Vintage 1957 – Church Membership Growing

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

On this autumn Sunday in 1950s America, church attendance was increasing steadily. The newly-published 1958 Yearbook of American Churches presented the most recent church membership statistics for the major faith traditions across the land. Three hundred million new members had joined a local congregation over the past year, expanding enrollments to a record-high 103,224,954 adults. Sixty-two percent of Americans claimed church affiliation, a booming post-World War II trend.

The change in membership figures from 1955 to 1956:

Protestant: 58, 448, 567 to 60, 148,980 (2.9% increase, 36% of US population)
Roman Catholic: 33,396, 647 to 34,563,851 (3.5% increase, 21% of US population)
Jewish: 5,500,000 to 5,500,000 (unchanged, 3.3 % of US population)
Eastern Orthodox: 2,754,315 to 2,949,123 (7.1% increase, 1.8% of US population)
Buddhist: 63,000 to 63,000 (unchanged, 0.04% of US population)

In 1957, Islam was not a major religion in America. Between the 1870s and 1924, a large number of Muslim immigrants arrived from the Middle East looking for greater economic opportunity. They settled predominantly in the Midwestern states. Detroit’s Ford Motor Company hired a great many of these early Muslim immigrants. The US essentially closed the country to immigration from 1924 until 1952. During this time, the US-resident Muslims built numerous communities and mosques. When immigration began again, a new wave of Muslims began to arrive from Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq. As of 1956, their numbers were too small to appear on the Yearbook of American Churches’ roster of major denominations.

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