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1999 NCC News Archives

"Findings" from the 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches
By Carol J. Fouke, National Council of Churches Communication Department

1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches Off Press
1999 Yearbook an Invaluable Tool for Local Church Ministry

March 5, 1999, NEW YORK ---- It is the rare work day that I don’t open the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches at least half a dozen times to check a directory listing or retrieve data on church membership and finances.

My colleagues and I rely heavily on the Yearbook, especially as we field questions from the many journalists, pastors, students and others who phone the National Council of Churches, situated at the crossroads of U.S. ecumenical life.

The 1999 Yearbook promises to be our most-used edition ever, its 408 pages chock full of useful and fascinating facts, figures and detailed listings. Significantly, all this detail illustrates the main theme of the 1999 Yearbook’s two trends pieces, one by the Yearbook’s editor and the other by The New York Times’ Gustav Niebuhr: American religious life is staggeringly diverse. It is a theme befitting the NCC’s 67th, and last, Yearbook of the 20th century.

"The century which began in the United States as a much heralded ‘Christian Century’ appears at its conclusion to have been the ‘Century of Religious Pluralism,’" comments the Yearbook’s editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner. A church historian and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister, she is the NCC’s Associate General Secretary for Christian Unity.

Not only is the North American population increasingly interfaith, but Christianity itself continues to become more diverse, Dr. Lindner observes.

While not a complete census, the Yearbook is the most complete available summary of denominational membership.

Mr. Niebuhr, Senior Religion Correspondent for The New York Times, picks up that theme in his snapshot of American religious life at century’s end.

The United States is a "fundamentally religious nation," he says, with poll after poll showing a "basic religious outlook…unchanged since the 1960s, despite the intervening years of social upheaval and traumatic political events." Nevertheless, "a general distrust of or alienation from sources of authority" has eroded people’s loyalty to religious institutions. That plus a "heightened sense of spiritual individualism among Americans, one that places the satisfaction of personal needs above maintaining traditional loyalties," presents a major challenge for the churches, Mr. Niebuhr says.

He goes on to explore people’s increasing loyalty to their local parish at the expense of the regional or national church, which "also opens the door to a certain religious entrepreneurism." A case in point: "the megachurch." Mr. Niebuhr also explores North America’s growing religious and cultural pluralism. For example, "No major American city is without its Islamic center now, a fact that is as true of the Bible belt as it is of the coasts."

Data in the chapter "Trends in Seminary Enrollment" illustrate North America’s growing cultural pluralism.

In fall 1997, in 229 member schools of the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada, women constituted 33.10 percent of total enrollment, up from 10.2 percent in 1972; African Americans, 8.87 percent (3.2 percent in 1972), and Hispanics, 2.94 percent (0.8 percent in 1972). Pacific/Asian American enrollments reached 6.96 percent in 1997 – due in part, Dr. Lindner said, to seminaries’ "distance learning" outreach.

TRENDS IN SEMINARY ENROLLMENT 1972-1997

Yr # of Schools Total Enrolled Women Enrolled % of Total Af/Am Enrolled % of Total Hispanics Enrolled % of Total Pac/As Enrolled % of Total
‘72

189

33,036

3,358

10.2

1,061

3.2

264

0.8

N/A

N/A

‘82

196

52,620

12,473

23.7

2,576

4.9

1,180

2.2

707

1.3

‘92

215

63,171

19,653

31.1

5,554

8.8

1,670

2.6

3,072

4.9

‘97

229

65,416

21,652

33.10

5,802

8.87

1,921

2.94

4,553

6.96

Source: 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches

1999 Yearbook data, laid alongside that from earlier editions, "permit a cautious confirmation of the trend of slower rates both of decline among churches perceived as liberal and of increase among the churches perceived as conservative," Dr. Lindner notes in her "Trends and Developments" essay. For example, two mainline bellwethers, the United Church of Christ and her own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), held their losses to under 1 percent of inclusive membership.

