Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1990 (Counties)

Data Archive > U.S. Church Membership Data > County-Level > Summary


This data set contains statistics by county for 133 Judeo-Christian church bodies, providing information on their number of churches and members.

Please note that this data set may not be sold in any form, including as an addition to proprietary software, without the permission of the copyright holder. Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1990 is published by the Glenmary Research Center, P.O. Box 507, Mars Hill, NC 28754, (828) 689-5355.

Data File
Cases: 3,141
Variables: 402
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: 1990-1991
Funded By
The Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Collection Procedures
In October 1989 an invitation to participate in the study was sent to all the Judeo-Christian church bodies listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, plus a few others for whom addresses could be found. The initial written invitation was followed by four additional general mailings and by special letters, personal visits and phone calls. As a result of these efforts, which extended over a two-year period, 246 denominations were invited, 133 actually participated, 18 expressed the intention to participate but were prevented from doing so, 15 declined to participate, and 80 did not respond.

Denominations agreeing to participate were asked to appoint a contact person. Two forms were then sent to the contact person: instructions for reporting data; and a transmittal sheet to be signed and sent with the data collected. A state-county form for listing the statistics themselves was made available by request. The contact persons were given the option of submitting the data via their own computer print-out, of sending the data on diskette, or of using the state-county listing provided by the study. The process put the major burden of work on the denominational offices, since they were asked to compile data by county for all their congregations. In some cases, however, denominations were able to furnish information only in the form of yearbooks or other sources. Transferring yearbook information into county data then became the responsibility of the Research Center staff. In a few cases the denominations instructed the Research Center staff to estimate congregational membership according to a formula, and approved the result. In all instances, however, the denominational contact person reviewed the statistics.

The Research Center staff employed the following procedures for checking the data submitted. The state and national totals were first checked against the county data and discrepancies adjusted. A print-out was then made of all data. To insure the accuracy of data-entry into the computer, the state and national totals were then compared to the original documents, as checked and adjusted. If the denomination participated in 1980 and the difference in a given county's membership for 1990 was unusual, this was noted on the print-out. The print-out was then sent back to the denominational contact person, along with the staff's comments and questions. Only after all problems raised by both the staff and denominational contact person were solved were the statistics considered ready for publication. When the 1990 U.S. county figures for persons 13 years of age or under were received from the Census Bureau on April 12, 1982, the total adherents for groups reporting only communicants were estimated, according to the formula described above. The final step was to run a series of computer edit tests to check for errors and to produce the print-out of tables for this report.
Sampling Procedures
The Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) invited all Judeo-Christian religious bodies listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches to participate. Final totals include information from 133 Christian and other religious bodies. The 133 groups reported 255,173 congregations with 137,064,509 adherents, which is 55.1% of the total population of 248,709,766. Five groups (Black Baptists; Congregational Christian Churches [not part of any national CCC body]; Independent, Charismatic Churches; Independent, Non-Charismatic Churches; and Jewish adherents) are not denominations or fellowships, but account for 12.2 percent of the adherents in the United States. There are 21 non-participating church bodies that reported more than 100,000 members to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. These groups reported a combined membership of 20.8 million in the Yearbook.

William Newman and Peter Halvorson provided county estimates of the Jewish population for this study, based upon the American Jewish Year Book. Generally, a county was included in the study only if it or its metropolitan area contained at least 100 adherents. Barry Kosmin provided a list of synagogues throughout the United States. These have been located by county and are included in the study. Together, the reports indicate nearly 6 million adherents in 3,975 synagogues. Due to the differing reporting procedures, some counties report adherents with no synagogues, and others report synagogues but no adherents.

Three predominantly black denominations, accounting for 1.2 million adherents, participated in the study. There is no way of telling how many blacks are adherents of the other denominations appearing in the study. Major efforts to enlist the participation of other black denominations were made. Generally, membership records are not kept nationally, at least not in a form conducive to participation in a study such as this.
Principal Investigators
Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Related Publications
Bradley, M.B., Norman M. Green, Jr., Dale E. Jones, Mac Lynn and Lou McNeil (1992). Churches and Church Membership in the United States. Glenmary Research Center: Washington, D.C.
Note on data
The RCMS collection reports a measure of members and adherents. Members include only those who are designated as “full members” by the congregation. Congregational "adherents" include all full members, their children, and others who regularly attend services or participate in the congregation. When religious groups reported only adult membership, the following formula was used to derive the number of adherents: The total county population was divided by the total county population less children 13 years and under (derived from census), and the resulting figure was multiplied by the confirmed members. Using adherents allows for more meaningful comparisons between groups that count children as members (e.g., Catholics) and those that don't (e.g. Baptists).
Citing the data
Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1990. Collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) and distributed by the Association of Religion Data Archives (www.theARDA.com).