Offering plates took hit in 2010, according to new report

Membership trends remained stable in American denominations, but offerings were down $1.2 billion from a year ago, according to the National Council of Churches' 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

By Bob Allen

The drop in giving is nearly three times the $431 million decline reported in last year’s edition. Yearbook editor Eileen Lindner called it “clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises” lingering from effects of "the Great Recession" of 2008.

Nearly 45 million church members contributed almost $29 billion in 2010, according to statistics collected from 228 U.S. denominations in 2011. Per capita, 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 downturn has affected many denominations, which have been forced to downsize national and regional staff.

Linder said membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining. Membership of virtually all mainline denominations continued to decline.

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 0.15 percent to 16,136,044 members.

The Catholic Church, the nation's largest at 68.2 million members, reported a membership decline of 0.44 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. Other churches that continued to post membership gains are Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., America’s 19th-largest denominational group, dropped to 1,308,054 members, down 0.19 percent.

The sixth-ranked National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., meanwhile, reported growth of 3.95 percent to a total membership of 5,197,512.

The National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., ranked No. 8 with 3.5 million members; the 11th ranked National Missionary Baptist Convention of America reported 2.5 million members; and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, No. 25 with 1,010,000 members, did not report updated figures.

Total membership in the top 25 churches -- 145,691,446 -- was down 1.15 percent.