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THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCHES.
The normal condition of the Christian church is a growing condition. In no other way can it manifest the spirit and power of the gospel; on no other consideration can it retain that spirit and power.
It has received salvation that it might press it upon those who have it not; the power of the Spirit, that it might speak in His name; the world as its parish, that it might convert it. It must be aggressive or cease to be prosperous; it must diligently propagate or begin to decline. In the very nature of things this must
Death decimates yearly the list of communicants. The losses from this and other causes must be made good by accessions before actual growth is made apparent. There must be a measure of increase to prevent decline. All increase beyond that which repairs the losses we count as net increase. Our churches, almost without exception, manifest the conditions of prosperity and growth. Year by year they add to their numbers. In some cases the percentage of growth is large; in others, small; but growth is the rule, and decline the rare exception. We ascertain this, of course, by comparison of one year's returns with those of another, as furnished by the denominations themselves, or most of them. It should be said, however, that denominational statistics are not of uniform completeness and excellence, and it is difficult in many instances to obtain them at all for a series of years.
This makes it hard to secure anything like a fair comparison. The returns of the census of 1890 may be regarded as exhaustive and accurate as possible; but there is nothing in previous censuses with which to compare them. The published results of the seventh, eighth, and ninth censuses do not include communicants at all, and we cannot be sure from the way they were conducted that they were sufficiently accurate and complete for purposes of comparison. Results obtained in this way must be taken simply as indications of increase, not as accurate representations of it. No distinction was made in 1850 and 1860 between church organizations and church edifices. Two items only appeared in those three censuses in such form as to admit of fair comparison, viz., church accommodations or sittings, and value of church property. It appears that the gain in sittings in the ten years ending in 1860 was 34 per cent., and in value of church property over 100; in the ten years ending in 1870 it was only a little more than 13 per cent. in sittings, but about 100 per cent in value. Since 1870 the gain in sittings has been about 101 per cent., and in value of church property, 92. These figures must not, however, be taken without allowance for the more or less imperfect returns of 1870. A more satisfactory comparison may be made for the larger denominations between the census returns of 1890 and returns of 1880 gathered from denominational year-books. The figures represent communicants.
Baptist, Regular (3 bodies).
Increase. 2,296,327 3,429,080 1,132,753
78,012 87,898 384,332 512,771
128,439 350,000 641,051
291,051 60,000 73,795 13.795 343,158
532,054 188,896 5,000
8,455 3,455 99,794 133,313 33,519 100,000
107,208 7,208 693,418 1,231,072
537,654 1,707,413 2,240,354 532,941
830,000 1,209,976 379,976 987,278 1,138,954
151,676 9,2 12 11,781 2,569 573,599 788,224 214,625 121,915
The increase indicated is large, amounting to over 42
In the same period, ten years, the population increased at the rate of 24.86. These churches, which embrace all Protestant communicants except about a million, grew faster than the population by 17.19 per cent. That surely is encouraging. It is a large net gain, and means that Protestant Christianity, notwithstanding the large Catholic immigration of the decade, is advancing at a rapid pace.
The growth of the Roman Catholic Church for the same period must have been large. It was fed by a tremendous stream of immigrants from Catholic Europe and the Catholic section of Canada; and the natural increase of a population of six or seven millions must be considerable. How large it was, however, statistics cannot certainly show. The Catholic year-books do not give exact returns of Catholic population, only estimates, based upon diocesan reports of births and deaths. It is true that the census of 1890 makes returns for Catholic communicants; but what is there with which to compare them? Sadlier's “ Directory” of 1881 estimated the Catholic population of 1880 at 6,367,330; and in 1891 at 8,277,039 for 1890-an increase of 1,909,709, or about 30 per cent.
In view of all the circumstances this rate of growth does not appear to be too high. If it may be taken as applying to the increase of Catholic communicants in the decade ending in 1890, it would appear that the Catholic Church must suffer very heavy losses, for its net increase is far below that of the Protestant churches represented in the above table. How otherwise can its moderate rate of increase be reconciled with the enormous accessions it must have received by an immigration which helped the Lutherans and a few other Protestant bodies to a far more limited degree?
HOW THE RELIGIOUS FORCES ARE DISTRIBUTED.
While the religious forces are established in every State and Territory of the Union and bear more than a hundred and forty different denominational titles, they are massed in a few denominations and in a comparatively few States. The five largest denominations comprise 60 per cent of the entire number of communicants; and the ten largest, 75 per cent.
The Roman Catholic Church is first, with 6,231,000; the Methodist Episcopal second, with 2,240,000; the Regular Baptists, Colored, third, with 1,349,000; the Regular Baptists, South, fourth, with 1,280,000; and the Methodist Episcopal, South, fifth, with 1,210,000. The Catholic figures are truly of magnificent proportions. They exceed by more than 150,000 the sum of those representing the four next largest denominations. Every tenth person in the United States is a Catholic communicant.
It is only fair, however, to remind those interested in this statement that while a communicant is a communicant considered statistically, whether he be a Catholic or a Protestant, there is a difference between the Protestant and the Catholic basis of membership which ought to be kept constantly in view when comparison is undertaken. The Catholic authorities count as communicants all who have been confirmed and admitted to the communion, and these virtually constitute the Catholic population, less all baptized persons below the age of nine or eleven. The Catholic discipline does not contemplate excommunication for violations of the moral code, only for lapses from the faith and refusal to obey the ecclesiastical commandments. There are many who go to make up the Protestant population who have been expelled from membership for offenses which the Catholic Church treats by a very different method. In other words, while the Catholic Church reckons that 85 per cent. of its population are communicants, among Protestants the proportion is estimated to be under, rather than over, 30 per cent. The Protestant basis of membership is belief and conduct; the Catholic, belief and obedience. In any given thousand of Catholic population there are 850 communicants and 150 adherents; while a thousand of Protestant population yields only about 300 communicants, the rest, 700, being adherents. Thus, while the 6,231,000 Catholic communicants represent a Catholic population of about 7,330,000, the 2,240,000 communicants of the Methodist Episcopal Church, alone, indicate a Methodist population of 7,840,000.
The Roman Catholic Church is first also in value of church property, of which it returns, in round numbers, $118,000,000. The Methodist Episcopal is second ($97,000,000); the Protestant Episcopal third ($81,000,000); the Northern Presbyterian fourth ($74,000,000); and the Northern Baptists fifth ($49,000,000). Two of these denominations, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian, are not among the five which return the largest number of communicants. They stand third and fourth respectively in the table of church property, showing that they are much more wealthy in proportion to communicants than any of the five larger denominations.
In number of organizations, or congregations, the Meth