Methodists, Episcopalians drop while Catholics, Baptist rise

Institute for Religion & Democracy

Once the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, new figures released by the United Methodist Church reveal that, while it remains America’s second largest Protestant body, its U.S. membership has posted perhaps its largest drop since the 1970s.

The church’s 2010 U.S. membership stands at 7,570,980, a drop of 108,870 persons from 2009. The decline largely mirrors trends in other U.S. mainline denominations: in the same reporting year, the Episcopal Church reported a loss of 54,436 members, dropping below 2 million members. In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God have posted membership growth, while the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, has reported stable membership levels.

Since the 1960s, United Methodism in the U.S. has lost nearly 3.5 million members, a nearly record loss for any church in the history of Christianity. Meanwhile, overseas United Methodism has gained 4 million members.

Non-U.S. United Methodism now accounts for nearly 40 percent of the denomination and includes 4.4 million members, mostly in Africa. At about 12 million members internationally and growing, The United Methodist Church is one of the top 10 largest Christian communions in the world.

IRD President Mark Tooley commented:

“United Methodism’s rate of U.S. decline as a percentage is much less than that of the Episcopal Church or Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but is still tragic. Liberal Protestantism in America continues its implosion. Meanwhile, African United Methodists will outnumber U.S. church members in 10 years under current rates. Global Christianity, including United Methodism, thrives because it is evangelistic and confident about Christian beliefs.

“The upcoming April 24, 2012 governing United Methodist General Conference, where a record 40 percent of delegates will come from overseas, will showcase the clash between dying liberal U.S. Protestantism and dynamic global Christianity.

“Let’s hope that United Methodism, on its present course, disengages from failed captivity to American culture and continues to grow internationally and perhaps, someday, even grow again in the U.S. for the first time in nearly 50 years.”

The Institute on Religion & Democracy works to reaffirm the church’s biblical and historical teachings, strengthen and reform its role in public life, protect religious freedom, and renew democracy at home and abroad.

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