Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Survey: 0.3 percent of adults are Unitarian Universalists.
There's some intriguing news for Unitarian Universalism-watchers in the Pew Forum's fascinating new U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. (Yup, it's time for some religion statistics!) The survey of 35,000 American adults was broad enough to pick up statistically significant samples of even small religious groups, like UUs. And the good news is that Unitarian Universalism seems to be a religious brand that has traction well beyond the formal membership of UUA-affiliated churches.
The survey says 0.3 percent of adults identify as UUs, or three in a thousand. By my clumsy math, that seems to be somewhere around 677,000 adults. (The U.S. Census estimated that there were 225.6 million adults over 18 in 2006; see tables here.) The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, which had also asked individuals how they identified themselves religiously, also identified approximately 0.3 percent of the population as Unitarian Universalists, or 629,000 adults in 2001. So, as a religious brand, Unitarian Universalism is holding steady at 0.3 percent as the overall population grows.
However, according to the 2006-2007 congregational certification figures collected by the UUA, there are 157,515 adult members of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States. (Another 1,787 adults are members of UUA congregations outside the U.S. The certification table doesn't offer totals, so I copied the whole chart into Excel and let it count.) Jeff W. is also working his calculator over at Transient and Permanent; like me, he concludes that 24 percent of the adults who identify as UUs are also members of UUA congregations.
The big news out of the Pew Forum survey generally is the "churn" in U.S. religious affiliation: 28 percent of Americans have left the religion in which they were raised for another religion (like I have) or no religion. If you add in Protestants who have switched Protestant denominations (like my wife), that number grows to 44 percent. The Boston Globe puts this story on the front page this morning, perhaps because U.S.-born Roman Catholics are fleeing the church in droves; here's the New York Times coverage.
But it strikes me that if the 76 percent of Unitarian Universalists who aren't members of UUA congregations are still identifying as UUs — rather than as "atheists" (1.6 percent), "agnostic" (2.4 percent), "nothing in particular" (12.1 percent), or fractional options like "spiritual but not religious" and "eclectic" — then there's something about Unitarian Universalism that makes it a compelling and distinctive identity.
Something worth noting about the UUA's data this year: Congregations have started submitting average attendance figures, which gives us a snapshot of the size of the worshiping congregation (members, friends, and visitors) rather than making us rely on formal membership figures. Not being a statistician, I'm not sure that it's fair to simply add up the averages, but that figure is 96,807 for U.S. congregations for 2006-2007. Is attendance actually lower than reported membership? If so, Steve's suggestion that congregations deliberately underreport their membership to keep their Annual Program Fund payments down can't possibly account for very many of the 400,000+ UUs who aren't members. Most of these people are not affiliated in any meaningful (or at least measurable) way with our churches.
Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 26 February 2008 at 8:09 AM
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