Christians in America by the Numbers

A look at which denominations are surging and struggling

by Katie Nations | Updated 09 Jan 2017 at 8:51 AM

Every week there are new statistics, it seems, about Christians in America. But which denominations are growing and which are shrinking?

As a whole, the number of Americans who identify as Christians is 70 percent — down from 86 percent in 1990. But there are many different types of Christians and exact statistics on each one are difficult to attain, since there are regular changes in personal affiliations, attendance, and membership.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has had the greatest decline of members — 67 percent since 1965. Comparably, the Church of God in Christ has seen an increase of 1,194 percent.

Currently, Catholics make up about 24 percent of Christians in the U.S., which is the largest of any one particular denomination. However, when the many Protestant denominations are combined — including Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian — they total more than 50 percent of Christians in America.

Nearly every Protestant denomination has declined over the past 50 years. However, individual memberships have increased. The Gospel Coalition lists each denomination by its decrease in membership. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has had the greatest decline of members — 67 percent since 1965. Comparably, the Church of God in Christ has seen an increase of 1,194 percent.

It is also important to acknowledge that many denominations may see a decrease in membership while a church with similar faith experiences growth. Often, individuals leave one congregation for various reasons and join a comparable group due to location, people, or experience.

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Related: The New Congress Is Overwhelmingly Christian

There has been a significant increase among nondenominational Christian churches such as Life.Church, which includes 25 sites that use satellite teaching to connect people across seven states.

According to its website, Life.Church’s mission is “to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.”

An estimated 8 million people worshiped in a nondenominational church in 2008, notes Insights into Religion. In 2012, 4 percent of Americans (more than 12 million people) were affiliated with a nondenominational church, which is a 50-percent increase in four years.

Historically, nondenominational churches adhere to fundamental Christian beliefs but allow followers to their own personal interpretations. There is an attempt to discard the past divisions; labels that are the original causes for so many various Protestant denominations. In general, there is a focus on more tolerance and unity. The nondenominational or unaffiliated Christian churches have more fluidity as individual congregations, since they do not belong to an organized convention.

Denominations have developed a negative reputation over the years. A statement by the leadership of one organization may be taken out of context or cause discord among various individual churches affiliated with that denomination. A nondenominational church is more attractive in part due to its lack of bureaucracy. However, there is still a need for standards of beliefs within any church in order to maintain harmony and growth.

For example, it is vital to have agreement on the validity of Scripture. If left open to interpretation, there is a risk of future infighting and discord, ultimately leading to a split or demise of one congregation.

Related: Christians: The Most Persecuted in the World

From a practical perspective, the decline of individual denominations and Christianity as a whole is in part because of birthrate. If a person remains within the religion of his or her birth parents, Muslims will likely equal Christians worldwide by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center. Of course, this projection does not take into account the possibility of conversion from one faith to another.

Regardless of where one chooses to worship within the Christian faith, it is important to find the opportunity for faith and fellowship that leads to spiritual growth and the opportunity to share the Gospel.

Katie Nations, married for 15 years, is a working mother of three young children. She lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

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