While you might have a hard time finding a seat at Sunday Mass, there is plenty of pew space in the mainline denominations:
The Roman Catholic Church is growing, but most mainline and evangelical Protestant churches are losing members, according to the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
The figures, based on 2009 membership, were collected by the National Council of Churches and released Monday.
The United States now has 68.5 million Catholics, a jump of 0.6 percent from 2008. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also saw its membership climb 1.4 percent, to 6.1 million. Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and two Pentecostal denominations — the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) — also saw numerical growth. All six of these religious groups have enjoyed sustained growth during the past half-century.
Mainline Protestant churches, meanwhile, have being losing members for decades.
That trend continued in 2009 with United Methodists, American Baptists, Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ all reporting membership losses.
But declines weren’t limited to mainline churches. Two leading evangelical denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, also shrunk.
I suspect the decline in the SBC may be because more and more churches have stopped using the “Once a member, always a member” method of counting the people in the pews. (I think I’m still counted as a “member” at twelve SBC churches that I haven’t been to since childhood.)
Here is the Yearbook’s list of top 10 largest churches:
1. The Catholic Church 68,503,456
2. The Southern Baptist Convention 16,160,088
3. The United Methodist Church 7,774,931
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6,058,907
5. The Church of God in Christ 5,499,875
6. National Baptist Convention 5,000,000
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,542,868
8. National Baptist Convention of America Inc. 3,500,000
9. Assemblies of God 2,914,669
10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2,770,730