Burge took a deep dive into membership numbers for nine Protestant denominations, going back 30 or so years. He included both “mainline” denominations and newer, more evangelical denominations. He found that most Protestant denominations in this country are losing members, and even those that are growing are mostly not keeping pace with the population growth of the country.
One of the key findings is that the decline of the mainline churches is even worse than has been previously reported. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is down 41 percent from the early 80s. The United Church of Christ is less than half the size it was in the 1980s. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is down 31 percent. The picture for the UMC is likely to get much worse. Over 15 percent of its churches are disaffiliating just this year, and that includes many of its largest churches. Burge wrote, “I wouldn’t be surprised if membership is down 40 percent or more by this time next year.”
The SBC is down just 4 percent from the early 80s, but that’s because it grew through the 80s and 90s. If you look at just the past 10 years, the declines have been more precipitous.
Even the denominations that are growing are not unalloyed success stories.