Catholics, Mormons see most growth in Wichita and Kansas

Wichita and Kansas are following a national trend that shows evangelical conservative and Mormon churches have been growing faster than other denominations in the last decade, according to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census.

Evangelical Protestant churches added 7,266 adherents in the Wichita metro area since 2000, and the number of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adherents grew 83.7 percent, from 4,340 in 2000 to 7,971 in 2010, the census found.

But Wichita broke from national trends in the growth of the Catholic Church, which gained 13,585 adherents here in the last decade, an increase of 17.7 percent. The church had 90,400 adherents total in Wichita.

Statewide, the Catholic Church grew by 5.1 percent, adding 20,767 adherents to bring the total to 426,611. It remained the largest church in the area and the state.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Wichita and the state was impressive, said Dale Jones, chief data analyst for the census. Nationally, the church declined by 5 percent.

Catholic growth appeared in some south Atlantic Coast states, Texas and a few states in the west, he said, but Kansas traditionally is a strong Protestant and evangelical state.

“For it to be showing up in Wichita is a little unusual,” Jones said.

Surveyors collected data from thousands of local groups in 236 religions and denominations. The data was compiled by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and released last week in the Association of Religion Data Archives.

The census found 771 congregations in the Wichita metropolitan statistical area — Butler, Harvey, Sedgwick and Sumner counties — with 316,569 adherents, which is slightly more than half the area’s population. There were 306,492 people who didn’t claim a religion.

Overall, the number of church adherents grew 14.1 percent in the area and 8.8 percent in the state. The census defines adherents of a church as all full members, their children and others who regularly attend services.

Gains for Mormons

Nationally, Church of Latter-Day Saints membership grew by nearly 2 million adherents, to 6.14 million, the biggest gain among all religions. But Jones cautioned that the church changed its definition of adherents during the decade from a more restrictive one. So it probably had more members than it previously reported.

Still, the Mormon church gained more than a million adherents nationally since 2000, he said.

Sam Williams, managing partner at the Wichita advertising firm Sullivan Higdon & Sink, and president of the Wichita stake, which consists of several Mormon wards, or congregations, said he’s seen a growth of about 10 percent just in the last four years in the Wichita and Derby stakes as LDS members have moved into the community.

The church has an extensive missionary program, although the goal isn’t to gain membership by converting people to Mormonism, he said

“We don’t convert you to anything. It’s a relationship between you and the Heavenly Father, and whether you accept it or not. To set a goal would be presumptuous,” Williams said. “Our goal is to participate in telling people about the church.”

Catholic growth

Msgr. Robert Hemberger of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita said he was pleasantly surprised by the new numbers. He speculated that there might be a couple of reasons for Catholic growth.

“Our process of receiving adult converts is now a much more public event, so other people see others joining,” he said. “There’s sort of a public awareness of that,” which encourages others to join.

Also, he said, “We really try to stress hospitality through our stewardship programs, and opportunities for people to get engaged in service, like the Lord’s Diner.”

Kimberly Green, of Wichita, said she converted to Catholicism from the Methodist Church in 2007 for its tradition, stability and the beauty of its Mass.

“At that time of my life, I was looking for stability and a religion that stood for something I could value,” she said. “I just loved that you knew where the church stood on things.”

Other local changes

The United Methodist Church had the second largest number of adherents in the metro area in the 2010 survey at 40,182. That was 1,377 more than in 2000, a 3.5 percent increase.

The Southern Baptist Convention declined 8.4 percent in the metro area and 2.3 percent in the state, but it was the third-largest church in the area with 35,374 adherents, and fourth-largest in the state with 99,329.

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ grew by 21.1 percent to 20,608 adherents in the Wichita area.

The survey found that nationally, nondenominational and independent churches may now be considered the third largest religious group, with 12.2 million adherents in 35,500 congregations. Only the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention are larger.

Nondenominational churches in Wichita had 19,841 adherents in the 2010 Census, the fifth-largest number in the area. There were 114,013 such adherents in the state, making it the third-largest group in Kansas.

Some of the evangelical protestant denominations with the most growth in Wichita were Pentecostal, Presbyterian Reformed, Methodist/Pietist, European Free-Church, Eastern Liturgical, some Baptist churches and Adventist Lutherans.

Declines were found in mainline Protestant churches, including Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, American Baptist Churches in the USA, and the Disciples of Christ.

Non-Christian religions

The study also found that the number of non-Christian congregations — synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious centers — increased by nearly a third nationally, from 8,795 in 2000 to 11,572.

In the Wichita area, the census found 15,064 adherents in a classification it labeled “other” denominations, which included Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist congregations, among others. There were 1,300 Jewish adherents in Wichita area in the 2000 census, but Jewish congregations weren’t listed individually in the 2010 report. Jones said the study may have missed them, and he said he would look into the situation.

The new census showed that the number of Muslims declined by 595 in the Wichita metro area since 2000, with 1,232 remaining. Statewide, that number rose from 3,470 to 7,744, an increase of more than 123 percent. The growth came in Johnson, Leavenworth, Ford, Finney, Lyon, Ellis and Saline counties.

The 2010 reports showed 11,623 adherents of black Protestant denominations, but the study acknowledged it contained incomplete counts of congregations and adherents belonging to the largest historically African-American denominations. These denominations were not included in the 2000 reports and are largely missing from the 1990 and 1980 reports.

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