Catholics Report Largest Growth
Among U.S. Churches in 2005
he Roman Catholic Church grew to 69.1 million members in 2005, making it the fastest-growing church in the country, followed closely by the Assemblies of God and the Mormons.
Catholics grew 1.94 percent in 2005, Assemblies of God grew 1.86 percent and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew 1.63 percent, according to the 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, produced by the National Council of Churches.
The Yearbook, released March 5, is widely considered the most authoritative source on church membership statistics. The 2007 Yearbook contains data from 2005 that were reported in 2006.
Rankings of the top 10 largest U.S. churches did not change from last year. Catholics remain the largest group, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, Mormons, and the Church of God in Christ. Rounding out the top 10 are the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Assemblies of God.
Only three mainline Protestant denominations--Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians--are counted in the top 10 largest churches, and all three reported membership declines in 2005. The Presbyterian Church (USA) reported the largest decrease, at 2.84 percent. Of the top 25 largest churches, another mainline denomination, the United Church of Christ, reported the greatest decrease, 3.28 percent.
Several historically black denominations--including the Church of God in Christ and the two National Baptist Conventions in the top 10--have consistently reported the same numbers, with no increase or decrease, for several years.
The top 10 largest U.S. churches include:
-- The Roman Catholic Church--69,135,254
-- The Southern Baptist Convention--16,270,315
-- The United Methodist Church--8,075,010
-- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--5,690,672
-- The Church of God in Christ--5,499,875
-- National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.--5,000,000
-- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America--4,850,776
-- National Baptist Convention of America--3,500,000
-- Presbyterian Church (USA)--3,098,842
-- Assemblies of God--2,830,861
Haggard's Colorado Church Cuts 44 Staff Positions
The Colorado megachurch formerly headed by evangelical leader Ted Haggard has laid off 44 staffers, citing a 10 percent decline in revenue since Haggard resigned after a gay sex and drug scandal.
The cuts, which include a range of administrators, custodians and nursery workers, amount to about 12 percent of New Life Church's paid staff, the Denver Post reported.
Ross Parsley, New Life's interim senior pastor, said revenue declined after Haggard was fired over charges that he had bought methamphetamine and paid a Denver man for sex. Haggard has since resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and he and his wife have moved out of the church's vacinity.
"We were kind of living on the edge," Parsley said at a question-and-answer session following an evening service on March 4, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. "That's good for everybody until a rainy day comes, and now we're in the rain. We certainly can't keep using money we don't have."
Associate Pastor Rob Brendle added that the layoffs had been a "painful process."
"The reality is, we ask our people to be faithful stewards of their money and (live) within their means. We have to do the same," Brendle said, according to the Denver Post.
Methodist Clergy Say SMU Trustees
Shouldn't Decide on Bush Library
At least eight trustees of Southern Methodist University with close ties to President George W. Bush shouldn't cast votes on whether to bring his presidential library to SMU's campus.
That's the argument of four United Methodist clergy, including three retired bishops, who have began calling for eight trustees to withdraw from board discussions on a proposed library and policy center. They suggested the trustees have conflicts of interest.
"We call upon these eight trustees to recuse themselves, along with any others who have had noteworthy personal, political, or financial dealings with George W. Bush," said Bishops C. Joseph Sprague, Joseph H. Yeakel and Kenneth W. Hicks in a written statement. The Rev. Andrew Weaver, a Bush critic and SMU alumnus in New York City, also signed the call for recusal.
"The proposed Bush Complex will significantly affect SMU and the United Methodist Church that founded it. Such a decision requires objectivity unencumbered by personal considerations," the clergy said.
Plans to bring a Bush library and policy center to SMU have sparked sharp debate in United Methodist circles since December, when the Bush administration declared SMU the sole finalist under consideration to host the facilities. "These accusations are unfortunate," said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for development and external affairs. But the clerics' concerns don't "meet the standard of conflict of interest. There's no personal benefit that's coming to (the accused trustees) in any way."
Supporters say the proposal shows the denomination tolerates political diversity and will examine the Bush legacy in the light of faith and scholarship. Opponents, concerned the policy center will be a mouthpiece for defending Bush doctrines, say Methodism shouldn't be linked with an administration accused of practicing torture and preemptive warfare.
The clergymen named six SMU trustees who allegedly either contributed to a Bush campaign or pledged to raise at least $100,000 in campaign funds. The list includes such prominent Texas businessmen as Hunt Oil CEO Ray Hunt and former American Airlines CEO Donald Carty. Spokespersons for Hunt and Carty did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Dobson, Others Seek Ouster of NAE Vice President
More than two dozen evangelical leaders are seeking the ouster of the Rev. Richard Cizik from the National Association of Evangelicals because of his "relentless campaign" against global warming.
In a March 1 letter to L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE board, Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson and others said the NAE vice president's activism on global warming is "demoralizing" the evangelical umbrella group.
"If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE," wrote the leaders, none of whom are members of the association.
Taylor could not be reached immediately for comment. Cizik said, "I have no intention of resigning."
The NAE's interim president, Leith Anderson, said Friday he expects the board to stand by Cizik, who directs the NAE's Washington office. "I'm supportive of Rich Cizik," Anderson said. "I think that he is highly respected in Washington" and a supporter for care of the environment, "and that's good."
When read a list of the signatories, Anderson said: "We would normally look to our own constituency--and not to those who have chosen not to be members of the NAE--for counsel."
The letter comes as some leading conservative Christians have been vocal in their criticisms and doubts about global warming, arguing against leading international scientists who say global warming is human-induced, and saying the issue is not an appropriate focus for evangelicals.
"I am today raising a flag of opposition to this alarmism about global warming and urging all believers to refuse to be duped by these `earthism' worshippers," the Rev. Jerry Falwell said in a February 25 sermon on "The Myth of Global Warming" at his Lynchburg, Virginia, church.
Earlier in February, World magazine founder Joel Belz wrote in an essay in his conservative Christian weekly that "Cizik has made it way too easy for the public to conclude that his own views are also the views of the NAE."
Cizik said he is addressing issues included in the NAE's vision statement, including support of the traditional family, sanctity of human life, religious freedom, and environmental stewardship. Cizik considers his attention to the environment to be part of a "biblical mandate" he follows as a Christian and NAE staffer, but said the association has not reached a consensus on global warming.