Religious Groups: Data Sources
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The Religious Groups feature brings together data from across the ARDA website and from a variety of sources. Listed below are the sources we used for assembling information on each denomination.

Snapshot and Distribution Data

Snapshot and map data are from Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1990 and Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States 2000. Copyright © 2002, Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). All rights reserved. Published by Glenmary Research Center, 1312 Fifth Ave., North, Nashville, TN 37208. [Full Details on RCMS Data]

Denominational Data

All data on clergy, members, and churches are taken from the National Council of Churches’ Historic Archive CD and recent print editions of the Council’s Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The CD archives all 68 editions of the Yearbook (formerly called Yearbook of the Churches and Yearbook of American Churches) from 1916 to 2000. Read more information on the Historic Archive CD and the Yearbook.

Membership figures are "inclusive." According to the Yearbook, this includes "those who are full communicant or confirmed members plus other members baptized, non-confirmed or non-communicant." Each denomination has its own criteria for membership.

When a denomination listed on the Historic Archive CD was difficult to identify, particularly in early editions of the Yearbook, the ARDA staff consulted numerous sources, including Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions and the Handbook of Denominations in the United States. In some cases, ARDA staff consulted the denomination’s website or contacted its offices by phone. When a denomination could not be positively identified, its data were omitted.

Denominational Histories

Most denominational descriptions were provided by J. Gordon Melton. The remaining descriptions were written by Stephen Merino using the Encyclopedia of American Religions and Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches as references. The diagrams displaying denominational mergers, schisms, and name changes were created using the following sources:

  • Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, Harry S. Stout, Editors. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
  • J. Gordon Melton. Encyclopedia of American Religions. Seventh Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, Inc., 2003.
  • Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, Craig D. Atwood. Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Twelfth Edition. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005.
  • Robert C. Wiederaenders, Editor. Historical Guide to Lutheran Church Bodies in North America. St. Louis, MO: Lutheran Historical Conference, 1998.

    Compare Members Data

    The data used to compare members come from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a nationally representative survey collected by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey primarily relies on the respondents’ religious self-identification. Respondents are asked: “What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?” Based on the answer, respondents are asked follow-up questions to further describe their religious identification, including specific denominational identities (Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, etc.). For more information on how Pew Forum measures religion, click here.

    The ARDA would also like to thank the following individuals for their personal assistance in improving the accuracy of Religious Groups:

  • Dr. J. Gordon Melton, Director, Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR)
  • Joel Thoreson, Archivist for Reference Services, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Anne Leveque, Research Specialist in Religion, Congressional Research Service.

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