Difficulties in Quantifying America's Changing Religious Landscape

April 1, 2000

Source: Omaha World-Herald

On April 1, 2000, the Omaha World-Herald reported that "compiling church statistics is a maddening task. Denominations count members in different ways. Some go years without updating their figures. The National Council of Churches, however, has considered the compilation of available statistics so important to the understanding of religion in America that it took on the task 68 years ago in spite of the difficulties. Its Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, published annually by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tenn. ($ 35), has become the bible of church statistics." The publication also lists other religion-related groups, including research projects, seminaries and theological schools, ecumenical groups, and collections of church archives and historical records. The yearbook includes figures on church membership for many Christian denominations, but lacks specific numbers for members of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, since their membership is even more difficult to track than that of Christian churches. The publication reports 1% membership loss in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), and increases in the Roman Catholic and Assemblies of God denominations. It also tracks increases in financial donations in recent years, and increases in the number of women and minorities enrolled in the nation's theological schools.