Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 20, 1967
NUMBER 11, PAGE 11b-12a

The Church Of Christ Bureau Of Information

T.F. McNabb

The Yearbook of American Churches, Published annually by the National Council of Churches, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, contains much information that :can be of help to anyone interested in the numerous religious bodies in the United States.

In reviewing the latest edition (1967) one cannot but be impressed with the vast amount of work that must have gone into compiling such a tremendous amount of statistics. But a question cannot but arise: Just how accurate are these membership statistics turned in by the various religious groups, and how do the groups obtain their statistics?

For example, we read under "Churches of Christ" that "this body is made up of a large group of churches, formerly reported with the Disciples of Christ, but since the Religious Census of 1906 reported separately. They are strictly congregational and have no organization larger than the local congregation."

Since local "churches of Christ" are supposed to have "no organization larger than the local congregation," one wonders where the statistics given under "Churches of Christ" were compiled and by whom.

To find an answer to the above, a letter was sent to the National Council, Yearbook Department, for information. The Director, Research Library, replied on their official letterhead, as follows:

"In response to your letter of March 28 concerning the source of statistics of the Churches of Christ appearing in the Yearbook of American Churches, we receive these from the official statistician or other appointed spokesman for that denomination. The person supplying the statistics for the Yearbook was Mr. B. Goodpasture, editor of the Gospel Advocate, 1113 Eighth Avenue, South, Nashville, Tennessee 37203."

Now, looking at the statistics given over the past several years, in various editions of the Yearbook, we note that in 1961, there were 17,850 churches, with a membership of 2,007,650; there were 10,000 Sunday Schools with an enrollment of 209,615 (The Sunday School statistics are for 1936), and there were 5,000 ordained clergy having charges. "Then moving up four years, in 1965 there were 18,500 churches with membership of 2,250,000. Sunday School statistics were the same as 1961, but there were "6000 ordained clergy having charges" an increase of exactly 1,000 over the 1961 statistics. The Yearbook reverts back to the 1961 figures with exactly the same statistics as that year.

The above causes one to wonder: Just how were these 2,250,000 members in 1965 ascertained. Was a questionnaire sent out to all the 18,500 churches? Is there some sort of unofficial "bureau of information" in Nashville which compiles this list? Was this a far-fetched exaggeration of numbers? Or was it simply a modest estimate?

We know that many groups seem to exaggerate their statistics to the extent that it is hard to accept their membership figures. For example, a few years ago, a cult leader called "Daddy Grace" headed a group known as "The United House of Prayer for All People." He had 300 churches in 60 cities in the U.S. A., and he gave his membership as 3,000,000. Can one accept those statistics when it means there would have had to be an average of 10,000 members per church! A visit to some of the churches of this organization revealed no more than about 150 present at any meeting. One visit was made to one of the largest churches in the movement, in New York City. There was only an average of 150 at three different services.

Also, another cult leader, who died a few years ago, "Father Divine", claimed 20,000,000 members, though his "mission" were scattered in only a few large cities over the countries and in a few foreign countries.

An article in Time Magazine recently, concerning the Mormon religion, mentioned 2,600,000 members as belonging to that religious group. This prompted a reply from a former Mormon in another issue of Time (April 28, 1967) page 12, which is interesting. The writer said: "As a former 'saint' from 'Zion', I must enlighten you on another closely guarded secret of the Mormon Church: once a member always a member. The membership figure of 2,600,000, includes several thousand 'defectors' like myself and family who chose another religion and requested that our names be removed from the rolls. We were informed that to have our names removed from the church membership, we would have to appear before a 'bishop's court' for heresy charges. Thus Mormon Church membership figures are as accurate as Billy Graham's pledge-card tally."

One is made to wonder, also, about the statistics compiled by some of the larger denominations. For some years the Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist have been racing toward the highest membership in the Protestant churches in the United States. A few years ago the Southern Baptist are supposed to have passed the Methodist. Some ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention have said those statistics could be taken with a "grain of salt." Be that as it may, the writer does know of one Southern Baptist church which reported a membership of 2,500 whose Sunday morning worship service ran about 400, and whose Sunday evening services had about 150. One wonders what the membership would be in the churches if those who were as much as half-active members, or those who attended the churches at even irregular intervals were reported, and those who did not attend at all, or who never supported the church, were eliminated.

Back to the "church of Christ" section in the Yearbook, we note there are "no general organization periodicals," yet in the Yearbooks there are at least 10 periodicals listed under "Churches of Christ." In every yearbook examined the list is headed by the "Gospel Advocate." This could not have been alphabetical, for there were other periodicals that would have been first if listed that way. It could hardly seem that the reporting editor could simply not have known about other magazines published by members of the churches of Christ, for some of the periodicals omitted were weekly and monthly publications of national circulation. Could it be the editor of the "Gospel Advocate" left off certain periodicals because he did not "approve" those papers?

All this tends to give reason why some members of the churches of Christ seem to look toward Nashville as their "church headquarters." And can members of other religious groups be blamed if they at least indirectly are led to believe that Nashville is the "headquarters" of the "Church of Christ?"

All in all, the Yearbook of American Churches makes interesting reading. Very interesting!