Church in the USA: winners and losers

Which churches are the country's largest?
by Julian Duin

It's always intriguing to see which churches have grown and which denominations have faded in the past year. According to the 2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (a Bible of sorts for us religion writers), the fastest-growing religious body in 2007 was the Jehovah's Witnesses at 2.25 percent.


Following them were the Mormons at 1.56 percent and the Roman Catholics at .87 percent. Compare this to last year's states that had the Catholics out front at 1.94 percent, followed by the Assemblies of God at 1.86 and the Mormons at 1.63.


The denomination with the biggest decrease is the Episcopalians at 4.15 percent.
There are all sorts of arguments why some of these figures on the list below are bogus. For instance, several of the historic black churches with the "no increase or decrease listed" after their name do not release statistics at all. So the membership figure after their name is a guess at best. Plus churches' standards for membership are different. Baptist groups tend to count only those who have made an adult profession of faith. More liturgical churches include any child that has been baptized.


Still, the majority of church groups on this list are not growing. Of the top three churches [Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists and United Methodists], the Methodists are losing members.


There are some surprises here. The Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod decreased by .94 percent. I thought all conservative churches were growing. Ditto for the two Orthodox bodies listed here that are also losing members.


And there are more members of the Assemblies of God than Episcopalians. Guess which of the two gets more news coverage.


Here are the top 25:


1. The Roman Catholic Church, 67,515,016 members, an increase of .87 percent.
2. Southern Baptist Convention, 16,306,246 members, an increase of .22 percent.
3. The United Methodist Church, 7,995,456 members, a decrease of .99 percent.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,779,316 members, an increase of 1.56 percent.
5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no increase or decrease reported.
6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., 5,000,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,774,203 members, a decrease of 1.58 percent.
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 3,025,740 members, a decrease of 2.36 percent.
10. Assemblies of God, 2,836,174 members, an increase of .19 percent.
11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
11. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
11. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
14. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,417,997 members, a decrease of .94 percent.
15. Episcopal Church, 2,154,572 members, a decrease of 4.15 percent.
16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no increase or decrease reported.
17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,443,405 members, an increase of .21 percent.
20. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,371,278 members, a decrease of 1.82 percent.
21. United Church of Christ, 1,218,541 members, a decrease of 0.47 percent.
22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1,200,000, no increase or decrease reported.
23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 1,071,616 members, no increase or decrease reported.
24. The Orthodox Church in America, 1,064,000, no increase or decrease reported.
25. Jehovah's Witnesses, 1,069,530 members, an increase of 2.25 percent.

Comments

Rob said…
Much as I would like, I can't crow about RC growth. .87% should be expected, just because RC's should be having kids, baptizing them, etc. Every one should grow by at least that much I would presume.

Shocking are the decreases. IN order for a church to decrease, people must be formally exiting (I imagine few actually renounce their church) or there must be an elderly membership accompanied by few youths and/or reproducers. Right?
Abu Daoud said…
Also, that number for Roman Catholics includes probably a couple hundred thousand who are technically Roman Catholic but attend and are active in non-denom evangelical churches.

Note the decrease for some of the Orthodox churches. That is what struck me as interesting.

The huge decline in the Episcopal church is because entire congregations and one whole diocese have up and left to join themselves to Anglican bodies based in South American and Africa. They are still Anglican, but are not part of the structure of The Episcopal Church (USA)

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