Pentecostals lead modest growth in U.S. church membership

NEW YORK (ABP) — The number of Protestants — particularly Pentecostals — continues to increase in the United States, with a fourth Pentecostal denomination joining the list of 25 largest U.S. religious bodies.

The new numbers come from the 2004 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches,” published recently by the National Council of Churches.

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Denomination – A religious body originating as a Christian movement or sect and generally classified as a Christian body regardless of its doctrinal orthodoxy.”
– Robert Bowman, quoted in Christian Denominations

The Pentecostal bodies in the top 25 are newcomer the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), with 944,857 members (25th); the Church of God in Christ, with 5,499,875 members (4th); the Assemblies of God, with 2,687,366 (10th); and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World Inc., with 1,500,000 (tie 16th).

According to the 2004 Yearbook, there are 215 U.S. church bodies, with a record total membership exceeding 161 million. The U.S. has a higher level of church affiliation than most Western industrial societies.

Leading any other single U.S. church is the Roman Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544).

Seven of the largest 25 U.S. denominations are African-American churches, reflective of the historic strength of the church within the U.S. African-American community.

In most cases, data published in the 2004 “Yearbook” reflect denominations’ 2002 membership. From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included: the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.).

Recording 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.

Here are details on some of the U.S. membership “ups and downs” reported in the 2004 “Yearbook”:

– Among the 15 largest churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reports the highest rate of growth at 1.88 percent in the last year.

– American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. reported a substantial 2.87 percent increase, exceeding that of any other Protestant church reporting.

– The Orthodox Church in America, previously ranked 25th, reported a membership decline of 10 percent (100,000).

– 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 total number of students enrolled in theological education continues to grow, despite a well-documented clergy shortage, notably in the Catholic Church and for small and/or rural parishes. There are now 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 members. Per capita giving increased on average by $35 (5.6 percent) per person.

– Benevolence giving by churches — funds congregations spend on the well-being of others — reached a new low for the last decade (14 percent). “The churches that seek generosity from their supporters have not, at least in this sample, matched that generosity, or even held constant, in their own patterns of giving,” said Yearbook editor Eileen Lindner.


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Associated Baptist Press, USA
Mar. 16, 2004
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 17, 2004.
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