NYC and the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study (RCMS)
Some people ask us whether the data compilation of the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study provides useful statistics for NYC religion. When the RCMS was made public, the institute obtained the data set in order to analyze its usefulness for our census project.
The data gathering for the RCMS (formerly called the Glenmary Report) on religion in the United States is an invaluable resource for religion scholars and practitioners alike. Providing data on religious congregations and their adherents for 149 denominations in the United States, the RCMS offers an enumeration by counties, states, and the nation. The goal of the RCMS is to approximate a census of American religion.
However, there are some gaps in the data set, particularly for a immigrant entrepot like New York City. As long as one is cognizant of the gaps, the data set is useful for many purposes.
For NYC the RCMS represents a report on the mainly white denominations. The biggest drawbacks of using the RCMS for New York City are its significant undercounts of religious organizations and adherents that are made up of non-white and immigrant groups of people. 56% of NYC’s population is made up of immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants. Further, some religious groups like evangelical Protestants are much more likely to be non-white or immigrants.
Many African American and Hispanic denominations didn’t participate in the RCMS study. The African-American non-participants include COGIC, AME, AME Zion, and the National Baptist Church. So, the report omits the fastest growing denomination in US, The Church of God In Christ (though admittedly in NYC it hasn’t grown as fast). Also, few independent churches are included in the RCMS data for New York City.
Korean Christians are significantly undercounted by the RCMS. For example, Korean Presbyterians are vastly undercounted because most of their denominations report back to Korea and wouldn’t be picked up by Glenmary (Hop Dong is the largest denomination and its churches are among the largest Korean churches in NYC).
You know that you are in trouble when the chart on religious families in NYC states that there is one Eastern Religion congregation in 1952 and 1 in 2001. In the book that accompanies their data set they say they consulted directories and experts to fill this void. They should have avoided including this data. (Preliminary figures from the NYC Religious Census indicate 128 Buddhist and 18 Taoist sites.)
Then, the report says that the evangelical Protestant number for members in NYC in 2000 is 113,292. Let’s see, Christian Cultural Center says it has 31,000 members; it is not included in the database. That is about 30% error right there. The RCMS’s evangelical count is so low because no African American and almost no Hispanic denominations, few immigrant churches and none of the independent churches were included.
So, we should read their NYC trend figures as 95% increase in members of White American Denominations in NYC. (Though of course, in NYC they are not so white any more. Shall we call them “historically white American Denominations” like we call the “historically Black denominations?”)
It is useful to know that in New York City the Assembly of God, the Church of God, Cleveland, the Nazarenes, the Evangel Free Church, the Foursquare Gospel Church and the American Baptist Church all have grown very much and to know their rate of congregational and member growth. We can surmise that this is a rough indication of fast evangelical growth in NYC. But a majority of the fastest growing churches are non-white or immigrant and not associated with RCMS denominations. So, the RCMS doesn’t provide an estimate of the rate of growth of evangelicals in the city. Further, the RCMS doesn’t provide us total numbers.
In sum the researcher should use the RCMS for analyzing trends within certain denominations with congregations in the city but not for analyzing general religious trends in NYC. It is very hard to compile the type of data that RCMS provides, and we are appreciative of its existence. Properly used, the RCMS data is very helpful.
An analysis of the 2010 RCMS for Boston, Massachusetts and other statistical projections arrives at the same conclusion about the need to handle with care the religious statistics for urban areas.