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'Top 25' U.S. Churches List Now Includes Four Pentecostal Bodies,
According to the National Council of Churches' 2004 'Yearbook'

March 10, 2004, NEW YORK CITY - A fourth Pentecostal denomination has joined the U.S. “top 25” largest churches list, reflecting the continuing increase in numbers of adherents to Pentecostal traditions, reports the National Council of Churches’ 2004 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches,” just off press.

The Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), with 944,857 members, newly ranked 25th, joins The Church of God in Christ (5,499,875 - ranked 4th); the Assemblies of God (2,687,366 - ranked 10th), and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. (1,500,000 - tied for 16th along with two other church bodies).

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

The “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” is edited by the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, NCC Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning, and published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn. Included with the print edition is a year’s subscription to the “Yearbook Online,” featuring regularly updated searchable data, accessible from any computer with Web access.

The “2004 Yearbook” may be ordered through local bookstores or from Cokesbury, which is offering a 10 percent discount on the suggested price of $50. See for more information. Or phone 1-800-672-1789.

The 2004 Yearbook reports on 215 U.S. church bodies with a record high total membership exceeding 161 million. The U.S. retains a higher level of church affiliation than most western industrial societies.

Leading any other single U.S. church is the 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).

In most cases, data published in the 2004 “Yearbook” reflect denominations’ 2002 membership. From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included: the 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 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”:

· The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports the highest rate of growth at 1.88 percent in the last year, virtually the same as its previous growth rate.

· American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (19th, up from 20th last year, reporting a substantial 2.87 percent increase). This growth rate of nearly 3 percent exceeds that of any other Protestant church reporting. It follows reported declines in 1999 and 2000. A change in direction from loss to gain (0.41 percent) followed in 2001.

· African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (20th, down from 19th, reflecting a decline in estimated membership of 1.18 percent, a substantial contrast to its previous estimated gain of 11 percent reported in the 2003 Yearbook. “Such a decline in membership following a year of rapid increase may be explained by a small portion of those new members failing to continue their membership a second year,” says Dr. Lindner, the Yearbook’s editor, in “Trends and Developments 2004,” one of several articles in the book.

· The Orthodox Church in America, previously ranked 25th, reported a membership decline of 100,000 (10 percent), reflecting a multi-year adjustment in estimated membership data.

· A look at patterns of growth/decline over a five-year period (1999-2002), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God have reported consistency in both direction and rate of change. This pattern continues with a modest increase in the rate of growth for the Assemblies of God. 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 2003 Yearbook reports a similar pattern of membership losses (1999-2002) among the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent for each church. The 2004 Yearbook reports continued decline at a slightly accelerated rate for all except for the United Methodist Church, the largest church in this sample, (1.21 percent. 0.57 percent, 1.41 percent and 1.08 percent, respectively).

Other highlights in the 2004 “Yearbook” include:

· Despite a well-documented clergy shortage, notably in the Catholic Church and for small and/or rural parishes, the total number of students enrolled in theological education continues to grow and is now at a high of 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 inclusive members, in their reports - and this is but a portion of the whole of church giving. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not provide financial data but is a church in which financial giving is a prominent feature of membership.

· In those 59 churches, per capita giving increased on average by $35 (5.6 percent) per person from the previous year, to $658.63. This exceeds the official inflation figure of 2.4 percent for 2002.

· This year’s 14 percent U.S. benevolence giving (funds congregations use for the well-being of others) is a new low in Yearbook reporting in at least a decade. While based on the experience of 59 specific denominations, it indicates a continuing downward trend in benevolence giving.

“The overall increase in giving to the churches, at this reporting, is occurring simultaneously with a declining posture in benevolence as a percentage,” says Dr. Lindner. “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. The practical consequences of such a decline translates in local settings to less support for church-sponsored day care, fewer soup kitchen meals, less emergency help to persons with medical problems, or reduced transportation for the elderly. Such a decline is occurring even as reports of requests for aid at shelters and soup kitchens are rising.”

In contrast, the percentage of benevolence giving for Canadian churches consistently is in the 19 to 20 percent range, according to the 2004 “Yearbook.”

The 2004 “Yearbook” is the 72nd published by the National Council of Churches and its predecessor Federal Council of Churches since 1916. The “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” is widely recognized as the most accurate and complete compilation of facts and figures on U.S. and Canadian churches and organizations.

This “chronicler of record” includes the latest data on giving, membership, personnel and congregations for hundreds of church groups. The directory of religious bodies provides concise church descriptions, ecclesiology, history, leadership and contact information. Chapters list information about cooperative organizations, Web-based resources, research institutions, ecumenical bodies, seminaries and Bible colleges, periodicals and collections of church archives.

A directory of U.S. regional and local ecumenical bodies includes an index to their work in 25 program areas. Holy days of several faiths are listed for 2004-2007.

In its 2004 theme article, “Reception: Learning the Lessons of Research on Theological Education,” the Yearbook’s editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, provides an overview of a century’s research in theological education and argues that a broad stakeholder group, including those concerned about faith-based participation in the civil society debates, might give greater attention to recent findings.

“As critical components of the civil society, churches exercise moral authority and influence that is often derived from and expressed by the theologically trained within the various churches,” Dr. Lindner explained. “The nature of the preparations of such persons ultimately has meaning for society as a whole.

“In recent years, the broader society’s expressed enthusiasm for faith-based initiatives (especially in social service), whatever the motivation may be, might be better informed about the capacity and competence of church institutions by engagement with this literature.” Dr. Lindner’s theme piece includes “A Selected Bibliography on Theological Education.”

The seven decades of record keeping represented by the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches is contained on a comprehensive Historic Archive on CD-ROM (which contains membership and financial data from 1919-1999). This CD provides a longitudinal backdrop for the analysis that follows. The Yearbook’s annual trends analysis is a “snapshot” taken at a discrete moment in history, best given definition by the larger and longer context of which they are a part. To obtain the Historic Archive on CD-ROM call 888-870-3325 or visit

U.S. Membership Denominational Ranking: Largest 25 Denominations/Communions
2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches

1. The Catholic Church - 66,407,105

2. Southern Baptist Convention - 16,247,736

3. The United Methodist Church - 8,251,042

4. The Church of God in Christ - 5,499,875

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - 5,410,544

6. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - 5,038,006

7. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. - 5,000,000

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. - 3,500,000

9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - 3,407,329

10. Assemblies of God - 2,687,366

11. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod - 2,512,714

12. African Methodist Episcopal Church - 2,500,000

National Missionary Baptist Convention of America - 2,500,000

Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. - 2,500,000

15. The Episcopal Church - 2,333,628

16. Churches of Christ, Corsicana, Texas - 1,500,000

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America - 1,500,000

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. - 1,500,000

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. - 1,484,291

20. African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church - 1,430,795

21. United Church of Christ - 1,330,985

22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International - 1,200,000

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Joplin, Mo. - 1,071,616

24. Jehovah’s Witnesses - 1,022,397

25. Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn., - 944,857


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