And the results are in – 2011 Edition

The National Council of Churches has again released highlights from their annual 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (available for $55 online).  Here are some of the statistics, with my commentary below.

Overall, total church* membership** in the United States reported in the 2011 Yearbook is 145,838,339 members, down 1.05 percent over 2010.  The article concludes these basic trends: “Growing churches continue to grow and declining churches continue to decline.”  The editor, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, says, “The direction of membership (growth or decline) remains very stable…That is, churches which have been increasing in membership in recent years continue to grow and likewise, those churches which have been declining in recent years continue to decline.”

Here are the top 25 religious bodies, by decreasing size:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,503,456 members, up .57 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,160,088 members, down.42 percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,774,931 members, down 1.01 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6,058,907 members, up 1.42 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, 4,542,868 members, down 1.96 percent.

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

9. Assemblies of God, 2,914,669 members, up .52 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2,770,730 members, down 2.61 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.

13. The Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,312,111 members, down 1.08 percent.

14. The Episcopal Church, 2,006,343 members, down 2.48 percent.

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

16. 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.

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

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,310,505  members, down 1.55 percent.

20. Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,162,686 members, up 4.37 percent.

21. United Church of Christ, 1,080,199 members, down 2.83 percent.

22. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), 1,076,254 members, up .38 percent.

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ , 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

24. Seventh-Day Adventist Church. 1,043,606 members, up 4.31 percent.

25. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000 members, down 59.60 percent (due in part to a new methodology of counting members).

Besides the analysis of the NCC and The Christian Post, here are a few of my thoughts on the new numbers:

  • Regarding the increased number of Roman Catholics and Mormons, the cause is pretty simple: birth rate.  Also, aside from the content of their faith, Mormons practice aggressive evangelism–the key to growth beyond birth rate.
  • As usual, the Presbyterian Church (USA) reports its total adherents (including baptized infants), which inflates its numbers.  I appreciate their precision of counting, but the actual number of believer members is probably closer to 2 million (or maybe even under).  Regardless, the Presbyterians continue to shrink at an alarming rate.  In last year’s count, the Presbyterian Church (USA) did not count departing congregations as membership losses–a gimmick to minimize the appearance of membership hemorrhage.
  • I wish that some of these bodies would decide on what constitutes a “member” or an “adherent” and count them.  5,000,000 is not an accurate count.  Not even close.
  • I can’t help but think there has to be some double counting going on here.  As I understand it, Roman Catholics count all baptisms and don’t delete a member unless that person submits a written request.  And as we all know, there are tons of lapsed Catholics who participate in other churches but whose names remain officially on the roll.

* The Yearbook uses the term “church” to cover Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and evangelical bodies, as well as sects such as the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

** Unfortunately, there is great variance on how individual denominations count their adherents (e.g., “members,” “baptized members,” “inactive members,” attenders, etc. are not delineated in the counting), and the Yearbook simply uses the denominations’ own numbers.

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