Church historians, sociologists, and statisticians are going county by county, denomination by denomination, group of believers by group of believers, to compile the most complete record of organized religion in the country: the 2020 US Religion Census.

The official decennial census conducted by the United States government does not measure religious affiliation. Most data about religion in America comes from polling, but polling has its limits. So every 10 years, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) counts and maps religious congregations in the US.

The project is a massive undertaking. In 2010, the organization counted 236 religious groups, with 344,894 congregations and 150,686,156 regular participants, releasing its results in a 726-page book with 31 color maps.

In 2020, they’re counting again: Southern Baptists and American Baptists, plus National, Progressive, Independent, Fundamental, Full Gospel, Free Will, and Original Free Will Baptists. They’re counting Grace Gospel Fellowships and Fellowships of Grace Brethren. Twelve types of Lutherans. Thirty affiliations of Amish. They’re counting churches without buildings and churches that meet in multiple locations, congregations with no denomination and congregations that belong to more than one.

In the process of coming up with the numbers, the census takers wrestle with the complexity of organized religion. They just want clean stats, but these data obsessives end up mapping denominational decline and transformation, migration, reorganization, and the seemingly endless shifts in the shape of church.

“There really is a feeling that maybe denominations have seen their day,” said Richard H. Taylor, a retired United ...

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