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The NCC's 2008 Yearbook of
New York,February 14, 2008 – The nation's largest study of church health ministries shows a remarkably wide range of services provided by churches, the National Council of Churches' 2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches said today.
The venerable yearbook, widely regarded as the most reliable source of church membership and growth trends since its beginning in 1916, is also reporting this year on the membership statistics, leadership and histories of 224 national church bodies.
The 2008 Yearbook features an article, "When Did We See Thee Sick? Congregations Respond," that reports the results of a groundbreaking NCC survey of more than 6,000 American congregations.
The article, by the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the Yearbook, reveals that churches spend a significant amount of time, energy and money in the ministries of health care.
According to the Congregational Health Ministry Survey, conducted by the NCC with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about 70 percent of responding churches provide direct health services, with 65 percent offering health education programs within their community. The survey defines direct services as provision of medical care to individuals by trained health care professionals.
“It is not surprising to find that churches see health care as a part of their faith mission and mandate,” said Lindner, who supervised the survey. “The results of this survey confirm a higher energy for health care than we might have thought, however, and show that effective health care ministries are being developed by congregations of all sizes to meet the urgent needs of their communities.”
NCC leaders say that results of the survey will provide important information for denominational structures, ecumenical agencies, health officials and national policy makers.
The 2008 Yearbook, published by Abingdon, costs $50. A discounted price of $45 is available on orders placed before February 27. Order online at www.electronicchurch.org
Membership Flows and Ebbs
The Yearbook ranks the 25 largest churches by membership. Only three of the top 10 – the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) – are "mainline" Protestant churches.
By far the largest church in the U.S. is still the Roman Catholic Church, numbering 67 million members. The others in the top three are the Southern Baptist Convention (16.3 million) and the United Methodist Church (nearly 8 million).
Jehovah's Witnesses, who rank 25th in size among U.S. churches, reported the largest increase in membership since the publication of the 2007 Yearbook : 2.25 percent, with 1,069,530 members. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew 1.56 percent to 5,779,316 members.
Other bodies in the top 25 churches that reported membership increases were the Southern Baptist Convention (0.22 percent, to 16,306,246 members), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (0.21 percent to 1,443,405 members) the Roman Catholic Church (0.87 percent to 67,515,016 members) and the Assemblies of God (0.19 percent to 2,836,174 members).
All other communions in the top 25 said they lost members or reported no increases or decreases.
"Some will wish to argue that the slowing growth rate is evidence of an increasing secularization of American postmodern society," Lindner writes. "While such an explanation will satisfy some, caution in drawing such a conclusion is warranted."
Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of "Gen X'ers" or "Millennials" – people now in their 30s and 20s – who attend and support local congregations but resist becoming members, Lindner observes.
Pentecostal churches represent three of the top 25: the Church of God in Christ (5,499,875), Assemblies of God (2,836,174) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (1,500,000).
Six of the 15 largest churches are historic African American Churches: the Church of God in Christ, (5,499,875), National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, (5,00,000), National Baptist Convention of America, (3,500,000), National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, (2,500,000), Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., (2,500,000), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, (2,500,000).
In addition to the health ministries report, the Yearbook records an increase in per capital financial giving in the churches, and decreases in Canadian and African American seminary enrollment.
After a decade of steady growth, the Yearbook reports a downturn in Canadian seminary enrollment and a continuing upward trend in part time enrollment in both U.S. and Canadian seminaries. African American enrollment in seminaries declined 6.75 percent.
According to the 65 churches that reported figures to the Yearbook, an estimated 46 million members contributed over $34 billion to their churches, an increase over figures reported in 2007 of nearly $27 million. Annual giving breaks down to about $742 per person, an increase of $28.47 over the previous year, according to the Yearbook.
The 4 percent increase in per capita giving exceeds the official U.S. inflation figures for 2006.
In Canada, church giving is consistently in the 18 percent to 20 percent range compared to the U.S. figure of 16 percent.
The 25 largest churches in the U.S. reported in the 2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches are:
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