblies of God, 2,863,265 members, up 0.96 percent. (Rank 10)
African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 11)
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 11)
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 2,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 11)
Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,383,084 members, down 1.44 percent. (Rank 14)
Episcopal Church, 2,116,749 members, down 1.76 percent. (Rank 15)
Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no change. (Rank 16)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 17)
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no change. (Rank 17)
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, down 3.01 percent. (Rank 19)
American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,358,351, down 0.94 percent. (Rank 20)
Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1,200,000, no change. (Rank 21)
United Church of Christ, 1,145,281 members, down 6.01 percent. (Rank 22)
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,092,169 members, up 2.12 percent (Rank 23)
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 1,071,616 members, no change. (Rank 24)
Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), 1,053,642 members, up 2.04 percent. (Rank 25)
CARE TO READ MORE?
Here’s a special Web site to pre-order this about-to-be-released reference book. The site also has intriguing links for further reading.
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