(One in an occasional series on area religious statistics)
Clergypersons swear they don’t like numbers — how many members, how many attended, how much did we grow — but it’s a reality they can’t get away from in measuring success.
Every 10 years, the Association of Religion Data Archives measures national, state and city membership in houses of worship. There is no organizational body that has access to every number from every house of worship across the country, but the ARDA, as it’s known, gets as close as anyone.
So it’s interesting to look at some of the numbers for the Chattanooga area.
The top 10 faith bodies with the most adherents — members, for all intents and purposes — in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Statistical Area are the Southern Baptist Church (122,300), United Methodist Church (31,485), nondenominational churches (20,750), Church of God (17,912), Catholic Church (14,292), Seventh-day Adventist Church (11,612), Churches of Christ (9,912), Presbyterian Church in America (8,115), National Baptist Church (8,112) and the Episcopal Church (6,442).
Among those groups, Seventh-day Adventists increased their ranks 5.5 percent from the 2000 report, and the number of Catholics rose 3.2 percent. Meanwhile, United Methodists declined 10.4 percent and Southern Baptists fell 3.2 percent.
Overall, 53.6 percent of the Chattanooga area population was an adherent to some faith body. That marked an increased from 52.4 percent in the 2000 report but a drop from 66.5 percent in 1990.
Among all the faith bodies measured in the Chattanooga area from 1980 to 2010, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints increased 203.8 percent and the Presbyterian Church in America 141.4 percent, while the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church fell off 89.2 percent and the Presbyterian Church (USA) fell 74.9 percent.
In Hamilton County alone, the top 10 list of adherents is similar to that of the Chattanooga metro area with the exception of the Catholic Church moving to fourth and the Church of God to fifth, the National Baptist Church moving to seventh, the Presbyterian Church in America to eighth, and the Churches of Christ moving to ninth.
The counties closest to the size of Hamilton (336,463) in states bordering Tennessee, with principal cities near the size of Chattanooga, are Fayette County/Lexington, Ky. (295,803), Cumberland County/Fayetteville, N.C. (319,431), Madison County/Huntsville, Ala. (334,811), Charleston County/Charleston, S.C. (350,209) and Forsyth County/Winston-Salem, N.C. (350,670).
In comparing the top 10 faith bodies among those six cities/counties, Hamilton has more members of the Southern Baptist Church, the Church of God (with its headquarters in Cleveland, Tenn.), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (with a major denominational college in Collegedale), and the Presbyterian Church in America than the other five counties.
Hamilton is second in Churches of Christ behind Huntsville, second in National Baptist Association churches behind Charleston and second in Episcopal churches behind Charleston.
As many in the area might suspect, Hamilton County, with 60.3 percent of its population an adherent to a local faith body, is tops among the other five cities. Its rate of adherence is followed by Charleston (56.5), Forsyth/Winston-Salem (54.1), Fayette/Lexington (52.2), Madison/Huntsville (50.4) and Cumberland/Fayetteville (46.5).
Among nonChristian religious bodies, Charleston has the most members of the Jewish faith (2,319), Hamilton the largest estimate of Muslims (2,156), Cumberland/Fayetteville the most Buddhists (375) and Fayette/Lexington the most Hindus (310).
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...