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U.S. Religion Census - Religious Congregations and Membership Study, 2020 (County File)

DOI

10.17605/OSF.IO/ET2A5

Citation

Grammich, C. A., Dollhopf, E., Gautier, M., Houseal, R., Jones, D. E., Krindatch, A., ... Thumma, S. (2023, March 31). U.S. Religion Census - Religious Congregations and Membership Study, 2020 (County File).

Summary

This study, designed and carried out by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), compiled data on 372 religious bodies by county in the United States. Of these, the ASARB was able to gather data on congregations and adherents for 217 religious bodies and on congregations only for 155. Participating bodies included 354 Christian denominations, associations, or communions (including Latter-day Saints, Messianic Jews, and Unitarian/Universalist groups); counts of Jain, Shinto, Sikh, Tao, Zoroastrian, American Ethical Union, and National Spiritualist Association congregations, and counts of congregations and adherents from Baha'i, three Buddhist groupings, two Hindu groupings, four Jewish groupings, and Muslims. The 372 groups reported a total of 356,642 congregations with 161,224,088 adherents, comprising 48.6 percent of the total U.S. population of 331,449,281. Membership totals were estimated for some religious groups.

Visit the frequently asked questions page for more information about the ARDA's religious congregation and membership data sources.

Data File

Cases: 3143
Variables: 817
Weight Variable: None

Data Collection

2020

Original Survey (Instrument)

RCMS 2020 Website

Funded By

The Lilly Endowment, Inc.; The John Templeton Foundation; the Church of the Nazarene; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Southern Baptist Convention; the United Church of Christ; and the Glenmary Research Center

Collection Procedures

The Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas carried out the actual data collection. Richard Houseal, Research Services Manager, oversaw the data collection. Following the initial written invitation, two additional general mailings were sent. Those not responding to these received still additional special letters, personal contacts, emails, and phone calls. Altogether, 296 groups were invited to participate; of which 236 are included in the study. Seven groups intended to participate but did not, four declined to participate and 49 did not respond in any way.

Groups agreeing to participate were asked to appoint a contact person. Two forms were sent to the contact person: instructions for reporting data and a transmittal sheet to be signed and sent with the data collected. When requested, a state-county form for listing the statistics was provided. Contact persons could provide the data electronically, in printout, or using the state-county listing provided by the Church of the Nazarene Research Services staff.

The process put the major burden of work on the offices of the various religious groups, since they were asked to compile data by county for all their congregations. In some cases, however, groups 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 Church of the Nazarene Research Services staff. In a few cases, the groups instructed the staff to estimate congregational membership according to some formula and approved the result. In all instances, the contact person was asked to review the statistics.

The Research Services staff employed standard procedures for checking the accuracy of data submitted. This included checking state and national totals against county data and adjusting discrepancies (reviewing adjustments with the contact person) and, when appropriate, applying the estimating procedure for adherents. Several items were prepared for review by the contact person. These included a spreadsheet of the data that compared 2010 figures to 2020 figures for each county and state, as well as a series of maps comparing 2010 and 2020 presence by county, and, for 2020, location of congregations, ratio of adherents to each county's population, and number of adherents by county. Only after all problems raised by both the staff and the contact person were resolved were the statistics considered ready for publication. The final step was to run a series of computer edit tests to check for errors. Finding incorrect county codes and locating records with no data were the most common corrections at that step.

Sampling Procedures

The sponsors invited all religious bodies that could be identified as having congregations in the United States to participate. In 2009, an invitation to participate in the study was sent to every U.S. religious body listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Invitations also were sent to contacts suggested by the Advisory Committee and by members of the ASARB. Several special efforts were made to identify and include data from several religious bodies that have not traditionally participated or been underrepresented in similar past studies. These included independent or non-denominational churches, Jewish synagogues, historically African American churches, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. These efforts are described below.

Principal Investigators

Clifford A. Grammich, Erica Dollhopf, Mary Gautier, Richard Houseal, Dale E. Jones, Alexei Krindatch, Richie Stanley, and Scott Thumma

Note on Membership Data

In an effort to achieve comparability of data, the ASARB staff established two major categories for individuals affiliated with a religious body: members and adherents. The ARDA data set contains only adherent totals. Below is a description of the two categories:

MEMBERS: all individuals with full membership status

TOTAL ADHERENTS: all members, including full members, their children, and the estimated number of other participants who are not considered members; for example, the "baptized," "those not confirmed," "those not eligible for Communion," "those regularly attending services," and the like.

There are 30 counties or equivalents for which the number of reported adherents exceeds the total population in 2020. Reasons for the discrepancy will differ from county to county, but the most plausible would include U.S. Census undercount, church membership overcount, and county of residence differing from county of congregational membership. This is especially likely in Virginia, where independent cities are reported separately from adjoining counties.

African American Churches

Historically, religious bodies focused on the African American population have been less focused on gathering statistics than those groups largely comprising European Americans. This has made it difficult for such groups to take part in religion censuses relying on congregational data.

