Church Numbers

How do you count who is a member and who isn’t?

The Southern Baptist Convention, with some 16.2 million members on the books, claims to be the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. But the Rev. Thomas Ascol believes the active membership is really a fraction of that.

Ascol, pastor of the 230-member Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., points to a church report showing that only 6 million Southern Baptists attend church on an average Sunday.

“The reality is, the FBI couldn’t find half of those (members) if they had to,” said Ascol, who asserts his own congregation attendance swells to at least 350 every Sunday.

Some churches only count adults, some count babies; some have strict policies to transfer members, others keep people on the books even if they’ve long ago joined another church.

4 thoughts on “Church Numbers

  1. This has been a serious problem for some time now in analyzing patterns of church membership change. What complicates it, in the case of the
    SBC, is the ability of individual congregations to choose to leave or join the convention, or often something in between.

    The reality is that of all the denominations, only three of any size appear to be consistently growing in the US and Canada: Catholicism, the Assemblies of God and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). (And yes, I know that many have a lot of heartburn over even including the LDS in the analysis.) The SBC, at best, is holding its own in absolute numbers, but has been shrinking for some time in relation to overall population.

    The big pulse in SBC size in the 60’s through 80’s had as much to do with population growth in the Sunbelt states and independent Baptist churches joining than any serious organic growth. And it is not enough to just point to the growth of suburban megachurches as a cause for this drop; a number of these big congregations are SBC or other denominations, they just may not advertise it much. Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) counts as SBC, but you have to dig to find that out.

    (Incidentally, my understanding from some research is that Saddleback has a rather good idea of how many active members they really have. They are rather good at crunching the numbers.)

  2. Some comunities count membership by those who attend, some by those who have accepted Christ, others count membership by those who receive Communion. In surveys different communities count their members according to their own criteria.
    I return to the Glenmary stats. S.B.A. 19,881,467 members in 2000, an increase of 940,785 since 1990 +5%. R.C. 62,035,042 in 2000, an increase of 8,649,044 or +16.2%. S.D.A. 923,046 an increase of 19,984, +2.2%.
    E.C.L.A. lost 113,380, or -2.2%, Episcopal ch. lost 130,000, -5.3%. Unitarian lost 7,495, -3.9%. Presbyterians lost 411,769 or -11.6%!

  3. Who is getting the most Hispanic immigrants? 🙂

    I’d like to see statistics of actual weekly attendance vs. membership.

  4. Good questions, I sent you a PDF document with details about how they calculate the numbers. BTW in the same period the total number of people reporting increased by 13.2%. Obviously some of denominations gained from those who lost numbers but much of the gains were made from the general population increase and migrants.

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