United States Census of Religious Bodies, County File, 1936

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

The United States Census of Religious Bodies is, as the name suggests, a census of religious organizations, not a census of individuals (the U.S. Census collected data on religious organizations through the 1936 census). This census provides measures of the number of members in various denominations, by geographic unit. This is the fourth of four complete surveys on the subject of religious membership undertaken by the U.S. Bureau of the Census (preceded by the 1906, 1916, and 1926, censuses). The data are organized by county (counties are the cases).
Data File
Cases: 3,150
Variables: 78
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: 1936
Funded By
U.S. Government
Collection Procedures
The Bureau of the Census contacted the leaders of each identifiable denomination in the United States. The denominations supplied lists of churches, which were used to create contacts with local church leaders. Church leaders provided the membership statistics in this data (they also supplied other measures which are available in the paper version of the census). Churches that did not respond were sent several follow-up surveys and finally, if they still did not respond, were visited by a census worker.
Sampling Procedures
Every identifiable denomination, based on lists of churches and religious organizations from yearbooks, denominations, and other sources, were contacted. Cults with no identifiable membership and interdenominational organizations were not included in the population of interest.
Principal Investigators
Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census
Related Publications
Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. Census of Religious Bodies, 1936, Part I: Summary and Detailed Tables. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1940.
Note of Caution: When compared to the earlier religious censuses, the 1936 Census of Religious Bodies was under funded, received less cooperation from churches, and was acknowledged as "seriously incomplete." The result was significant undercounts for many denominations throughout the South and some in the West. The most obvious example is the Southern Baptist Convention. Their membership increased by over 800,000 from 1916 to 1926 (despite a schism), but declined by over 800,000 from 1926 to 1936. The Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Methodist Episcopal Church, South also showed significant declines. For a more complete discussion, see Kevin J. Christiano. 1987. Religious Diversity and Social Change: American Cities, 1890-1906. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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