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Mainline Protestant churches no longer dominate
NCC Yearbook’s list of top 25 U.S. religious bodies

New York, March 30, 2005 -- Pentecostal and historic African American churches are increasingly visible on the U.S. religious landscape and mainline Protestants no longer dominate a list of the 25 largest American churches, reports the National Council of Churches’ 2005 “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.” 

Three of the largest 25 churches in the U.S. are Pentecostal and six are African American, the yearbook reports.  

The list includes the rapidly growing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church in America, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and – largest of all – the Roman Catholic Church. 

“The Yearbook of American & 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 in the $50 cost of the print edition is a year’s subscription to the “Yearbook Online,” featuring regularly updated searchable data, accessible from any computer with Web access. 

Now in its 73rd year of publication, the “2005 Yearbook” may be ordered online at The yearbook also may be ordered through local bookstores or from Cokesbury, which is offering a 10 percent discount. 

The Catholic Church remains the largest faith group in the U.S. with 67,259,768 members and a growth rate last year of 1.28 percent. The second largest denomination in the U.S. is still the Southern Baptist Convention with 16,439,603 members and a growth rate of 1.18 percent. The United Methodist Church is third largest with a reported membership of 8,251,175 and a growth rate of .002 percent. 

The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, with a reported membership of 5,503,192, rose from the fifth to the fourth largest church in the U.S. The yearbook noted that the church “continues to grow remarkably” at a rate of 1.71 percent last year. 

A reported surge in membership of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has placed the communion on the list of the largest American churches. The Syosset, N.Y., based church grew 11.11 percent to 1-million members, according to the yearbook. 

Other churches in the top 25 that continued to grow in 2004 are the Assemblies of God, 2,729,562 members and a growth rate of 1.57 percent; the Episcopal Church, 2,320,221 members and a growth rate of .57 percent; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,432,795 members and a growth rate of .14 percent; and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,041,030 members and a growth rate of 1.82 percent. 

Churches that declined in membership in 2004 are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,984,925 members, down 1.05 percent; the Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,241,309 members, down 4.87 percent; The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), 2,488,936 members, down .95 percent); American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,433,075 members, down 3.45 percent; and the United Church of Christ, 1,296,652 members, down 2.58 percent. 

The data is gathered by the churches in 2003 and reported to the yearbook in 2004. 

The 2005 Yearbook reports on 217 national church bodies with 150 million members in the U.S. Reports include brief church histories and contact information for church leaders. The yearbook also analyzes the financial data from 63 churches representing almost 50 million members and more than $32 billion. 

Mission Trends  

Until 1968, the yearbook published statistical data of American home and foreign missionaries. That information has not been reported for 36 years, and editor Lindner decided to take a look at how mission has been faring.  

In an article, “Whither Global Mission?” Lindner reported that mainline Protestants have increased their mission activity for the first time in a quarter century. That, combined with the still vigorous mission impulses of evangelical and Pentecostal churches, shows that American Christians are “attempting great things” in mission, Lindner said. 

Mainline church agencies reported an increase of 600 missionaries over the number reported in 1966, Lindner noted, citing a January 2005 article in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 

Agencies affiliated with the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association gained about 1,400 missionaries since 1966, and agencies affiliated with the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies gained about 8,000 missionaries in the same period, the article said. 

Of the estimated 6,453,628,000 persons on earth in mid-2005, about 33.1 percent consider themselves Christians. The percentage is expected to rise to 33.6 percent in 2025. 

In mid-2005, most of the world’s Christians – 1,118,992,000 – are Roman Catholics. Independents account for the next largest group of Christians (426,672,000), followed by Protestants (375,814,000), Orthodox (219,501,000), Anglicans (79,710,000) and “marginal Christians” (34,150,000). 

Handy to Have 

In addition to its obvious value to scholars, the yearbook is also an essential addition to any pastor’s library. Proponents suggest scenarios to pastors in which the yearbook would be helpful, including:

·        Flood once again ravages the Mississippi. Your congregation wants to provide relief supplies and a youth work camp to assist victims. You open the “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” and consult “Directory 6,” U.S. Ecumenical Bodies, to obtain the name and contact numbers for the North Dakota Conference of Churches in order to forge a partnership in a ministry of relief.

·        You have been approached by a local pastor of the Apostolic Christian Church. His congregation wishes to discuss with your congregation the possibility of using your sanctuary on Sunday evenings for worship. You wish to present this request to your church board but you are not familiar with this church and its traditions and beliefs. You consult “Directory 3,” U.S. Religious Bodies, to read about this denomination. For follow-up questions you contact the church headquarters at the number listed in the “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.”

·        There is a large Muslim community in your town. Your church is planning to host a community health fair in the year 2000. You want to be certain that the date will not conflict with any Muslim holidays. You consult Section IV in the “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” to find a date that is respectful of all religious traditions.

·        Your Stewardship committee is planning a presentation to the congregation to develop financial pledges to the church.  Last year per capita giving in your church was $613. The committee is interested in how this compares to giving nationally within your denomination and in others. You consult in the “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” Section III, Table 4 to offer statistical information, which allows you to see your pattern of giving within a larger context.

·        Your congregation will soon celebrate its centennial. A group is working on writing a history of the parish.  The group needs to locate some records for your denomination, which are nearly 100 years old. You consult “Directory 12,” Depositories of Church History Material, in the “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches,” which provides the group with the contact information for your denominational archives.

·        Your congregation, working with other congregations in a local ecumenical agency, recognizes the need to establish a local ecumenical youth ministry. Many ideas about program, focus, cost, and organization are put forward.  Consulting the chapter index for “Directory 6,” U.S. Ecumenical Bodies, you note that nearly 40 ecumenical agencies provide such programs. With the contact names and addresses, you suggest your group collect some information about what others are doing.

·        A young woman in your congregation is interested in pursuing a vocational call. She doesn’t know which seminary she should consider and wonders how many women are engaged in theological study. You refer her to the “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” where she finds in “Directory 8,” U.S. Theological Schools and Bible Colleges, a complete listing of schools with contact information and denominational affiliation. In Section IV, she is able to review seminary enrollment statistics for women over the last decade.

U.S. Membership Denominational Ranking: Largest 25 Denominations/Communions
2005 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

1. The Catholic Church – 67,259,768

2. Southern Baptist Convention – 16,439,603

3. The United Methodist Church – 8,251,175

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – 5,503,192

5. The Church of God in Christ – 5,449, 875

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. – 5,000,000

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – 4,984,925

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

9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – 3,241,309

10. Assemblies of God – 2,729,562

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church – 2,500,000

12. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America – 2,500,000

13. Progressive National Baptist Convention – 2,500,000

14. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) – 2,488,936

15. Episcopal Church – 2,320,221

16. Churches of Christ – 1,500,000

17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – 1,500,000

18. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. – 1,500,000

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. – 1,433,075

20. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1,432,795

21. United Church of Christ – 1,296,652

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

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ – 1,071,616

24. Jehovah’s Witnesses – 1,041,030

25. The Orthodox Church in America – 1,000,000


NCC Media Contacts: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252;


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