Dr. John C. Green
Virtually all mainline Protestant denominations continue their decades-long drop in membership, while the Catholic Church and most of the larger conservative Protestant bodies are gaining members.
"What the data show is that the trends that have been going on for a long time now continue," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "Mainline Protestant churches continue to decline in membership, and many of the evangelical churches like the Assemblies of God or other conservative denominations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, continue to show increases."
Eileen Lindner, the yearbook's editor, said in the book that the rate of growth or decline has "generally slowed in comparison to recent years."
The figures are based on self-reported data collected in 2009 by 227 national church bodies and reported in 2010 to the yearbook, which is published by the New York-based National Council of Churches.
Among the findings in the yearbook that was published this week:
- The Catholic Church, the nation's largest, reported growth of 0.57 percent to 68,503,456 members.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, grew 1.42 percent to 6,058,907 members.
- The Assemblies of God grew 0.52 percent to 2,914,669 members.
Mainline Protestant churches reporting a drop in membership included the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 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, and the United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant body, declined 0.42 percent to 16,160,088 members.
Other denominations posting continued growth include Jehovah's Witnesses, up 2 percent to 1,092,169 members, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), up 1.76 percent to 1,053,642 members.
Mr. Green, a distinguished professor of political science, said there are noteworthy nuances in the statistics.
"The main reason that the Catholics grew a little bit is the impact of immigration," he said. "Other data show that white Catholics continue to show a slow, steady decline, but there are lots of Catholics immigrating into the United States who are Hispanic, Asian, or from other parts of the world. Part of the story is that ethnic churches, including ethnic Protestant churches, continue to grow."
Immigrant groups tend to be younger and to have more children than the average American, Mr. Green said.
Meanwhile, mainline Protestant groups are dealing with aging populations, lower birth rates, and the departure of some theologically conservative members who oppose the ordination of homosexual ministers.
Overall church attendance in the United States took a big drop after the 1960s and stabilized in the 1990s at a lower level, Mr. Green said.
"There is some recent evidence that it has begun to decline again, but very gradually. Based on self-reported attendance, about two-fifths of Americans attend some kind of religious service every weekend."
The financial income of the 64 denominations reporting, which represent almost 45 million members, was $36 billion, a decrease in total income of $26 million.
"I would say that the biggest factor is the recession," Mr. Green said. "We know historically that when the economy is doing poorly, many organizations suffer, including religious organizations. The sad irony is that many religious groups provide much-needed services to the poor and elderly who need it more than ever, yet the resources go down."
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.