The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches shows a continuing decline in membership among the largest denominations in North America. What was unusual about this report was the decline reported for the first time in the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist denominations.
According to the 2009 Yearbook, among the 25 largest churches in the U.S., four are growing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (up 1.63 percent to 5,873,408; the Assemblies of God (up 0.96 percent to 2,863,265); Jehovah's Witnesses (up 2.12 percent to 1,092,169); and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn. (up 2.04 percent to 1,053,642).
Churches listed in the Yearbook as experiencing the highest rate of membership loss are the United Church of Christ (down 6.01 percent), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (down 3.01 percent), the Presbyterian Church (USA) (down 2.79 percent), the Episcopal Church (down 1.76 percent), the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (down 1.44 percent) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down 1.35 percent),
It is also interesting that several church groups indicate "no change" in membership. My experience as a judicatory leader is that when people have good news they always send in reports; when they have bad news, they report nothing. So, the picture is probably more bleak than reported.
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Statistics are interesting, but they do not always "speak for themselves." They do not always tell us why things are happening or what should be done about them. Questions arise:
- Do we need different metrics for what a faithful, missional congregation looks like?
- Are those metrics things that happen inside the church or outside the church?
- Is outreach always rewarded with intake? How should the fruit of outreach be measured?
- How is "membership" measured?
- Is the old breed of members being replaced by a new, smaller, but more focused breed of members, or is the old breed just dying out?
You can probably think of many more.