Thursday, March 22, 2012

Giving among US and Canadian churches drops $1.2 billion.

Churches continue to feel the effects of "the Great Recession" of 2008 as contributions dropped $1.2 billion, according to the National Council of Churches' 2012 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.”

Membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining, reports Eileen Lindner, Yearbook editor.

The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook, one of the oldest and most respected sources of church membership and financial trends in the US and Canada, may be ordered for $55 each at

Not all churches report their financial information to the Yearbook, Lindner said, but the downward trends are reasons for concern. The nearly $29 billion contributed by nearly 45 million church members is down $1.2 billion from figures reported in the 2011 Yearbook, Lindner said. "This enormous loss of revenue dwarfs the $431 million decrease reported last year and provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period," Lindner wrote.

In terms of per capita giving, the $763 contributed per person is down $17 from the previous year, according to Lindner, a 2.2 percent drop. The decline "took place in the context of ongoing high unemployment and a protracted economic downturn," Lindner wrote.

The decline in church giving has deeply affected national churches and member communions of the NCC, many of which are dealing with severe financial exigencies.

Church membership increases or declines continued as they have for several years, the Yearbook reports. "The direction of membership (growth or decline) remains very stable," Lindner wrote. "Most churches which have been increasing in membership in recent years have continued to grow and likewise, those churches which have been declining in membership in recent years have continued to decline."

Changing habits in church attendance among younger generations have had a noticeable impact on declining churches, Lindner suggests. "For the age cohorts known as Gen Xers and Millennials (people now in their 30s and 20s respectively), formal membership may lie outside of their hopes and expectations for their church relationships," according to Lindner. (The 2012 Yearbook includes Lindner's essay, "Can the Church Log In with the 'Connected Generation?' The Church and Young Adults").

The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook reports a continuing decline in membership of virtually all mainline denominations. Membership figures reported in the 2012 Yearbook were collected by the churches in 2010 and reported to the Yearbook in 2011.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's second largest denomination and long a reliable generator of church growth, reported a decline in membership for the fourth year in a row, down .15 percent to 16,136,044 members.

The Catholic Church, the nation's largest at 68.2 million members, reported a membership growth of .44 percent.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew 1.62 percent to 6,157,238 members and the Assemblies of God grew 3.99 percent to 3,030,944 members, according to figures reported in the 2012 Yearbook.

Other churches that continued to post membership gains in 2010 are Jehovah's Witnesses, up 1.85 percent to 1,184,249 members, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, up 1.61 percent to 1,060,386 members.

"Four of the 25 largest churches are Pentecostal in belief and practice," Linder wrote. "Strong figures from the Assemblies of God, and a big jump in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World...balanced against relatively modest losses from the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), might suggest a continuing increase in total adherents to Pentecostal groups."

Among mainline denominations, the sharpest rate of membership decline (down 5.90 percent to 4,274,855 members) was posted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Others posting declines include the Presbyterian Church USA (down 3.45 percent to 2,675,873), the Episcopal Church (down 2.71 percent to 1,951,907), the United Church of Christ (down 2.02 percent to 1,058,423), the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) (down 1.45 percent to 2,278,586), the United Methodist Church (down 1.22 percent to 7,679,850), and the American Baptist Churches USA (down .19 percent to 1,308,054).

Nine of the 25 largest churches did not report updated figures. The 2012 Yearbook reports on 228 national church bodies. The Yearbook also includes a directory of 235 US local and regional ecumenical bodies with program and contact information and provides listings of theological seminaries and Bible schools, religious periodicals, and guides to religious research including church archive listings. Information in the Yearbook is kept up to date in two regular electronic updates each year. Access to this Internet data is provided through a unique pass code printed inside the back cover.

Total church membership reported in the 2011 Yearbook is 145,691,446 members, down 1.15 percent over 2011.

For more information, or to purchase a copy of the 2011 Yearbook, see Yearbooks from earlier years may be available at a discounted price at 888-870-3325.

-- Philip E. Jenks is a member of the National Council of Churches communications staff.

Source:3/22/2012 Newsline

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