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Yearbook says U.S. Christian church membership rising

By Jerry Filteau
April 26th, 2007
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNS) - Total membership in U.S. Christian churches continued to rise in 2005, despite ongoing declines in some of the country's largest mainline Protestant churches, according to the 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Total recorded inclusive membership in 2005 was 165,878,323, up more than 2.4 million from the previous year, the yearbook said.

The 439-page yearbook is an annual publication of the New York-based National Council of Churches. This year's book is the council's 75th edition.

It lists U.S. and Canadian church bodies, with a brief description of each and its national headquarters, officers, periodicals and major agencies or boards.

It also includes directories of U.S. and Canadian seminaries, religious periodicals, ecumenical organizations, cooperative religious organizations, institutions engaged in religious research and a selective directory of non-Christian religious organizations.

Because it relies on data collected by the church bodies, the 2007 yearbook covers 2005 data gathered by the churches in 2006. The yearbook reports what year the figures come from, since not all churches collect new data every year.

The Catholic Church remained the largest Christian church in the U.S. in 2005 with a reported membership of 69,135,254, or nearly 42 percent of all Christian church membership.

With an increase of 1.94 percent over its previous year's total, the Catholic Church was also among the fastest-growing of the nation's 25 largest churches, followed closely by the Assemblies of God, which recorded 1.86 percent growth, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with 1.63 percent growth.

In 2004 the Catholic Church came in third behind the other two in rate of growth. Because of annual fluctuations, a better indicator of trends is membership change over a longer period, such as a decade.

Between the 1997 and 2007 yearbooks, the recorded change in Catholic population was from 60.3 million to 69.1 million, or an increase of 15 percent. The Assemblies of God recorded growth of nearly 19 percent in that decade, and the Latter-day Saints grew by nearly 21 percent.

Six mainline Protestant bodies among the 25 largest churches showed losses in membership in 2005. The United Church of Christ was down 3.28 percent; the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2.84 percent; American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1.97 percent; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1.62 percent; Episcopal Church, 1.59 percent; and United Methodist Church, 1.36 percent.

Three of these, the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and United Church of Christ, lost more than 10 percent of their membership between 1995 and 2005.

As in other recent years, overall seminary enrollment in the United States and Canada grew, reaching 81,302 in 2005. That was only 529 more than the previous year, however - less than the average growth of about 2,000 a year over the previous seven years.

Enrollment declined slightly in Canada, from 7,036 to 6,950. In the United States it grew from 73,737 to 74,352.

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