Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1980 (Counties)

Data Archive > U.S. Church Membership Data > County-Level > Summary


This data set contains statistics by county for 111 Judeo-Christian church bodies, providing information on their number of churches and members. The denominations included represent an estimated 91 percent of U.S. membership totals officially submitted to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Please note that this data set may not be sold in any form, including as an addition to proprietary software, without the permission of the copyright holder. Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1980 is published by the Glenmary Research Center, P.O. Box 507, Mars Hill, NC 28754, (828) 689-5355.

Data File
Cases: 3,141
Variables: 326
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: 1979-1981
Funded By
Aid Association for Lutherans; Office of Research, Evaluations and Planning of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (New York); Department of Records and Research of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Glenmary Research Center (Washington, D.C.); Research Service Department of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Lutheran Council in the U.S.A.
Collection Procedures
On August 6, 1979 an invitation to participate in the study was sent to all the Judeo-Christian church bodies listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, plus a few others for whom addresses could be found. Each denomination was assigned a member of the study's executive committee, whose responsibility was to encourage participation, by personal contact and other means, and to answer questions. The initial written invitation was followed by four additional general mailings and by special letters, personal visits and phone calls. As a result of these efforts, which extended over a two-year period, 228 denominations were invited, 111 actually participated, 21 expressed the intention to participate but were prevented from doing so, 36 declined to participate, and 60 did not respond.

Denominations agreeing to participate were asked to appoint a contact person, and signify their intentions on a special form. Three forms were then sent to the contact persons: instructions for reporting data; a transmittal sheet to be signed and sent with the data collected; and a state-county form for listing the statistics themselves. The contact persons were given the option of submitting their own computer print-out according to the prescribed format, or of using the forms provided by the study. The process put the major burden of work on the denominational offices, since they were asked to compile data by county for all their congregations. In some cases, however, denominations 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 CMS staff. In a few cases the denominations instructed the CMS staff to estimate congregational membership according to a formula, and approved the result. In all instances, however, the denominational contact person reviewed the statistics and signed the transmittal sheet.

The CMS staff employed the following procedures for checking the data submitted. The state and national totals were first checked against the county data and discrepancies adjusted. A print-out was then made of all the data. To insure the accuracy of data-entry into the computer, the state and national totals were then compared to the original documents, as checked and adjusted. If the denomination participated in 1971 and the difference in a given county's membership for 1980 was greater than 20 percent, this was noted on the print-out. The print-out was then sent back to the denominational contact person, along with the staff's comments and questions. Only after all problems raised by both the staff and denominational contact person were solved were the statistics considered ready for publication. When the 1980 U.S. county figures for persons 13 years of age or under were received from the Census Bureau on April 12, 1982, the total adherents for groups reporting only communicants were estimated, according to the formula described above. The final step was to run a series of computer edit tests to check for errors and to produce the print-out of tables for this report.
Sampling Procedures
The studies’ sponsors invited all Judeo-Christian religious bodies listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches to participate. Final totals include information from 111 Christian and other religious bodies. The 111 groups reported 231,708 congregations with 112,538,310 adherents, which is 49.2% of the total population of 225,011,986. No attempt was made to count strictly independent churches that have no connection with a denomination.

With the assistance of the United Synagogue of America, the full members (individual adult members) of 793 Conservative synagogues were identified by county. With the assistance of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the full members of 708 Reform congregations were also identified by county. No county information was available on either full members or adherents of Orthodox synagogues.

Four black denominations, accounting for 1.8 million adherents, participated in the study. Major efforts were made to enlist the participation of the four other large black churches and the 17 smaller black denominations listed in the Yearbook, but without success. Four Orthodox bodies, accounting for combined adherents of 55,000, participated in the study. Although sizeable efforts were made to obtain data for the remaining 17 groups, statistics were not obtained. Besides the denominations mentioned above, there are 11 non-participating church bodies that reported more than 100,000 to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Principal Investigators
Glenmary Research Center, Washington, D.C.
Related Publications
Quinn, B., Herman Anderson, Martin Bradley, Paul Goetting and Peggy Shriver (1982). Churches and Church Membership in the United States. Glenmary Research Center: Washington, D.C.
Note on data
The RCMS collection reports measures of both members and adherents. Members include only those who are designated as “full members” by the congregation. Congregational "adherents" include all full members, their children, and others who regularly attend services or participate in the congregation. When religious groups reported only adult membership, the following formula was used to derive the number of adherents: The total county population was divided by the total county population less children 13 years and under (derived from census), and the resulting figure was multiplied by the confirmed members. Using adherents allows for more meaningful comparisons between groups that count children as members (e.g., Catholics) and those that don't (e.g. Baptists).
Citing the data
Churches and Church Membership in the United States, 1980. Collected by the Glenmary Research Center and distributed by the Association of Religion Data Archives (www.theARDA.com).