Church demographers have been saying for awhile that Catholics are in big trouble if you take away growth from immigration and sure enough, the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which just came out, showed the Catholic Church declined .59 percent or 398,000 members in 2007. They still have some 67 million adherents, though.
The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, have been seeing faltering numbers for years in their own head counts. Their downward shift is finally being registered by the Yearbook, a bible of sorts for religion writers and scholars. They lost .24 percent or 40,000 members. Which is a drop in the bucket compared to their reported 16.2-million-member total but no one likes a shrinking membership base, no matter how slight.
Just in case you wondered, membership of America’s top 25 churches equals 146 million souls or just under half of the population. Churches listed in the Yearbook with 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). The Missouri Synod loss is a surprise in that conservative groups generally do not decline in American churchdom.
The churches that are growing are: 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). The Mormons are now America’s fourth-largest church group, having surpassed nearly every mainline Protestant denomination.
Keep in mind that many of the groups listed below that say “no change reported” never send in their membership totals, so what the Yearbook lists them as is just a guess. Also note the biggest percentage loss happened in President Barack Obama’s denomination: The United Church of Christ, down 6 percent.
Here are the totals for the top 25, cut and pasted from the Yearbook’s press release:
The Roman Catholic Church, 67,117,06 members, down 0.59 percent. (Ranked 1)
The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,266,920 members, down 0.24 percent. (Ranked 2)
The United Methodist Church, 7,931,733 members, down 0.80 percent. (Ranked 3)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,873,408 members, up 1.63 percent .(Ranked 4)
The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no change reported. (Ranked 5)
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., 5,000,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 6)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,709,956 members, down 1.35 percent. (Ranked 7)
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 8)
Presbyterian Church (USA), 2,941,412 members, down 2.79 percent (Ranked 9)
Assemblies of God, 2,863,265 members, up 0.96 percent. (Ranked 10)
African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 11)
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 11)
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 2,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 11)
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,383,084 members, down 1.44 percent. (Ranked 14)
The Episcopal Church, 2,116,749 members, down 1.76 percent. (Ranked 15)
Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no change reported. (Ranked 16)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 17)
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no change reported. (Ranked 17)
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, down 3.01 percent. (Ranked 19)
American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,358,351, down 0.94 percent. (Ranked 20)
Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1,200,000, no change reported. (Ranked 21)
United Church of Christ, 1,145,281 members, down 6.01 percent. (Ranked 22)
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,092,169 members, up 2.12 percent (Ranked 23)
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 1,071,616 members, no change reported. (Ranked 24)
Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), 1,053,642 members, up 2.04 percent. (Ranked 25)
- Julia Duin, religion editor