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Archive for the ‘National Council of Churches’

Catholic Church still growing; mainlines still not02.28.11

I’m back from furlough—just in time to catch the headlines from the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

The annual yearbook, published by the National Council of Churches, is best known for compiling membership figures for the 200 or so major denominations in North America.

The new, 79th edition includes numbers that were collected by the denominations in 2009 and reported to the yearbook in 2010, so they’re a bit behind.

The Roman Catholic Church reported 68.5 million members, which translates into growth of .57 percent. You have to figure that much of that can be attributed to immigration. The church’s continued growth seems to belie recent findings that 10 percent of Americans are lapsed Catholics.

Other large groups boasting higher numbers include: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, up 1.42 percent to 6,058,907 members; the Assemblies of God, up .52 percent to 2,914,669 members; Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 4.37 percent to 1,162,686 members; and Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), up .38 percent to 1,076,254 members.

Then you have the usual paragraph about sliding membership in the mainline Protestant world: “Mainline churches reporting declines in membership are United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.61 percent to 2,770,730 members; the Episcopal Church, down 2.48 percent to 2,006,343 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 members; the American Baptist Churches USA, down 1.55 percent to 1,310,505; the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), down 1.08 percent to 2,312,111 members; and the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members.”

The yearbook people do not always get cooperation from denominations. In fact, 10 of 25 largest did not report figures.

You have to wonder why? Why not report figures for a comprehensive yearbook of American church life?

Several of the non-reporting bodies are traditional African-American denominations—the National Baptist Convention USA, the National Baptist Convention of America, the AME Church, the AME Zion Church. These churches,  from my experience, pay little attention to the outside world, especially requests for specific information from people like me or, apparently, the National Council of Churches.

The yearbook also says that 64 groups reported income of $36 billion, a year-to-year drop of $26 million.

Here’s the yearbook’s list of the top 25 denominations by size:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,503,456 members, up .57 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,160,088 members, down.42 percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,774,931 members, down1.01 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6,058,907 members, up 1.42 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000  members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,542,868 members, down1.96 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

9. Assemblies of God, 2,914,669 members, up .52 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2,770,730 members, down 2.61 percent.

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. National  Missionary Baptist Convention of America,  2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

13. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,312,111 members, down 1.08 percent.

14. The Episcopal Church, 2,006,343 members, down 2.48 percent.

15. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no membership updates reported.

16. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

18. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, members, no membership updates reported.

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,310,505  members, down 1.55 percent.

20. Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,162,686 members, up 4.37 percent.

21. United Church of Christ, 1,080,199http://religion.lohudblogs.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=7871&action=edit members, down 2.83 percent.

22. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), 1,076,254 members, up .38 percent.

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ , 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

24. Seventh-Day Adventist Church. 1,043,606 members, up 4.31 percent.

25. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000 members, down 59.60 percent (due in part to a new methodology of counting members).

ADD: A reader asks where the yearbook gets the data from. If I didn’t make that clear, my apologizes. The numbers are provided by the denominations themselves, so, yes, there is room for fudging, wishful thinking and other forms of deception.

In fact…my friend Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal in Louisville noticed that three denominations offered significantly LOWER membership figures than in the past. Apparently, their previous figures were wildly inaccurate.

The Orthodox Church in America, which claimed 1 million members in 2004, is now reporting 131,000. That’s an 88 percent drop.

A church official emailed to Peter that the denomination “has misreported membership in the past based on a different model.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in National Council of Churches, Roman Catholic growthwith 6 Comments →

A Protestant Vatican on the Hudson05.27.10

You gotta like the sound of that…a Protestant Vatican on the Hudson.

Ambitious. Bewildering. Ridiculous.

It was the original vision, I guess, of the Interchurch Center, that 19-story office building at Riverside Drive and West 120th on the Upper West Side that was built in 1958 to house the leaders of Protestant America.

When President Eisenhower laid the cornerstone that year, 30,000 people came to watch.

This week, the building—known far and wide as the God Box—was rededicated. And, oh, have things changed.

The place was built, really, to house the leading denominations of mainline Protestantism and the mainline world’s chief ecumenical group, the National Council of Churches.

As we all know, mainliners have a much smaller (and quieter) influence on the culture these days.

Evangelical Protestant Christianity, a movement that includes about a quarter of all Americans, would have little interest in what goes on inside the God Box.

In fact, the building is not really Protestant any more. It’s taken on more of an interreligious feel.

As Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said at the rededication:

*****

The Interchurch Center is a richly diverse community of many faiths – Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and more. We are theologians, administrators, actuaries, health professionals, food preparers, building management specialists, educators, students, communicators and more. We are a community of many races, ethnicities, languages, nations. The Interchurch Center family today is almost a perfect microcosm of God’s world.

