Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Church numbers and self inflation

Episcopal Life Online:
Jefferts Schori acknowledged that all mainline denominations have been reduced in their representation in the general population, "but Episcopalians have done better than others," she said. "Even though most Americans say that they pray regularly, only 21 percent of Americans are in worship services on an average weekend. That is very different than 50 years ago."

"Our challenge," she stated, "is to retain the children we produce and to reach to new populations in this country and the vast population of the unchurched to whom we are a highly attractive alternative."
Institutional Honesty

Mainline Protestant churches -- Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others -- are roundly criticized for hemorrhaging members for 40 years. And while membership has surely dropped, mainline churches are often the first to cleanse their rolls of the inactive to produce a more accurate figure.

The 15 million-member Seventh-day Adventists, for example, saw their U.S. numbers drop in recent years in part because a church audit found duplicates on membership rolls, said Kathleen Jones, an assistant for general statistics for the denomination. Those duplicates are being purged.

Often, new pastors want up-to-date numbers because they don't want to be blamed for any drops, said Lindner of the NCC. And some denominations assess fees to congregations based on membership, so the smaller the numbers, the smaller the fees.
Finke and Stark:
Hopelessly inflated statistics are precisely what are obtained when individuals are asked their religious affiliation. Ever since the start of public opinion polling in the late 1930s, surveys have found that approximately 85-95 percent of the population claims a religious affiliation.
Rather than being hopelessly inaccurate ... there are strong prima facie grounds for thinking that [U.S.] census statistics [based on reports by religious bodies] are relatively accurate.... The national rate of religious adherence based on the 1890 data is only 45 percent. ... the Bureau of the Census was very concerned with accuracy and provided extensive, sophisticated, and persuasive evaluations of its procedures.

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