Skip to comments.FactChecker: Are All Christian Denominations in Decline? Which ones are growing and declining?
Posted on 09/06/2017 7:04:56 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
In a recent interview in which she announced she had joined the Episcopal Church, Rachel Held Evans said,
Just about every denomination in the American church— including many evangelical denominations — is seeing a decline in numbers, so if it’s a competition, then we’re all losing, just at different rates.
Many Americans, both within and outside the church, share Evans perception of the decline of denominations. But is it true? Are most denominations truly seeing a decline in numbers?
The fact is that the percentage of people identifying as Protestant has declined since the 1970s while the total number of Protestants has increased (62 percent of Americans identified as Protestant in 1972 and only 51 percent did so in 2010). Yet because of the population increase in the U.S., there were 28 million more Protestants in 2010 than in 1972.
So did Protestantism in America decline since the 1970s? Yes (percentwise) and no (total numbers).
What about when we drill down to the denominations that comprise Protestantism in America? Here the differences depend on whether we look at short-term or long-term trends.
If we look at the short-term (year-to-year) trends, we may be able to detect a decline in some groups, especially in large denominations. For instance, the membership of the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest Protestant denomination in America—declined by 105,708 from 2011 to 2012. While that sounds like a lot of people, the denomination could lose that many members every year for 150 years before the pews in SBC churches would be completely empty.
In the case of the SBC, and other conservative denominations, the trend seems to be that they’re losing members to other conservative denominations, especially non-denominational ones. As of 2010, four percent of Americans (12,200,000) worshipped in a nondenominational church. There are almost as many members of nondenominational churches as there are members of the SBC—and almost as many as in all of the mainline churches combined. A decline in a conservative denominational church is often offset by an increase in a conservative non-denominational church.
When tracking changes to gauge the overall health of a denomination, it makes more sense to look at long-term trends. If we look back 50 years (to 1965) we can see a clear and unequivocal trendline: liberal denominations have declined sharply while conservative denominations have increased or remained the same.
Here are the primary mainline denominations, every one of which has seen long-term decline in membership:
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
In 1965, the CC(DoC) had 1,918,471 members. In 2012, the membership was 625,252, a decline of 67 percent.
Reformed Church in America
In 1967, the RCA had 384,751 members. In 2014, the membership was 145,466, a decline of 62 percent.
United Church of Christ (Congregationalist)
In 1965, the UCC had 2,070,413 members. In 2012, there were 998,906 members, a decline of 52 percent.
In 1966, the TEC had 3,647,297 members. By 2013, the membership was 1,866,758, a decline of 49 percent.
(Those numbers should be even lower, though, since those figures by the TEC include breakaway churches trying to leave the denomination.)
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA)
In 1967, the PC(USA) had 3,304,321 members. In 2013, the membership was 1,760,200, a decline of 47 percent.
United Methodist Church (UMC)
In 1967, the UMC had 11,026,976 members. In 2012, the membership was 7,391,911, a decline of 33 percent.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
In 1987, the ECLA had 5,288,230 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,863,133, a decline of 27 percent.
(Note: The ELCA was formally constituted in 1988 as a merger of the Lutheran Church in America, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the American Lutheran Church.)
American Baptist Churches
In 1967, the ABC/USA had 1,335,342 members. In 2012, the membership was 1,308,054, a decline of 2 percent.
(Note: The ABC/USA has been able to stem its decline among white congregants by replacing them with African American and Hispanic members.)
Now let’s look at a few of the primary non-mainline denominations, almost every one of which has increased in membership since the mid-1960s.
Church of God in Christ
In 1965, the CoG had 425,000 members. In 2012, the membership was 5,499,875, an increase of 1,194 percent.
Presbyterian Church in America
In 1973, the PCA had 41,232 members. In 2013, the membership was 367,033, an increase of 790 percent.
(Note: The Presbyterian Church in America was founded in 1974 by conservative members of the Presbyterian Church in the United States who rejected that church's merger with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.)
Evangelical Free Church of America
In 1965, the EFCA had 43,851 members. In 2013, the membership was 372,321 , an increase of 749 percent.
Assemblies of God
In 1965, the AoG had 572,123 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,030,944, an increase of 430 percent.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1951, the AME had 1,166,301 members. In 2012, the membership was 2,500,000, an increase of 114 percent.