Here are the latest membership tallies supplied the Yearbook by the United States’ "top 20" church bodies, followed by longer-range trend information on several of them:

INCLUSIVE MEMBERSHIPS "TOP 20" U.S. CHURCH BODIES

Church Body

1999 Yearbook

Roman Catholic Church

61,207,914 (’96)

Southern Baptist Convention

15,891,514 (’97)

United Methodist Church

8,496,047 (’96)

Natl Baptist Conv. USA, Inc.

8,200,000 (’92)

Church of God in Christ

5,499,875 (’91)

Ev Luth. Church in America

5,185,055 (’97)

Latter-Day Saints/Mormons

4,923,100 (’97)

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

3,610,753 (’97)

Nat’l Baptist Conv. of Amer Inc.

3,500,000 (’87)

African Meth Episcopal Church

3,500,000 (’91)

Lutheran Ch-Missouri Synod

2,603,036 (’97)

Nat’l Missnry Bap. Conv. of Amer

2,500,000 (’92)

Progressive Nat'l Baptist Conv. Inc.

2,500,000 (’95)

Assemblies of God

2,494,574 (’97)

The Episcopal Church

2,364,559 (’96)

The Orthodox Church in America

2,000,000 (’95)

Greek Orthodox Archdi. of Amer

1,954,500 (’98)

Churches of Christ

1,800,000 (’97)

American Baptist Churches U.S.A.

1,503,267 (‘97)

United Church of Christ

1,438,181 (’97)

Source: 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches

The National Council of Churches’ 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Episcopal member church bodies report a combined inclusive membership of 51,291,755 in nearly 140,000 congregations, according to the 1999 Yearbook (down from 51,500,943 in 34 member communions the previous year. The 34 reported a net loss of 221,188 members, or 0.43 percent, between Yearbooks).

The American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, with 12,000 members in 60 congregations, became the NCC’s 35th member communion in November 1998 – after the 1999 Yearbook had gone to press.

U.S. DENOMINATIONS’ INCLUSIVE MEMBERSHIP CHANGES, 1940-1996*

  1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1997 Yearbook 1998 Yearbook
Denom.* Members Members Members Members Members Members Members
RCC

21,284,455

28,634,878

42,104,900

48,214,729

50,449,842

60,280,454

61,207,914

SBC

4,949,174

7,079,889

9,731,591

11,628,032

13,600,126

15,663,296

15,891,514

UMC

8,043,454

9,653,178

10,641,310

10,509,198

9,519,407

8,538,662

8,496,047

ELCA

3,117,626

3,982,508

5,295,502

5,650,137

5,384,271

5,190,489

5,185,055

LDS

724,401

1,111,314

1,486,887

2,073,146

2,811,000

4,711,500

4,923,100

PCUSA

2,690,969

3,210,635

4,161,880

4,045,408

3,362,086

3,669,489

3,610,753

LC-MS

1,277,097

1,674,901

2,391,195

2,788,536

2.625,650

2,594,555

2,603,036

Assembl

198,834

318,478

508,602

625,027

1,064,490

2,387,982

2,494,574

UCC

1,708,146

1,977,418

2,241,134

1,960,608

1,736,244

1,472,213

1,438,181

Source: 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches
* 1998 Yearbook data are from denominations’ 1996 counts. 1997 Yearbook data are from denominations’ 1995 counts. Figures from denominations that resulted from mergers since 1940 are combined totals from predecessor denominations.

In the area of financial statistics, overall giving totals remain fairly constant for the year reported. A very modest increase in per capita giving is nearly offset by the overall net decline in membership of the 58 U.S. denominations reporting.

"In the 1970s," commented Dr. Lindner, "it was clear that monies kept home were for the congregation’s organizational maintenance. Since the 1980s, that has been less clear. There has been a real burgeoning of congregationally based ministries – with homeless and hungry people, elderly people, and so forth. Meeting local demands has meant proportionately less money to send away."

The 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches is published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn., and available for U.S.$35 (including shipping) through the NCC’s Yearbook Office (212-870-2031) and at local bookstores across the United States and Canada.

-end-

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