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A cappella membership drops as churches fail to keep pace with population growth

The number of members and congregations of non-instrumental churches of Christ fell 1 percent in the last three years, according to the latest edition of Churches of Christ in the United States.
The 2006 directory, compiled by Carl H. Royster in consultation with Mac Lynn, reports 12,963 a cappella churches of Christ at the end of 2005.

Those congregationshad 1,265,844 baptized members, according to the directory, published by 21stCentury Christian in Nashville, Tenn. Both figures representdeclines from 13,155 congregations and 1,276,621 baptized members when the lastedition of the directory was published in 2003.

“As a general rule,it seems like the smaller congregations were getting smaller and the largercongregations were getting larger,” Royster said. “But there were plenty ofexceptions to that.
“To say I hadsomething definite to attribute (the decline) to, I can’t.”
The number ofadherents — which includes children of members — fell to 1,639,495, down from1,656,717 three years ago.
Some of the declinecould be attributed to a cappella churches that started using instruments since2003 and fell off the list, Royster said. Since 1980, the overall U.S. population has risen about 25 percent, butthe non-instrumental fellowship has increased only about 2 percent, said FlavilYeakley, director of the Harding Center for Church Growth in Searcy, Ark.
By comparison,instrumental Christian Churches/Churches of Christ grew by 19.6 percent in the1990s, the second-fastest rate among 15 religious groups in the U.S. thatidentify themselves as “Christian” and have 1 million or more adherents,Yeakley said.
“Only the Mormonsgrew faster,” Yeakley said.
The five states withthe most a cappella congregations and members in the 2006 edition are Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
• Texas: 2,137 churches and 284,512 members(down from 292,646 members in 2003).
• Tennessee: 1,452 churches and 168,876members (down from 169,992 members in 2003).
• Alabama: 888 churches and 91,551 members(down from 93,065 members in 2003).
• Arkansas: 748 churches and 68,640 members(down from 68,784 members in 2003).

• Oklahoma: 593 churchesand 62,322 members (down from 63,581 members in 2003).

TO SEE MORE FIGURES from the 2005 survey, go online to www.christianchronicle.org.

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