Southern Baptist Convention
In 1965, the SBC had 10,770,573 members. In 2013, the membership was 15,735,640, an increase of 46 percent.
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
In 1965, the LCMS had 2,692,889 members. In 2012, the membership was 2,163,698, a decline of 20 percent.
Mainliners may try to comfort themselves by claiming that every denomination is in decline, but it’s simply not true. While conservative churches aren’t growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from Biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.
I wonder what the increase is for non-denominational Christian.
I don’t know. A large number of churches in my area are nondenominational though.
Disciple of Christ ping
Faith is often confused with values. There was once the assumption that people of faith shared ideals such as sobriety, monogamy, abstinence of sex before marriage, honesty, an abhorrence of pornography, respect for human life and personal responsibility and accountability in all actions especially dealings with fellow human beings. There was a time in America when the majority of people, most of whom were believers and members of some religious denomination were part of a consensus that shared those values. However over the past fifty years America has entered a neo pagan era. A large percentage of the people, nearly a majority has embraced hedonism,pornography, drug use, tolerates homosexuality and all its permutations, widespread abortion, earth and celebrity worship. It is not surprising that these people are agnostic, have left religion or embraced pseudo religious organizations that embrace those values. The decline in religious affiliations and the decline in attendance at services, reflects a loss of faith but also a fundamental shift in values. Face it. There no longer exists a reasonable social consensus in the United States.
The Methodists tend to be very liberal within its national bureaucracy but have many conservative congregations. The Church has not recognized homosexual marriage but there are many homosexuals within its influential positions.
What was once a conservative Methodist Women’s Missionary Society degraded into the WSCS (Women’s Society of Christian Service) and then changed further. The Methodist Board of Global Ministries was just as involved in Theology of Liberation as the Jesuit Order. Now some of those Christian congregations that missionaries started in places like Thailand, Tanzania, and China need to send missionaries to the United States and Europe to lead errant Churches back to the Bible.
SBC has not built an engaging culture - it's designed to be transmit only, one-way from church "leader" to congregation member. Today people are much more informed - we have multiple libraries, online bible studies, open source curriculum, and students of the word are prepared and ready to engage. SBC culture squashes this enthusiasm.
I’ve noticed the same.
I left SBC for a non-denominational Bible-based church.
Are there numbers for the Catholic Church in the United States?
Same - thank you ViLaLuz — I should have added that in my response!
Very, very well stated, Allendale!
The SBC is now officially anti-Confederate though many of the members may not know that.
The SBC literature is often not very interesting to read too though it’s mostly biblically-based.
RE: Are there numbers for the Catholic Church in the United States?
Not in this article, sorry.
Just my guess much of the decline is liberal denominations losing members because they simply don’t have a message that differs much from what any secular/leftist type group would be saying. And the decline in conservative churches may be due to people in mega churches just not feeling all that connected to the church. They go to a church where they don’t really know anyone so they just watch it on the internet.
Peek on Drudge. Turns out the measure is a decline in white Catholic percentages, overwhelmed by Hispanic Catholics.
Politically, this outcome was, I suspect, intended and with Rome going Marxist in the Vatican, things are going to get rougher, yet.
I don’t believe there ever has been at any point “a reasonable social consensus in the United States.” The “good old days” may have been so for some, but hardly for most.
But I do believe the Democratic Party, throughout its history and on every level, has been single-minded in its efforts to ENSURE that nothing approaching “a reasonable social consensus” can be achieved. Indeed, the Democratic Party has always thrived on fomenting chaos and us-vs-them-ism.
1. Focus on social issues such as BLM and race. SBC loses focus and people like the Ethics guy (forgot his name) try to appease every new SJW cause d'jour. SBC is not built for this and it will not win this battle.
2. Lack of engagement. Many SBC churches stand in non-Caucasian neighborhoods. Yet, put your nose in the front door and the congregation looks nothing like the neighborhood.
Two sizable SBC churches I attended loved to talk up raising young men, teach our boys to be men, yet no fathers would volunteer to chaperone camps. Again, lack of engagement.
To summarize, the SBC is broke. It's playing with fire bending to the culture, appeasing the world. It's a shame this is happening bc there are many great resources in the SBC, including a strong educational foundation. Perhaps the leaders can refocus on the Word and find ways to engage.