Baha'i News -- Nearly half of Americans unchurched, religious census finds CENSUS-RELIGIONS Sep-18-2002 (800 words) xxxn

Nearly half of Americans unchurched, religious census finds

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just over half of all Americans have organizational ties to a religious body, but nearly as many remain without a church home, according to the results of a religious census conducted every 10 years.

The study, "Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States: 2000," was released Sept. 18 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and the Glenmary Research Center.

The data showed that 141.4 million Americans -- 50.2 percent of the U.S. population of 281.4 million -- were associated in the year 2000 with one of the 149 religious bodies participating in the study, which included Muslims and some other non-Christian groups for the first time in its latest totals. Jews were first included in the study in 1990.

Ten years ago, when the study was called "Churches and Church Membership in the United States: 1990," about 55 percent of the U.S. population was affiliated with a religious congregation. The 1990 religious census reported 137 million adherents in 133 participating churches or congregational groupings, in a total U.S. population of 249 million.

At 62 million, Catholics were the largest single denomination represented in the United States in 2000, although Protestants grouped together were more numerous at 66 million.

Catholics also experienced one of the largest increases in membership at 16.2 percent. Only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (19.3 percent), Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (18.6 percent) and Assemblies of God (18.5 percent) had larger increases since 1990. Most mainline Protestant denominations experienced declines.

The data for the study was gathered not by the U.S. Census Bureau, which dropped its question on religion in the 1950s over concerns about separation of church and state, but by the religious organizations themselves.

Glenmary Research Center in Nashville, Tenn., which published the 584-page book of statistics, collected the Catholic data for the study.

Although the statistics provide the most comprehensive picture yet of the religious composition of the United States, some problems remain in the collection and tallying of data. Some groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, do not want to participate in the census and therefore are not counted. Some -- such as Buddhists, Hindus and certain Orthodox and black Baptist churches -- only provided information on the number of congregations, not the number of adherents.

Because of differences in how churches define a "member," the association of statisticians used the term "adherent" to describe all those who regularly join in religious services. Most Protestant churches, for example, do not consider young people to be members until they are confirmed, but the census counts them as "adherents."

Like the U.S. census, the data is reported by region, state and county. Adherents are listed in the county in which they worship, not the county where they live, leading in some cases to counties with more adherents than their total population.

Only one U.S. jurisdiction -- Loving County in Texas -- reported no congregations or adherents to any of the 149 groups in the study.

The 149 reporting groups included:

-- 66 million Protestants in 222,000 congregations.

-- 62 million Catholics in nearly 22,000 congregations.

-- 6 million Jews in 3,727 congregations.

-- 4 million Mormons in 12,000 congregations.

-- 1.6 million Muslims in more than 1,000 congregations.

-- Nearly 1 million Eastern Christians, including Orthodox, in 2,000 congregations.

-- 150,000 adherents to Eastern religions in 4,000 congregations.

-- 180,000 Unitarian Universalists in 1,000 congregations.

Catholics have the largest number of adherents in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest number of adherents in 10 states, all in the South. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the most adherents in Idaho and Utah, and the United Methodists have the most adherents in West Virginia.

Although they declined by more than 740,000 since 1990 to 10.3 million in 2000, United Methodists were found to be the most widespread religious group in the census. They were present in 96 percent of the nation's 3,141 counties or county equivalents, compared to 95 percent for Catholics and 85 percent for Southern Baptists.

The only other groups present in more than three-fourths of the nation's counties were Assemblies of God (83 percent), Churches of Christ (77 percent), Baha'i (77 percent) and Presbyterian Church (USA) (76 percent).

Utah (74 percent), North Dakota (73 percent) and the District of Columbia (73 percent) had the largest percentage of people claimed by groups participating in the census, while Oregon (31 percent) and Washington (33 percent) had the least.

The top counties in the United States in terms of number of adherents and congregations were: Los Angeles County, Calif., with 5.5 million people in 4,044 congregations; Cook County, Chicago, with 3.1 million adherents in 2,346 congregations; and Harris County, Houston, with 1.7 million people in 1,587 congregations.

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