About ICOC Info's Effort to Collect Church Membership Data
One of our primary purposes is to provide an unofficial clearinghouse for current information on churches affiliated as the International Churches of Christ at the end of 2002.
Early 2003 brought substantial changes to the way these churches organized themselves in relationship to each other. One result: there no longer exists any "central office" that collects and publishes comprehensive information on church membership, attendance, finances, baptisms, and new church plantings.
Not having a central authority to collect such information makes the task more challenging but not impossible. Mac Lynn, for example, has faithfully compiled data for Churches of Christ, a fellowship of thousands of self-governing congregations without a headquarters, for nearly 20 years. He edits the invaluable Churches of Christ in the United States.
Our Partnership with Disciples Today
ICOC Info cooperates with Disciples Today, which is financially supported on a voluntary basis by several of the churches in our fellowship and by member subscriptions. We are not competitors, but see our efforts as complementary.
Sources and Caveats
We obtain data from six sources, listed in order of reliability and accuracy:
- reports from administrators or leaders in a position to know church membership for the congregation(s) they serve;
- published membership included in website or bulletin announcements;
- statements of current membership in sermons or other on-line speeches;
- estimates based on published attendance, converted to a membership estimate using a known ratio of attendance to membership for the same time period in 2002;
- estimates by church leaders, usually with the stated understanding that the number does not represent an exact count;
- estimates by church administrators, leaders or members with first-hand knowledge of another congregation's membership.
Obviously, some sources are more reliable than others, and we cannot always confirm what is reported. However, we make corrections immediately whenever new, more precise information becomes available, and invite close scrutiny by church leaders and members alike.
What About Accuracy?
Concerns about accuracy generally fall into three categories.
First, how accurate are the official data collected up to 2002? Despite anecdotal evidence that numbers may have been kept artificially high by not removing members who left the church, eventually membership numbers, subject to a kind of statistical gravity, must return to earth. An overstatement of 10% may go unnoticed; an overstatement of 50% will soon be discovered, and corrected. One cannot, year after year, add non-existent members without it becoming obvious quickly to both church members and outside observers.
Second, how accurate can our data be if reliant on estimates, extrapolations from attendance, and reports from other churches? Certainly we would prefer actual counts over estimates; however, estimates are likely to reasonably reflect current membership, and at least provide a baseline of information that can be improved on as new information becomes available.
Third, what standard does one use for defining membership? Don't many churches count members who seldom attend and perhaps have even moved to another city? Though true that different standards of membership may hold from church to church, traditionally churches affiliated as the International Churches of Christ have only counted baptized, adult (including teen) members who take regular part in the activities of the local church. Slight variances in defining who is actually a member are insignificant compared to the general agreement to count only active, baptized adults and teens as members. Regularly attending children and non-member spouses, included as adherents by some churches, by convention are not included in the memberships reported by our fellowship of churches.
Call for Assistance
We encourage voluntary participation in this effort by our sister churches, and a mature understanding of statistics as but one measure among many of where we stand in our efforts to build and grow churches around the world. For more information about how your church can participate, kindly contact .
Resources Available On This Website
Articles and Websites Related to This Topic
American Religion Data Archive Includes data on churches and church membership, religious professionals, and religious groups (individuals, congregations and denominations).
Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies Statisticians and researchers who collect and publish information about denominations and other faith groups in the United States.
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate A national, non-profit, Georgetown University affiliated research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.
The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches Published by the National Council of Churches in the USA.