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Perhaps, just perhaps, church is growing again

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Although the listings in Churches of Christ in the United States don’t represent “the lamb’s book of life,” as compiler Mac Lynn is quick to point out, church leaders know it’s the best accounting we’ve got this side of Heaven showing how many and where members meet in sweet communion on any given Sunday morning.

In the directory’s 2003 edition, Lynn offers a guardedly optimistic projection that “Perhaps, just perhaps, the decline overall has ended and a new period of growth has commenced.”

Lynn’s is the best word we have that losses in the number of congregations and in membership may be turning around.
Total membership for 2003 is 1,276,533, up from 1,264,152 since 2000, and approaching 1990’s 1,284,056.
The 2003 edition also reports a record number of 13,198 congregations, up from 13,032 in 2000 and up from 13,174 in 1990.

Lynn does, however, express serious concern that mission outreach to some parts of the nation remains critical. “Large counties in the Northeast still have no congregations and the Midwest continues to struggle to keep their numbers.” He says that declines are a “particular challenge” in states including California, Delaware, Iowa and Kansas.

Attendance figures for 2003 are 1,264,048, up from 1,255,056 from the 2000 edition.

Lynn notes that one factor in the drop in membership between 1990 and 1994 was the mutual decision between churches of Christ and what came to be called the International Churches of Christ to drop the latter from our listings. The drop in membership figures between those two years was about 23,000 people.
Overall, Lynn says, “Given the difficulty of acquiring statistics, one should be hesitant about making generalizations. Perhaps the safest statement one can venture is that the reports continue to verify the presence of about 13,000 congregations in the U.S. and that collectively, these congregations are maintaining their strength.

“There is no appreciable difference in the size of congregations, in the national distribution of churches or in the demographic makeup of churches.”

Among other key findings in the 2003 edition:

• Largest states by membership: Texas, 292,646 ; Tennessee, 169,992 ; Alabama, 93,065; Arkansas, 68,784; California, 63,782; and Oklahoma, 63,581.

•Largest congregations: Richland Hills, Fort Worth, Texas, 3,500; Oak Hills, San Antonio, Texas, 3,500; Highland, Abilene, Texas, 2,600; Woodmont Hills, Nashville, Tenn., 2,350; and Memorial Road, Oklahoma City, Okla., 2,150.

• Counties with the largest representation of churches and members: Davidson (Nashville), Tenn., 31,270; Dallas (Dallas), Texas, 29,911; Harris (Houston), Texas, 23,937; Tarrant (Fort Worth), Texas, 22,595.

As reported in the February 2003 Chronicle, the 2003 Churches of Christ in the United States, published by 21st Century Christian, Nashville, Tenn., is Lynn’s last. Future volumes will be produced and compiled by 21st Century.

The 2003 edition of the directory will be available in church-related bookstores or from 21st Century March 1.

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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