Catholic Church still growing; mainlines still not

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, 1,080,199 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.”