SALT LAKE CITY — The nation's 10 largest churches remained the same, and churches that have in recent years increased in membership continued their growth while others with declining numbers continued to fall.
So says the National Council of Churches' 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, released earlier this week.
But before you pass it off as simply the same ol' same ol' of religious trends in North America, consider the fact that total church membership declined by 1.05 percent over the past year.
And that 1.05 percent figures out to nearly 1,550,000 fewer members in the 227 national church bodies tracked by the NCC, leaving a total membership of 145,838,339.
With its headquarters in Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported 6,058,907 members in the U.S. and Canada, fourth-most in the yearbook's Top 25 listing of the largest national churches but well behind the 68.5 million Catholics accounted for in North America.
Also, the 2010 yearbook noted not a decrease but a 0.49 percent increase in overall church membership from 2009 to '10.
In its 79th edition, the 2011 Yearbook — edited by the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lidner — acknowledges up to a two-year lag in membership totals, since most mainline national churches collect member totals in 2009 and then submit them to the NCC in 2010 during the book's production cycle.
The five churches with the largest increases in North American membership as reported to the NCC include:
Jehovah's Witnesses, ranked 20th in size with a membership of 1,162,686, reported a 4.37 percent increase over the past year.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which returned at No. 24 after a two-year absence from the NCC's annual Top 25 ranking with a membership of 1,043,606, posted an increase of 4.31 percent.
The LDS Church was third-highest in membership growth at 1.42 percent.
The Catholic Church reported a 0.57 percent increase.
And the Assemblies of God, No. 9 in the Top 25, had an increase of 0.52 percent.
And the five with the largest decreases in North American membership:
The United Church of Christ, at No. 21 with a membership of 1,080,199, reported the steepest decline among the Top 25 with a drop of 2.83 percent
The Episcopal Church, its membership of 2,006,343 being the 14th largest, fell by 2.48 percent.
The Presbyterian Church noted a decrease of 2.61 percent.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church reported a decline of 1.96 percent.
And the United Methodist Church had the fifth-worst percentage at minus-1.01.
The Progressive National Baptist Convention, the 25th largest of the national churches with a membership of 1,010,000, reported a 59.60 percent decrease from the previous year, but the substantial drop was attributed to a new method of counting its members.
Also, the NCC acknowledged that 10 of the 25 largest churches didn't provide updated membership figures for the yearbook's latest edition, and that membership numbers can be lagging for more than a year as churches collected membership totals in 2009 and then reported them to the NCC in 2010.
How do the LDS Church's numbers from the 2011 Yearbook — the 6.058 million membership and growth of 1.42 percent — compare to recent years?
The NCC's 2006 Yearbook listed the LDS Church at No. 4 with 5,999,177 members and an annual increase of 1.74 percent. The same 10 churches from 2011 were ranked as 2006's 10 largest, with the first five in same order and only slight variations in the second five.
A decade ago, the 2001 Yearbook ranked the LDS Church at No. 6 with a membership of 5,113,409 and a growth of 3.38 percent.
The top 10 listings that year included the Roman Catholic Church (62.391 million members), the Southern Baptist Convention (15.852 million), the United Methodist Church (8.378 million), the Church of God in Christ (5.5 million), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (5.150 million), the LDS Church, the Presbyterian Church (3.561 million), the National Baptist Convention of America (3.5 million), the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (2.582 million) and the Assemblies of God (2.575 million).
e-mail: [email protected]