For the 2020 U.S. Religion Census, we identified 25 historically African American denominations and sought congregation locations and statistics directly from them.

One such group, the United Holy Church of America, Inc., provided its own data and statistics.

For the others, we used a variety of online directories and other address lists to estimate congregations and adherents.

Eight groups had online directories and address lists for congregational locations and sizes. These groups should have accurate congregational counts and reasonably accurate adherent figures in the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. They are the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of Apostolic Faith; the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America; the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship; the National Primitive Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; the Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church; and the United House of Prayer.

Six groups had online directories, but no congregational information in address lists. These groups should have accurate congregational counts. They are the Church of the Living God (Christian Workers for Fellowship); the Church of the Living God: Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Which He Purchased with His Own Blood, Inc.; the House of God, Which is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Inc.; the North Carolina Congregational Conference; the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church; and the United American Free Will Baptist Denomination, Inc.

Seven groups had no online listings but had address or list locations and congregational sizes. These groups are known to be underrepresented in the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. They are the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; the Church of God in Christ; the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; the National Baptist Convention of America; the National Missionary Baptist Convention, Inc.; the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World; and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Three groups had neither online listings nor address list information. As such, we could not include them in the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. They are the Pentecostal Church of Christ; the Reformed Methodist Union Episcopal Church; and the United Pentecostal Church of the Assemblies of God.

For further information on use of mailing lists and other supplemental data, see the U.S. Religion Census website.

Jewish Estimates

U.S. Religion Census information on Jewish groups was supplied primarily by the Synagogue Studies Institute. The Synagogue Studies Institute provided, by county and adherent tradition, numbers of synagogues and adherents.

The Synagogue Studies Institute derived its counts from lists provided by the four major Jewish movements. These included member congregations and membership totals (or estimates, reported by family units). These four are the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), Orthodox Union (OU), and Reconstructing Judaism (RJ). OU reported both member and non-member Orthodox synagogues.

In addition, since the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, the number of independent synagogues and those who have disaffiliated with a movement has increased dramatically. In response to this trend, the Synagogue Studies Institute included Independent as a separate designation for 2020. This category includes those synagogues who identify as independent, those who identify as unaffiliated, and those who are part of both Jewish Renewal and the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism (SHJ). This list was collected manually by phone, email, and website searches.

A few congregations have affiliations with more than one movement. In those cases, each movement was given 0.5 of that congregation in the “Synagogue” column, and 50 percent of the membership units.

The 2020 U.S. Religion Census also includes Chabad as a separate Jewish body. The Synagogue Studies Institute gathered Chabad data from the Chabad website. In 2010, many Chabad communities were included with Orthodox synagogues. Yet Chabad is not considered part of Orthodox Judaism or any other movement. Also, not all Chabad locations function as congregations by the common, American definition, i.e., a worshipping community. However, there are more than 950 American Chabad locations and not including them in the American synagogue landscape is problematic.

We stress that the reported data are on synagogues and the number of individuals affiliated with them. It is not an estimate of the total Jewish population in the United States and should not be considered as such.

Muslim Estimates

The first phase of the Mosque Survey was a count, conducted from June to November 2019, of all U.S. mosques. This count started with the 2010 mosque database, then conducted an internet search to verify the existence of mosques previously counted as well as to identify new ones. This process ultimately identified 2,771 mosques.

The second phase of the Mosque Survey was a comprehensive telephone interview survey of a mosque leader, for which a random sampling of 700 mosques was drawn, of which 470 completed questionnaires, fulfilling the target for each state. The work of completing the questionnaires started in November 2019 and ended in October 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic made the task of finding a mosque leader more difficult and delayed completion of the survey.

For the Mosque Survey, mosques were defined as a Muslim organization that organizes Jum’ah prayer, conducts other Islamic activities, and controls the space in which activities are held. This definition would include “musallas,” which have an organization that does more than just conduct Jum’ah prayers. This definition excludes those places, such as a hospital or airport, where only Jum’ah prayer is held with no other Islamic activities. Some Shi’ite religious organizations do not hold Jum’ah prayer due the absence of a resident scholar or because they consider themselves an Imambargah or Hussainiya; such Shi’ite organizations were classified as mosques. The Mosque Survey did not include Muslim organizations, such as the Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, Ismailis, and Ahmadiyyah, outside the American Muslim community mainstream.

Buddhist and Hindu Counts

The Buddhist and Hindu groups built on counts that J. Gordon Melton conducted for the Religion Census in 2010. Melton and colleagues called all Buddhist and Hindu congregations that they identified in 2010 and sought to identify additional ones as well. Difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic hindered this effort in some ways and likely prevented a complete count of these traditions. Ultimately, this effort was able to identify 1,984 Buddhist congregations of the same three traditions enumerated in 2010. It also identified 1,811 Hindu congregations which it classified into Hindu traditional temples and Hindu yoga and meditation groups. For a complete discussion of the methods used for these groups and their context within the United States, see the U.S. Religion Census website.

