We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lewis County Churches, 2000-2010

According to the Association of Religion Data Archive's (ARDA) data base for the churches of Lewis County, NY, (here) evangelical Protestants number 2,693 adherents (9.9% of the population), mainline Protestants number 2,155 (8.0%), Catholics number 6,443 (23.8%), and "unclaimed" number 15,681 (57.9%). There are also 115 individuals listed as "other".  This data is for 2010.  The United Methodist Church was the largest Protestant body with 1,242 members in 11 churches.  The Conservative Mennonite Conference had 1,005 adherents in 6 churches, and the Mennonite Church USA had 715 members in 3 churches.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) had 266 members in 2 churches.

The ARDA data base shows that between 2000 and 2010, the largest church in the county, the Catholic Church, lost 45.4% of its total adherents, and the second largest church, the United Methodist Church, lost 31.1% of its members.  Only the Mennonite Church USA recorded substantial growth, growing by 110.3% with the addition of two churches.  For the record, the two Presbyterian churches in Lewis County lost 37.6% of their members, more than a third.  The general decline in church membership was not, however, limited to the mainline churches.  Among the evangelical denominations, the Wesleyan Church lost 77.7% of its members in the ten years from 2000 to 2010 while the Assemblies of God church lost 61.2%.

Of all of these figures, the one that is most striking is the fact that nearly 60% of Lewis County is not "churched".  The county has a reputation for being one of New York's more conservative counties with many of its people worshipping on a Sunday morning.  The county may lean to the conservative, but involved in organized religion most of the county is not.  It is figures like these that should cause mainline folks to begin to think more seriously about evangelism.  IF the faith we profess is what we claim it to be—a better way to live one's life—then it is worthy of being shared, which is all evangelism is at its best.  Faith-sharing.  We can "do evangelism" in ways that are not obnoxious and really are a sharing of good news rather than an attempt to impose a religious ideology.  Given the data, it would seem that there is plenty of opportunity for that kind of faith-sharing in Lewis County.