The National Council of Churches’ 2004 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” showed a record high total membership exceeding 161 million among the 215 U.S. church bodies, the NCC newsroom reported, March 10.
According to the new yearbook, the 72nd published by the NCC and its predecessor, the Federal Council of Churches, since 1916, a fourth Pentecostal denomination joined the top 25 largest church list, reflecting the continued strength of the Pentecostal tradition within the American church.
The Church of God, based in Cleveland Texas, with its 944,857 members, ranked 25th, joining the three other Pentecostal churches that are also listed: The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 - ranked 4th; The Assemblies of God 2,687,366 - ranked 10th; and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1,500,000 - tied for 16th along with two other church bodies.
The largest U.S. church is the Catholic Church with 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention with 16,247,736 and the United Methodist Church with 8,251,042. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th 5,410,544.
Churches with membership losses were: The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and United Church of Christ.
Other highlights of the yearbook as listed by the NCC are:
* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports the highest rate of growth at 1.88 percent in the last year, virtually the same as its previous growth rate.
* American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (19th, up from 20th last year, reporting a substantial 2.87 percent increase). This growth rate of nearly 3 percent exceeds that of any other Protestant church reporting. It follows reported declines in 1999 and 2000. A change in direction from loss to gain (0.41 percent) followed in 2001.
* African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (20th, down from 19th, reflecting a decline in estimated membership of 1.18 percent, a substantial contrast to its previous estimated gain of 11 percent reported in the 2003 Yearbook. "Such a decline in membership following a year of rapid increase may be explained by a small portion of those new members failing to continue their membership a second year," says Dr. Lindner, the Yearbook's editor, in "Trends and Developments 2004," one of several articles in the book.
* The Orthodox Church in America, previously ranked 25th, reported a membership decline of 100,000 (10 percent), reflecting a multi-year adjustment in estimated membership data.
* A look at patterns of growth/decline over a five-year period (1999-2002), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God have reported consistency in both direction and rate of change. This pattern continues with a modest increase in the rate of growth for the Assemblies of God. The Southern Baptist Convention, which had been reporting a slowing rate of membership gain, in the current data reports a significant increase in the rate of gain from 0.585 percent to 1.21 percent.
* The 2003 Yearbook reports a similar pattern of membership losses (1999-2002) among the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent for each church. The 2004 Yearbook reports continued decline at a slightly accelerated rate for all except for the United Methodist Church, the largest church in this sample, (1.21 percent. 0.57 percent, 1.41 percent and 1.08 percent, respectively).
* Despite a well-documented clergy shortage, notably in the Catholic Church and for small and/or rural parishes, the total number of students enrolled in theological education continues to grow and is now at a high of more than 75,000 students in member schools of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
* The nearly 30-year trend in increasing numbers of women enrolled in theological education remains stable and can be considered a permanent feature of the demography of theological students.
* The 59 U.S. churches that provided full financial data for the 2004 edition account for more than $31 billion, contributed by nearly 48 million inclusive members, in their reports - and this is but a portion of the whole of church giving. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not provide financial data but is a church in which financial giving is a prominent feature of membership.
* In those 59 churches, per capita giving increased on average by $35 (5.6 percent) per person from the previous year, to $658.63. This exceeds the official inflation figure of 2.4 percent for 2002.
* This year's 14 percent U.S. benevolence giving (funds congregations use for the well-being of others) is a new low in Yearbook reporting in at least a decade. While based on the experience of 59 specific denominations, it indicates a continuing downward trend in benevolence giving.
The following are the 25 largest denominations/communions in the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
1. The Catholic Church - 66,407,105
2. Southern Baptist Convention - 16,247,736
3. The United Methodist Church - 8,251,042
4. The Church of God in Christ - 5,499,875
5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - 5,410,544
6. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - 5,038,006
7. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. - 5,000,000
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. - 3,500,000
9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - 3,407,329
10. Assemblies of God - 2,687,366
11. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod - 2,512,714
12. African Methodist Episcopal Church - 2,500,000
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America - 2,500,000
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. - 2,500,000
15. The Episcopal Church - 2,333,628
16. Churches of Christ, Corsicana, Texas - 1,500,000
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America - 1,500,000
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. - 1,500,000
19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. - 1,484,291
20. African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church - 1,430,795
21. United Church of Christ - 1,330,985
22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International - 1,200,000
23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Joplin, Mo. - 1,071,616
24. Jehovah's Witnesses - 1,022,397
25. Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn., - 944,857