*****

An Orthodox priest, a rabbi and an imam offered the call to worship at the rededication.

John D. Rockefeller played a big role in planning and financing the God Box. His grandson,  Steven C. Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, came to the rededication service.

You have to like Kinnamon’s line on what changes will take place inside the big, old building over the next half century: “Just state your plans for the next 50 years if you want to hear God laugh.”

There is something about the Morningside Heights neighborhood where the center is located. Right across the street you have Union Theological Seminary and Riverside Church. And close by are the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Each institution is a NYC landmark of sorts. But all have faced their share of changes and challenges.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in God Box, Interchurch Center, Mainline Protestantism, Michael Kinnamon, Morningside Heights, National Council of Churcheswith No Comments →

Mainline denominations still…you know what02.15.10

I’m on furlough this week, meaning that I can’t work.

Can’t blog. Nothing.

But I wrote a few posts on Friday that will pop up over the next few days.

Including this one.

The National Council of Churches has released its annual list of the largest denominations in the country—including which ones are growing and which are doing the opposite.

The headline on the release I received looked like this: “Catholics, Mormons, Assemblies of God growing; Mainline churches report a continuing decline”

In other words, more of the same.

Here’s the new Top 15:

*****

1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,228,438 members, down 0.24percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000  members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1(ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.

11.  African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. National  Missionary Baptist Convention of America,  2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

11. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

14. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,337,349 members, down 1.92 percent.

15. The Episcopal Church, 2,057,292 members, down 2.81 percent.

16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, members, no membership updates reported.

20. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,331,127  members, down 2.00 percent.

21. Baptist Bible Fellowship International (ranked 22 last year), 1,200,000 members, no membership updates reported.

22.  Jehovah’s Witnesses (ranked 23 last year) 1,114,009members, up 2.00 percent.

23. United Church of Christ (ranked 22 last year), 1,111,691 members, down 2.93 percent.

24. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), (ranked 25 last year), 1,072,169 members, up 1.76 percent.

25. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (ranked 24 last year), 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholics, Largest denominations, Mainline Protesants, Membership, National Council of Churches, Top 15with No Comments →

NCC speaks out on ‘Christian Zionism’12.16.08

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the growing numbers of evangelical Christians who support Israel.

The movement—or belief—is often described as “Christian Zionism.”

It’s often said that Christian Zionists believe that Jews must be gathered in Israel before Christ can return, fulfilling biblical prophesy.

Now the generally liberal National Council of Churches has put out a brochure called Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism.

A release explains:

Christian Zionism, while ostensibly a Christian movement in support of Israel, actually has the opposite effect. This brochure shows Christian Zionism to be a misguided ideology that considers the State of Israel divinely ordained with the role of ushering in the end of history, where unconverted Jews and Christians of “questionable status” will be judged by God’s wrath. In fact, the brochure points out, many evangelical Christians and Israelis reject the notion.

Belief in Christian Zionism will get in the way of a two-state solution in the Middle East, the NCC says.

“The danger of this ideology is that it is a manipulation of Christian scripture and teaching,” says Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Senior Program Director for Interfaith Relations. “Unfortunately it has influence in American churches, to the point where many well-meaning Christians are swayed to support particularly destructive directions in U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Middle East.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism", Christian Zionism, National Council of Churcheswith No Comments →

‘Christian Unity’ on CBS Sunday10.03.08

A documentary about the search for Christian Unity will be shown on CBS in New York—channel 2—on Sunday (Oct. 5) at 1 p.m.

The show will feature the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor and their work for a century to encourage ecumenism. Father James Gardiner, director of the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, will offer some historical perspective on what ecumenism is and what the search for Christian unity is all about.

The program also includes interviews with the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the NYC-based National Council of Churches, a consortium of Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations that has been working for decades to bring Christians closer together.

Interestingly, the show visits Louisville, Ky., to see how ecumenism is faring in that city. We generally don’t think of Bible Belt Baptists as being all that interested in ecumenism. But several Baptist churches are featured working together to fight crime, heal racial divides and serve the needy.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "Christian Unity" on CBS, Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, National Council of Churcheswith No Comments →

Introducing the Green Bible09.24.08

Environmentally aware Christians may be interested in the new…Green Bible.

The cover is made of cotton and linen and has a sack-like feel. The pages are made in part from recycled paper. The ink is soy-based.

Over 1,000 verses that highlight the importance of the planet and the environment are highlighted in, you guessed it, green.

