The National Council of Churches has released its Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches – 2012. And as has become my custom, I am publishing and commenting on the results of the Yearbook‘s 25 largest “churches.”*
If it seems that my posts about the Yearbook are becoming redundant, that’s because the trends are very stable. “Membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining, reports the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, the Yearbook‘s editor.” Truthfully, there’s probably a lot of copy-and-paste involved in producing the Yearbook year to year.
Here is the list of the 25 largest “church” bodies, from the NCC’s press release.
Total church membership reported in the 2011 Yearbook is 145,691,446 members, down 1.15 percent over 2011.
Top 25 U.S. churches reported in the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches:
- The Catholic Church 68,202,492, ranked 1 [ranked 1 in 2011], down 0.44 percent.
- Southern Baptist Convention 16,136,044, ranked 2 [ranked 2 in 2011], down 0.15 percent.
- The United Methodist Church 7,679,850, ranked 3 [ranked 3 in 2011], down 1.22 percent.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6,157,238, ranked 4 [ranked 4 in 2011], up 1.62 percent.
- The Church of God in Christ 5,499,875, ranked 5 [ranked 5 in 2011], no update reported.
- National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. 5,197,512, ranked 6 [ranked 6 in 2011], up 3.95 percent.
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,274,855, ranked 7 [ranked 7 in 2011], down 5.90 percent.
- National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 3,500,000, ranked 8 [ranked 8 in 2011], no update reported.
- Assemblies of God 3,030,944, ranked 9 [ranked 9 in 2011], up 3.99 percent.
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2,675,873, ranked 10 [ranked 10 in 2011], down 3.42 percent.
- African Methodist Episcopal Church 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.
- National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.
- The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2,278,586, ranked 13 [ranked 13 in 2011], down 1.45 percent.
- The Episcopal Church 1,951,907, ranked 14 [ranked 14 in 2011], down 2.71 percent.
- Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1,800,000, ranked 15 [ranked 17 in 2011], up 20 percent.
- Churches of Christ 1,639,495, ranked 16 [ranked 15 in 2011], no update reported.
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1,500,000 , ranked 17 [ranked 16 in 2011], no update reported.
- The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 1,400,000, ranked 18 [ranked 18 in 2011], no update reported.
- American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1,308,054, ranked 19 [ranked 19 in 2011], down 0.19 percent.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses 1,184,249, ranked 20 [ranked 20 in 2011], up 1.85 percent.
- Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1,074,047, ranked 21 [ranked 22 in 2011], down 0.21 percent.
- Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1,071,616, ranked 22 [ranked 23 in 2011], no update reported.
- Seventh-day Adventist Church 1,060,386, ranked 23 [ranked 24 in 2011], up 1.61 percent.
- United Church of Christ 1,058,423, ranked 24 [ranked 21 in 2011], down 2.02 percent.
- Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000, ranked 25 [ranked 25 in 2011], no update reported.
Total membership in top 25 churches: 145,691,446, down 1.15 percent.
And my commentary:
- The biggest winners are the Assemblies of God, +3.99 percent. Congratulations to them! Their focus on evangelism and conversion is bearing fruit. Congrats also to the National Baptist Convention (+3.95), the Jehovah’s Witnesses (+1.85), the Latter-day Saints (+1.62), and the Seventh-Day Adventists (+1.61). I wonder if there was a typo in reporting for the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (Up 20% in one year?! To precisely 1,800,000 members, on the dot?!).
- The steady-as-she-goes groups include the Catholics (-.44), Southern Baptists (-.15), American Baptists (-.19), and Church of God (-.21). This, of course, is not the same as the bodies with “no update reported.” As I have lamented before, I wish these groups would determine who their members or adherents are and count them–just as a courtesy.
- And speaking of Catholics: I have read that the second largest religious group in America, if counted separately, would be lapsed Catholics. I have been unable to locate any serious attempt to count those folks (I believe they are lumped into the 68 million number, because that’s baptized Catholics), although I have read figures like 22 million. If you know, please chime in!
- The biggest loser is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (-5.9), although there was some stiff competition from other mainline Protestant groups (Presbyterian Church [USA] -3.42, The Episcopal Church -2.71, United Church of Christ -2.02, United Methodist Church -1.22). I know there are many structural hurdles for the ELCA (e.g., small churches in small, dwindling, rural communities), but I also know from observations on the ground that many Lutheran Christians, concerned with doctrinal drift and compromise with the world, are leaving their denomination. As various studies have confirmed, denominational loyalty is at historic lows, and almost a majority of American Christians switch denominations/traditions during their lifetimes.
- My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), is facing a similar membership hemorrhage as the ELCA, although we are behind by a couple of years. And these figures are actually from 2010. So I look for the PCUSA’s decline to accerlate. At this rate, when I retire in 30 or so years, there will be no more PCUSA! (That’s assuming, of course, that the institution can remain intact for that long anyway.) And as I have mentioned before, the PCUSA reports total adherents (including baptized children), rather than active members, so the number is inflated. I also don’t know if departing congregations (also a rising number) are counted as membership losses.
- Man, there are lots of Baptists and Pentecostal Christians in the United States!
* As I have pointed out before, the Yearbook‘s definition of “church” includes the typical Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical bodies, as well as sects such as the Jehovah’s witnesses and unorthodox bodies like the Latter-day Saints.