Religious Congregations & Membership presents data reported by 149 religious bodies that participated in a study sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). ASARB originally invited 285 religious bodies that could be identified as having congregations in the United States to participate. The final list of participants included 139 Christian denominations, associations, or communions (including Latter-day Saints and Unitarian/Universalist groups); two specially defined groups of independent Christian churches; Jewish and Islamic figures; and counts of temples for six Eastern religions.
Groups were asked to furnish data for their statistical year ending in 2000. They were also asked to furnish data--by county--on the number of their congregations, members, adherents, and average weekly attendance. However, groups were not required to report every data item in order to participate. The minimum necessary to participate was the number of congregations by county. In addition, many groups had not determined the county locations of their congregations. In these cases, groups were asked to include address information (at least city, state, and Zip Code) so that the RCMS office could determine county locations.
Guidelines were provided as to the definitions of congregations, members, adherents, and attendees, but the actual definitions employed may vary from group to group. For those groups that provided the definitions they used, the published study does include an appendix listing their definitions.
The RCMS definition guidelines were:
Congregations: Any churches, mosques, synagogues, temples or other local meeting places (as defined by each religious body).
Members: Individuals with full membership status (as defined by each religious body).
Adherents: All members, including full members, their children and the estimated number of other participants who are not considered members. If unavailable, the study will estimate the number of adherents from the known number of members. (The RCMS estimation procedure computes what percentage of the county’s population a group’s membership comprises. This percentage is applied to the counties population for those under age 14. The membership total and percentage of children under 14 are added together for the estimated adherent figure. This procedure was done for 67 groups.)
Attendees: Average weekly worship attendance.
RCMS 2000 locates membership, adherent, and attendance figures by the county in which the congregation itself is located, rather than by the county in which individuals actually reside.
Adult or infant baptism. When you examine the data on membership and adherents you see a definite pattern between the denominations. For instance, the Catholic and the Episcopalians do not report membership, they report adherents. The Southern Baptists report membership and not adherents. The reason is clear: the test of membership in Christian denominations tends to be baptism. Catholics and Episcopalians believe in infant baptism. For Baptists baptism is a decision made by the individual, typically teenagers. Thus, members, for Baptists, do not include children.
As described in the quoted material above, where a denomination did not report adherents, but did report the members, the RMCS imputed the number of adherents from the number of members. But it did not do the reverse. The result is that the data by county is more complete (has fewer missing values). The RMCS might better be called Religious Congregations & Adherents -- it is understood that in the title the everyday membership is given a more universal meaning of adults and children.
Using the membership data can be misleading because of the missing values. Take Passaic, New Jersey as an example. The total number of members in the county 2000 is 21,961 which is about 5 percent of the total population. Atheism run rampant? No, adherents are 49.3 percent of population. Catholics are treated as a zero in summing members. There are 160,279 Catholics. Likewise, none of the following are included in the member total for Passaic, but they have substantial numbers of adherents: Muslim estimate (22,410 adherents), Jewish estimate (17,000), Episcopalians (2,769).