Church Growth Slows in United States

CHURCH growth appears to be flattening out in the United States.

Not one of the nation's 10 largest church bodies reported a membership decline of more than 1 percent in the new ``Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1994.'' But neither were there any signs of dramatic church growth: Most churches reported increases of less than 1 percent.

For churches such as the Southern Baptist Convention, coming off a generation of rapid increases that helped it become the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the church-growth figures seem to indicate a spiritual malaise.

``We're crying out to God for a fresh touch for our land. We pray that it will fall upon Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Baptists,'' said the Rev. Mark Coppenger, a Southern Baptist spokesman. ``That's our main agenda right now - revival in America.''

The church membership figures, collected by the National Council of Churches, are not always comparable from denomination to denomination, since most church groups keep their own statistics and use different methods for determining memberships. Some denominations only make estimates. But the church council says that, absent any questions about religion in the US Census every 10 years, the yearbook data is considered as near an ``official'' record of denominational statistics as is available.

The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. reported a 2.5 percent membership gain, going from 8 million to 8.2 million members. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported a 2.16 percent jump from 1991 to '92, with membership increasing to 4.43 million.

The nation's largest religious group, the Roman Catholic Church, grew 1.63 percent, to 59.2 million members in 1992, the yearbook says.

But most large church bodies reported membership gains or declines of less than 1 percent.

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