Minnesotans are going to church in large numbers, but fewer are attending mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, according to a new census of U.S. churchgoers. Instead, they are flocking to churches independent of any denomination.
The rise of these nondenominational churches -- most of them Evangelical Protestants -- is documented in the latest U.S. Religion Census, taken every 10 years. The 2010 census counted membership in nondenominational churches for the first time.
"The nondenominational churches have been around, but I don't think people realized they were quite so omnipresent," said Scott Thumma, a researcher at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research in Connecticut, who helped compile the data released Tuesday. "They're spread out in 88 percent of the counties around the country. They're in the top five religious groups in every state [including Minnesota], except two."
While the Catholic Church remains the largest denomination nationally and in Minnesota, its membership has dropped sharply since 2000. Minnesota had 1.15 million Catholics in 2010, down 8.7 percent from 1.26 million in 2000.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Minnesota's second largest denomination, saw membership sink to 737,537, a 13.6 percent decline from 853,448.
By contrast, the fastest-growing religious segment in Minnesota is the Evangelical Protestants, with a total of 744,910 followers. Non-denominational churches are among the leaders in this group with 130,263 followers.
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