Catholic Church shows ‘robust’ growth in U.S. membership, new report says

2 19 2010 praying

The Catholic Church’s membership in the United States grew at the “robust” rate of about 1.5 percent in 2008, according to National Council of Churches’ (NCC) new 2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

A slight loss in Catholic membership in the U.S. was reported in the 2009 Yearbook, but the NCC said the latest figure shows “robust growth.” The figures come from 2008 statistics. The growth outpaces the estimated U.S. population growth rate in 2008, listed as 0.9 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

There are now an estimated 68.1 million Catholics in the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose members are known as Mormons, grew 1.7 percent to almost 5.9 million members. The Assemblies of God grew 1.3 percent to about 2.9 million.

Other denominations lost membership. The Presbyterian Church (USA) shrank 3.3 percent and now has about 2.9 million members. American Baptist Churches in the USA decreased two percent to 1.4 million, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 1.9 percent of its membership, which now stands at 4.7 million.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination after Catholics, lost 0.24 percent of its membership and now stands at 16.2 million. It also declined in membership in the year prior.

Membership figures reported in the 2010 Yearbook were collected by the churches in 2008 and reported to the Yearbook in 2009. Eleven of the 25 largest churches did not report updated figures.

The Yearbook shows a decline in reported membership of almost all mainline Protestant denominations.

Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the NCC Yearbook, said that some observers have seen an “increasing secularization” in American society that has a disproportionate impact on “liberal religious groups.”

However, she was cautious about attributing causes of membership decline.

"American society as a whole has not experienced the kind and rate of secularization so clearly demonstrated during the last quarter century in Western Europe,” Lindner commented. “Indeed, American church membership trends have defied gravity particularly where the Pentecostal experience is included."

She also noted that the largest plurality of immigrants to the U.S. in the last 50 years have been Christian.

The Yearbook also discusses church financial trends. The almost 45 million members of the 64 churches submitting financial income reports showed contributions of almost $36 billion, $26 million lower than the previous year’s figure.

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