Mainline Protestant denominations, which have lost millions of members since the mid-1960s, suffered only small losses in 1982, and some churches gained members.

Total U.S. church membership continued to grow in 1982 with the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and Assemblies of God among large churches showing the greatest gains, according to the 1984 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. (1982 figures are the most recent available from the participating churches.) Church membership gains for 1982 failed to keep pace with U.S. population growth.

The overall slowing of membership losses in mainline churches offers “some signs that we may be approaching a turning point, but it hasn’t come yet,” said yearbook editor Constant H. Jacquet of the National Council of Churches. “There are a few ‘blips’ up, but we don’t know whether it will represent a permanent change for the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.”

The Episcopal Church counted 26,699 new members in 1982, bringing its total for that year to 2,794,139; and the Lutheran Church in America counted 3,826 new American members, bringing the U.S. membership total to 2,925,655. The American Lutheran Church gained 503 members, bringing its total to 2,346,710.

The collective membership of U.S. churches rose by 0.83 percent in 1982—a net gain of 1,150,445 new members for a total collective membership of 139,603,059. National population growth was estimated at 1 percent in 1982. Church membership as a percentage of the U.S. population declined from 59.7 percent in 1981 to 59.6 percent in 1982.

Collective church membership in Canada increased by about 1 percent to 15,917,829 in 1982.

In 1982, the Roman Catholic Church gained 881,195 members, or 1.72 percent, for a total of 52,088,774. The Southern Baptist Convention gained 209,065 new members, a gain of 1.52 percent, for a total of 13,991,709. The Assemblies of God gained 90,788 members, up 5.07 percent, for a total membership of 1,879,182 in 1982.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) gained 31,000 new members in the United States, bringing its U.S. total to 3,521,000.

Among the smaller conservative churches showing gains in 1982 were the Seventh-day Adventists, up 3.02 percent to 606,310; the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), up 1.58 percent to 463,992; the Church of the Nazarene, up 1.26 percent to 498,491; and the Christian and Missionary Alliance, up 4.96 percent to 204,713.

The Presbyterian Church in America gained 12,966 new members, a rise of 8.67 percent, for a total of 149,548. Jacquet said the PCA received a number of members from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and United Presbyterian Church, which joined last year to form the 3.2-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA).

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Higher birthrates and evangelization account for most of the larger membership gains, said Jacquet, a staff associate in NCC’S Office of Research, Evaluation and Planning. He added that immigration also played a part in the Catholic church growth. He further noted that, while theologically conservative churches are among the fastest growing, there are some signs that their growth rate is slowing.

Among the large Protestant bodies that lost members were the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the two Presbyterian denominations that have now united.


More Christian Colleges Are Being Dragged Into Court

It started as an innocent prank aimed at a dorm mate who had recently asked a young woman to marry him. Some Taylor University students put a pillow case over their friend’s head, tied his arms, hands, and feet, and carried him from a residence hall.

Witnesses heard the students say, “We’re going to put you in a canoe and push you out into the campus lake.” Security personnel intervened before they carried out the plan.

After some deliberation, officials at the Upland, Indiana, Christian university thought it best to suspend the perpetrators of the prank for the following fall semester. Each student was required to submit to a re-entry interview before returning. Viewing this action as “overly harsh punishment,” the students’ parents threatened to sue Taylor University. At the same time, the prank victim’s parents threatened to sue the school, claiming that it didn’t move quickly enough in disciplining the perpetrators.

Charges were dropped before the matter reached court. However, Taylor University was left facing a substantial bill for legal counsel.

Such situations are not new among Christian colleges. Some college presidents say legal actions against Christian schools are on the increase. “It was very disturbing to learn from the [other college] presidents just how litigious Christian constituencies have become toward their Christian colleges,” said W. Richard Stephens, president of Greenville (Ill.) College. “I believe that this is a harmful—even un-Christian—trend that does not honor biblical approaches to handling grievances and wrongs.” Stephens is a member of the Government and Legal Issues Committee of the Christian College Coalition (CCC).

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At the direction of the committee, Stephens sent a questionnaire to the 70 presidents of ccc-member colleges. Thirty-seven of the 51 presidents who responded reported either direct or threatened lawsuits and legal challenges during the past five years. Most of the issues were settled out of court, often at great expense to the colleges. Settlements ranged from $10,000 to $300,000, with most falling between $15,000 and $30,000. Only occasionally have settlements been reached as a result of court rulings.

Suits and threats of legal action have come from students, faculty, administrators, staff members, parents of students, local zoning officials, state and federal government officials, interest groups, campus neighbors, and recipients of college health services.

“These colleges operate daily as Christian communities and thereby give their constituencies generous care, [with] much freedom to use the colleges personally and as agencies of redemption,” one college president said. “They are not operated in the mode of bureaucratic legal entities. They, therefore, have not developed legally tight policies, procedures, and enforcement mechanisms. Hence, the colleges are easy marks for successful legal action.”

CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke to nine presidents of Christian colleges. Most were hesitant to discuss their colleges’ lawsuits and settlements, fearing that their comments might give rise to further legal action. Without naming the schools involved, specific legal actions include the following:

• A candidate for a non-faculty position appealed to a state human rights commission, charging that he was denied employment for failing to meet the college’s religious requirements. The commission intended to use the case to resolve the question of the right of religious organizations to give preferential treatment to job applicants who are in agreement with the organizations’ religious beliefs.

• A former faculty member threatened legal action, charging that she was denied a promotion because of her sex. The college’s attorney advised a pay-off to avoid costly litigation.

• A spectator at a college baseball game threatened to sue after being hit by a ball. The college settled out of court.

Other lawsuits and threatened suits have centered on required attendance at chapel services, academic advisement, and transcript release policies. However, faculty contract disputes head the list.

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Nearly 20 percent of the respondents to Stephens’s questionnaire said terminated, tenured faculty had taken legal action or threatened it as a means of redressing their grievances.


James L. Lovell, 87, editor of the missionary newsletter ACTION, founder at the age of 80 of World Bible School, through which some seven million people worldwide have taken Bible correspondence courses; April 29, at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, California, of a massive heart attack.

L.E. Maxwell, 88, one of Canada’s leading evangelicals, president emeritus of Prairie Bible Institute, which he founded in 1922, author of several books including Born Crucified and Crowded to Christ; February 4, at his home in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada, of Parkinson’s disease.

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