Opening the Green Bible to any page, I just pointed to Psalm 66, which includes two verses in green: “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” and “He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,…”

green_site_book_04.gifThe Bible includes essays by N.T. Wright, Pope John Paul II and others, and a foreword by Desmond Tutu, who writes: “The future of our fragile, beautiful planet home is in our hands. As God’s family, we are stewards of God’s creation.”

An endorsement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of Orthodox Christianity, looks like this: “The abuse of nature and mistreatment of its invaluable resources are tantamount to sin. May The Green Bible offer opportunity for a new beginning and repentance of our past ways.”

The Green Bible, published by HarperOne, goes for $29.95.

The Sierra Club, the Humane Society and the National Council of Churches have all played a role in promoting the Green Bible.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Desmond Tutu, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, HarperOne, Humane Society, National Council of Churches, Sierra Club, The Green Biblewith 1 Comment →

The complexities of asking for God’s protection09.02.08

And here is a “hurricane statement” from the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches:

The hurricane season fills us with dread and sends us to our knees to ask God’s protection.

This is an appropriate and necessary reaction, but it’s difficult to know what we want God to do for us. During the “blitz” of the Second World War, citizens of London often remarked about the difficulty of praying for God’s protection. The consequences of asking God to protect your house were that your neighbor’s house might be destroyed.

So it was with Hurricane Gustav, which at one point was a category 4 storm projected toward New Orleans. As media descended on New Orleans, millions of us prayed that the city be spared a direct hit. By Tuesday morning, September 2, it appeared that the worst had been avoided and media resumed their focus on the U.S. presidential campaign.

But had our prayers been answered? Days before Gustav approached the Gulf Coast, it landed full-strength on Cuba and did incalculable damage. Moreover, this looks like a busy hurricane season. Even as Gustav weakens into a giant rain storm, Hurricanes Hanna and Ike are loose in the gulf, and Tropical Storm Josephine is gaining strength.

How do we word our prayers now?

The only way possible: with humility and hope.

Dear God, we confess that we are frightened by our helplessness in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes and human disasters like war.

We pray, dear God, for our safety and the safety of our loved ones.

We pray, dear God, for the safety of all who stand in harms way.

But if there is no escape from the tumult, we pray that we will never forget that you are standing in the midst of it with us, that you will never desert us, that you will offer us unlimited comfort and strength to face what must be faced, and do what must be done.

We pray, dear God, to remember that in times of storm or calm, in war or in peace, we are all neighbors dependant on one another for our survival.

And before the next storm comes, dear God, remind us to ask the questions that are ever on your heart:

Are the storms that come a product of our sinful disregard for your world that has led to global warming, undrinkable water and unbreathable air?

Have we failed to see that some of our neighbors are more vulnerable to the storm because of age, disability or economic restraints?

And when the storm passes, do we lose sight of what we must do to protect one another and be better neighbors to one another.

When the storm approaches, dear God, let our first thoughts be of our neighbors who face the same fate.

And whatever happens in the storm, dear God,
hold on to us,
protect us
and use us.

In Jesus name we pray,

Amen.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churcheswith 1 Comment →

An ecumenical veteran leaving the NCC03.28.08

The Rev. Eileen Lindner, a leading voice for ecumenism with the National Council of Churches, will leave the NCC on May 15.

Lindner, a Presbyterian minister, has been with the NCC for three decades. She served as Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning until this year, when she became Director of Organizational Development after a NCC reorganization.

In a statement, she said that the position likely requires a full-time fund-raiser. And that’s not her.

ewl3.jpgShe is well known for overseeing the NCC’s respected Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, which is probably the most credible source of denominational facts and figures.

The NCC is, of course, based at the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive in NYC, the capital of organizational mainline Protestantism.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, wrote in a statement to staff:

I am sure you join me in celebrating Eileen’s commitment and ministry in her time with the Council, especially her leadership with the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the development of the policy statement on human genetics, and her concerns for children and health care to list only a few. I am deeply appreciative of Eileen’s abiding commitment to the Council and its future and trust that her ministry will continue to serve Christ’s church.

I remember a great quote that Lindner gave me way back in 1998 when I wrote a lengthy feature on the growing divide over homosexuality:
While churches have their policies on abortion, it is ultimately a private decision. On homosexuality, there is no privacy, no such middle ground. So each denomination, whatever they decide, risks the clerical equivalence of civil disobedience. The result is the most schismatic issue since slavery and rubble as far as the eye can see.

Rubble as far as the eye can see.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Eileen Lindner, National Council of Churches, Rev. Michael Kinnamon, Uncategorizedwith No Comments →

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