While mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. continue to experience
decades-long decline, the memberships of Pentecostal traditions are on the rise,
according to new figures compiled by the National Council of Churches (NCC).
The Roman Catholic Church (No. 1) and the Southern Baptist Convention
(No. 2) are still significantly larger than all other North American
denominations, but Catholics posted minimal growth of less than 1 percent, and
Southern Baptist membership fell for a third straight year, according to the
2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
Produced annually by the NCC, the yearbook is considered one
of the most reliable recorders of church membership. The figures in the 2011 yearbook
were compiled by churches in 2009, reported to the NCC in 2010 and released Feb.
Mainline Protestant churches that have seen a fall in
membership since the 1970s continued their decline; the Presbyterian Church
(USA) reported the greatest membership drop (2.6 percent) of the 25 largest denominations.
Other denominations reporting declines include the United
Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal
Church as well as the more evangelical Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The membership declines in mainline churches led to a 1
percent decrease in total U.S. church membership, to 145.8 million.
Despite the national decline, some smaller denominations’ memberships
“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,” writes Eileen Lindner, the editor of the
Pentecostal churches make up four of the 25 largest
churches, and both the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland,
Tenn.) increased in membership.
Only six of the 25 largest memberships increased
over the previous year.
Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced the greatest growth
percentage overall, gaining 4.37 percent according to the yearbook. Several historically
black denominations continued a years-long practice of not submitting fresh
The 10 largest Christian bodies reported in the 2011
- The Catholic Church: 68.5 million, up 0.57 percent.
- Southern Baptist Convention: 16.1 million, down .42 percent.
- The United Methodist Church: 7.8 million, down 1 percent.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 6 million,
up 1.42 percent.
- The Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million, no membership
- National Baptist Convention, USA: 5 million, no membership updates
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.5 million, down
- National Baptist Convention of America: 3.5 million, no membership
- Assemblies of God: 2.9 million, up .52 percent.
- Presbyterian Church (USA): 2.7 million, down 2.61 percent.
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