And the Results are In – 2010 Edition

The National Council of Churches has published its 2010 Yearbook and released the top 25 largest “Christian”* denominations on their Web site.  In general, total “church”* membership is up .49% over 2009, to a total of 147,384,631.

As I have done in previous years, I will post their top 25 list and make some general comments.  Here are the largest religious bodies in the United States in 2009:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,228,438 members, down 0.24 percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000  members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down 1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.

11.  African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. National  Missionary Baptist Convention of America,  2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

14. The Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,337,349 members, down 1.92 percent.

15. The Episcopal Church, 2,057,292 members, down 2.81 percent.

16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, members, no membership updates reported.

20. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,331,127  members, down 2.00 percent.

21. Baptist Bible Fellowship International (ranked 22 last year), 1,200,000 members, no membership updates reported.

22. Jehovah’s Witnesses (ranked 23 last year) 1,114,009members, up 2.00 percent.

23. United Church of Christ (ranked 22 last year), 1,111,691 members, down 2.93 percent.

24. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), (ranked 25 last year), 1,072,169 members, up 1.76 percent.

25. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (ranked 24 last year), 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

General Comments:

  • Boy, there are lots of Baptists in the United States.
  • Are church bodies really keeping track of their adherents if their membership is listed as 5,000,000, on the dot?  Not 4,999,999, or 5,000,001?  Granted: gathering church data is tricky, especially for the looser associations of churches.  But seriously.
  • My own denomination, the PC(USA), earns the dubious title of loss leader again this year, shedding 3.28% of active membership in one year.  Way to go, team!  Note: the membership data for the PC(USA) is total adherents, including children, rather than active (believer) membership alone.
  • Eileen Lindner, the director of the annual study, cautions against blaming liberal denominations’ losses on secularization, but she doesn’t offer any alternate explanation at all.  Maybe it’s just conventional wisdom, but my gut tells me that most of the religious “nones” that are growing in number these days are former Mainline Protestants or children of Mainline Protestants who found the back door of the church.  More detail about who are swelling the ranks of the “nones” would be most enlightening.  On a related note, Cathy Lynn Grossman has written an insightful article about the denominational affiliation (or lack thereof) among younger generations of Americans.
  • Not to be cynical, but I can’t help but think that some of the bodies listed (especially Catholics and Mormons) are stable and/or growing because of reproduction.  I guess I’d like to see some more data on that.
  • I would also love to see some numbers that reflect actual church participation, rather than just “membership” (which is, unfortunately, a matter of having one’s name on a church roll for many people).  I know lots of people who might claim some religious association and even be considered a member of a church but who would, in reality, qualify as unchurched or secular.

* I put the words “Christian” and “church” in quotation marks, because some of the religious bodies listed in the Yearbook are arguably not Christian.

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