NCC's 2009 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches reports decline in Catholic, Southern Baptist membership
New York, February 23, 2009 -- The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a slight but startling decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian communions.
Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon.
The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook. Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000 members.
Both membership figures were compiled by the churches in 2007 and reported to the Yearbook in 2008. The 2009 Yearbook also includes an essay by the editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, on the various ways churches count their members.
Neither figure is earth-shattering given the size of the churches. Roman Catholics comprise the nation's largest church with a membership of 67,117,016, and Southern Baptists rank second in the nation at 16,266,920.
But this year's reported decline raises eyebrows because Catholic and Southern Baptist membership has grown dependably over the years. Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline. For the rest of the article click here.
I wonder how much the political climate has contributed to the decline in Catholic and Southern Baptist membership. Some analysts think the numbers likely reflect the 'participate but don't join' mentality of the gen x'ers and millennials. Maybe, but I'd be interested in knowing how much of the Catholic exodus is due to the boomers of the Vat II generation who are fed up with the Church's swing to the right.
It's not difficult to imagine that the numbers for 2008 will continue the same downward trend.
A drop of .59% doesn't appear to be all that threatening until you translate that into the number of 398,000 distinct individuals. That's a lot of donations not being dropped in the offertory plate. In my terms, that's half the population of the State of Montana taking a hike. It's four Rose Bowls worth of fans dropping their allegiance.
But if the analysts are right, and this mostly reflects people in their thirties and under, then John Paul's purposeful decision to ignore the boomers and evangelise the younger generations is patently failing, and this spells real trouble for the future of Catholicism. As the older generations die off, there won't be anyone taking their place. It may very well be that the church attending population reflects the demographics of the ageing priesthood. That is not a good sign for the long term viability of the Church.
Anyone who has worked with the gen x'ers and millennials knows that these generations do not do well with authoritarian structures and that they sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat, but they also commit when that commitment seems to have meaning and the reasons are honest and transparent. Smell deception or a rat, and you can forget their active participation.
Reflexive obedience is not one of their strong suits, which may explain why my local fast food joints seem to have a lot more older people working in them than in my youthful days.
It seems to me that Roman Catholicism is opting for a form of Church which is generations removed from the very people they need to attract to remain viable. These younger generations are marching to a different drummer, a different consciousness. Expecting them to conform to a Church which is more and more resembling the Church of their grand parents and great grand parents is folly. It may appeal to a small segment, but that segment can not sustain a global enterprise on the scale the current Church operates.
For thirty years I've sat back and watched the Vatican hierarchy attempt to stop the forward movement of the Church and return it to the Church of their youth. In this process it became evident that the Vatican had decided that the future of their Church did not lie in the Western generations which embraced Vat II. They not only wrote off those generations, they worked diligently to stop their voices from being heard. Why anyone ever thought that the children of those parents would ever embrace a regressive form of Catholicism boggles my mind.
The official excuse for this is that our children were poorly evangelized. The reality is they were evangelized into a different form of Church. The regression back to sin and Satan and hell and guilt and a God up there with his sin computer makes no sense. They weren't taught an adversarial relationship with God. They were taught that God is love. They were taught that faith is a progression in a relationship with God. It's not that they don't understand sin, it's that they understand sin differently and use different terms for it. Sin is an attitudinal thing, not so much an acting bad thing. Social justice sins trump sexual sins every time. Pretty much what Jesus actually taught and the Church isn't.
Does it surprise me that younger generations support gay marriage? Not at all. It is the prime example of the difference in their notion of sin. For them it's not a sexual sin issue, it's an equal rights and social justice issue. They don't buy into the hypocrisy of certain sexual acts being permissible in marriage between heterosexuals, but not for anyone else. Or that homosexual sex is somehow more reprehensible than marital adultery which really does effect the family. These generations have very good bull shit meters and they don't cut much slack. Good for them. It's a lesson the hierarchy itself could learn.
In the meantime Bishop Martino of Scranton Pa. has decided to take this generation head on at Misericordia College over this very issue. Bill Lyndsey has dissected Martino's decision in detail over on his blog. Of course this is just one of Martino's latest attempts to restore the pre Vatican II notion of Church. I can't help but wonder what the exodus statistics will be in Scranton. Since Martino doesn't have to cooperate with the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, I'll bet we'll never know-----except for parish closures and consolidations, and rumor has it that will start with Misericodia itself. How sad and how predictable and how futile.