Non-Denominational Churches

Over the past two decades, Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research has collected nondenominational and independent church lists found on the Internet. To this list were added 10 more listings of nondenominational congregations, house churches, megachurches, and networks of independent churches that were collected privately and from the web during 2019 and 2020. Three purchased mailing lists of independent and nondenominational Christian congregations also were added to the database. A large percentage of these purchased records included approximate size, email, and website information. After collection, these lists were merged, and the database was then screened for duplicates, incorrect entries, and non-church listings.

Following this effort, a team of eight part-time staff persons spent more than 3,200 hours culling the web to verify the status of these congregations. Every church in the database was checked on Google and online Yellow Pages to confirm its existence as an independent/nondenominational church. Every church also was emailed or called to confirm its independent/nondenominational status, membership, and attendance figures. One of the staff members spoke Spanish and tried to contact Hispanic/Latino churches in the listing. Approximately 30 percent of all congregations contacted in these ways responded to these requests and verified their information. While engaged in this research, the staff found additional church lists from local websites (e.g., of newspapers, municipalities, and counties) that added new independent and nondenominational churches. Staff further gathered church suggestions from Google and Facebook on previously unknown nondenominational churches. The team then attempted to confirm the information on these suggested churches using the above method.

The result was a database that contained more than 69,127 potential entries. Nearly 30,000 were removed due to uncertainty about their existence, size, nondenominational status, or being a part of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship or Calvary Chapel Networks (which are listed separately in the U.S. Religion Census). The resulting 44,319 congregations with 21,098,641 adherents in 2,753 counties are the best estimate of the independent and nondenominational churches in the United States.

Even given these efforts, the current listing is not entirely accurate. The independent status or exact size of many churches could not be confirmed. Additionally, doing random checks in several cities nearly a year later, the team found many of the previously confirmed congregations had already closed and a few new ones were discovered. Several nondenominational churches listed are likely to be affiliated with a denomination but did not indicate it on their website, in their published material, or in project contact with them.

Nondenominational and independent congregations are a very fluid grouping of churches. This label also can be, in the minds of many clergy, a nonexclusive category, and more of a marketing brand label than an explicit organizational or affiliation identifier. Therefore, while this is the best accounting of nondenominational churches, it is not to be assumed as comprehensive or totally accurate.

Catholics

For the 2020 study, each diocese (both Latin and Eastern) was asked to provide, by parish or mission, their number of registered households, registered individuals, and, for the most recent year available, their number of infant baptisms and deaths. From this information, as well as from several other data sources, a committee of researchers familiar with Catholic demographic issues estimated the likely total number of Catholics within a diocese. Members of this committee were Mary Gautier and Michal Kramarek, both of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University; Michael Cieslak, Director of Research and Planning, Diocese of Rockford, retired; and Lucy Putnam and Clifford Grammich, both of the Glenmary Research Center. Among the other data sources used for this estimation process was a special county-level file of Pew Religious Landscape Survey data made available for this purpose. In assessing survey data for a given diocese, the committee focused on the proportion of the population that claimed to be both (1) Catholic and (2) to attend religious services more frequently than “never.” This, committee members believed, would be equivalent to the number of individuals known to a Catholic congregation in some way.

The amount of data each diocese provided varied. Some dioceses provided complete parish-level data on households, individuals, infant baptisms, and deaths, with the total number of individual Catholics reported according with other sources indicated. For these, the committee agreed that the total number of Catholics reported was what the dioceses reported. Other dioceses might report only the number of household registrations. For these, the committee considered multiple data sources, determined the most likely number of total Catholics, and generally distributed in proportion to the number of households reported (with some adjustments where this would lead to an implausibly high number of Catholics in a given county). Following our estimation of data by county for each diocese, we gave each diocese an opportunity to comment on our procedures and to suggest revisions.

Altogether, this work identified nearly 62 million Catholic individuals who are likely to be known in some way to a Catholic church in the United States. We believe this to be a conservative estimate of the Catholic population in the United States—indeed, it is below what other national sources indicate—but we recognize that a conservative approach is necessary to ensure that these numbers are relatively consistent across counties. Our conservative approach may have particularly affected estimates in counties where the Catholic population has grown from recent migration, foreign or domestic. Persons wishing additional detail on these figures should write to the Glenmary Research Center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Congregations Not Identified by County

For 357 of 372 religious bodies in the U.S. Religion Census, we were able to locate all congregations by county. For 15 religious bodies, however, we were able to locate some congregations only by state. For all 15 of these bodies, we were able to locate more than 95 percent of congregations by county.

Rather than exclude congregations we were only able to locate by state and their adherents, we included them in state and national totals. This means that county totals will not always add to state or national totals.

Users wishing more information on these differences should consult the U.S. Religion Census webpage.

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