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Q: Distribution of Church Sizes ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Distribution of Church Sizes
Category: Relationships and Society > Religion
Asked by: chanelops-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 01 Aug 2002 19:22 PDT
Expires: 31 Aug 2002 19:22 PDT
Question ID: 48346
I'm looking for statistics as to the distribution of sizes of the
churches in the U.S.  There are between 200,000 and 150,000 churches,
but was is their size?  By that I do NOT mean physical size, or number
of seats in the church building, but the number of "members" of each
church.  (In some cases these are registered members, in other cases

What I am looking for is NOT something like 'the average United
Methodist church has 298 members', but rather more like "there are
37,203 Methodist churches in the US.  The biggest 10% average 455
members, the next 10% have an average of 398 members, etc...".   
Although I'd prefer the breakdown by religions, all religions could be
lumped together, which would be an acceptable answer.
Subject: Re: Distribution of Church Sizes
Answered By: missy-ga on 01 Aug 2002 23:22 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi chanelops!

According to a survey in 2000, discussed by the Washington Post, there
are at least 325,000 congregations in the United States:

"Researchers believe the diversity of the participating congregations
has produced survey results that represent "about 90 percent" of an
estimated 325,000 houses of worship in the United States."

Claim of 'Post-Denominational Era' Defied - The Washington Post

This same survey, which was conducted by Hartford Seminary's Hartford
Institute for Religion Research, gives broad membership statistics for
congregations in the United States:

"Half of the congregations in the United States were founded before
1945. Half of all congregations have fewer than 100 regularly
participating adults, and one-fourth have fewer than 50. One in 10
have more than 1,000 adult participants."

[ See source note above. ]

I've attempted to compile a more comprehensive listing of
congregational membership, to no avail.  Many, if not most,
denominations do not keep a centralized listing of such statistics, if
they keep them at all.  According to the National Congregations Study:

"[...] a major gap in the study of congregations has been the absence
of a nationally representative sampling of congregations.  There is a
good reason for this gap:  there is no adequate sampling frame - no
comprehensive list - from which to draw a nationally representative
sample of congregations.  Some denominations have nearly comprehensive
lists of associated congregations, but many do not and, of course, no
set of denominational lists will include congregations affiliated with
no denomination.[...]

The absence of a comprehensive national sample of congregations has
meant that very basic facts about the populations of congregations has
remained unknown.  What proportions of congregations have no
denominational ties?  What is the size distribution of the national
congregational population?[...]"

The National Congregations Study:  Background, Methods and Selected

Another study indicates that church membership statistics are
generally tracked by denomination, not by congregation.  Even
contacting a particular denomination's headquarters will not yield an
accurate breakdown of membership by congregation.  Still, you might
find the study interesting:

Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1990

For further references regarding membership by congregation, you may
want to have a look at the list published by Harvard Divinity School's
Andover-Harvard Theological Library.  The page lists all statistical
references held by denomination, title, and how the statistics are
tabulated.  Some very specific areas (some cities) tabulate by
congregation, most denominations listed appear to tabulate by region. 
You may find this list helpful should you choose to look into this
complex topic further:

Guide to Statistical References - Andover-Harvard Theological Library

There is a page which breaks down religion in the US by denomination
which might be of interest to you, even though it does not break
membership down by congregation:

Largest Religious Groups in the United States of America

Hope this helps!


Clarification of Answer by missy-ga on 01 Aug 2002 23:26 PDT
My apologies, I neglected to include my search terms: [ "Church
membership" statistics "by congregation" ] and  [ "congregation size"
statistics ]
chanelops-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Missy, as always, you continue to amaze me!  While I would have liked
more detailed info, what you provided is good enough to get the job
done, and I understand the lack of better data.  Thanks, and keep up
the good work!

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