PUBLISHED: 10:21 EST, 2 May 2012 | UPDATED: 12:09 EST, 2 May 2012
Mormons and Muslims are now two of the most rapidly growing religious groups in the United States – swiping ground from the Protestants and Catholics who dominated the country throughout the 20th century.
In a census that today reveals the changing face of religious America, Muslim numbers have swelled from 1.5 million to 2.6 million – a 66 per cent rise – in the 10 years since the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001. The rise has been fueled by immigration and conversions, researchers believe.
Following closely behind is Mormonism, which rocketed by 45 per cent from 4.2 million to 6.1 million followers across the country in 2010 – gaining the most members of any religious group since 2000.
In the same period, Catholic churches reported a 5 per cent decline in membership while mainline Christian denominations noted a 12.8 per cent drop.
Spread: A map shows where members of Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – also known as Mormons – live in the U.S. in 2010. The group gained the most members – 2 million – of any religious group in the U.S. in the 10 years since 2000
Surprising shift: As well as spread across the Midwest, new Mormon congregations have started in Florida, New Hampshire and Maine, among others
The Census of American Religious Congregations, which asked 236 religions to count their followers, gives an insight into the growth of the relatively modern religion advocated by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The religion, whose Utah-based church’s formal name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is also spreading into more parts of the country than any other religious group.
AMERICA’S TOP TEN RELIGIONS
1. Catholic 58,936,006
2. Baptist 27,247,230
3. Methodist 12,231,451
4. Non-denominational Evangelical Protestant 12,241,329
5. Lutheran 7,191,194
6. Latter-day Saints 6,356,188
7. Pentecostal 5,776,260
8. Presbyterian Reformed 5,038,406
9. Islam 2,600,082
10. Judaism 2,256,584
Classed by religious family
There are now congregations in 295 counties where they did not exist a decade ago.
Mormonism is now the largest religious body in 115 U.S. counties – 34 more than 10 years ago – and is the fastest growing across 16 states.
And while it is traditionally associated with the Mormon corridor of the West, data from the Religious Census shows it is the fastest growing religion in states including Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire and Maine.
David Campbell, from the University of Notre Dame, told the Salt Lake Tribune the swelling numbers are in part due to the high Mormon birthrate and a reasonably high retention of those born into the religion.
‘People who are raised Mormon are more likely to retain that identity when they enter adulthood,’ Campbell, who is a Mormon, said. ‘At least at a higher rate than other religions.’
The LDS Church’s central records means the faith can also keep track of members when they move away while other Christian groups do not, he said.
‘Surveys and statistics are sometimes helpful in understanding various aspects of the church, but, ultimately, we reach out to individuals, not numbers,’ LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter told the Tribune.
‘By all indicators – including the church’s building program – the church is growing and we are grateful that people are embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ.’
Growth: Islam had the largest growth for a non-Christian religious group in the same decade, jumping from 1.5 million members to 2.6 million members
Believers: This map shows the percentage of people who attend religious groups regularly by county. The number of adherents has dropped by two per cent since 2000
Although numbers are growing, Mormons only make up two per cent of the U.S. population. While 30 states showed the largest percentage gains of any Christian group, many states, such as Rhode Island and Connecticut, have small Mormon populations, meaning new members could drastically affect percentages.
High-profile: Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is an adherent of the Mormon church, which has been a divisive issue during his campaign
Muslims added the second largest number of new followers, with one million more adherents in 197 new counties. Overall, non-Christian groups grew by 32 per cent since 2010.
‘Mosques have multiplied at a growth rate of about 50 per cent,’ Dale Jones, who worked on the study with the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, told Religion News Service.
‘They have more religious centers, and simply moving into the suburbs puts you closer to where a lot of your folks are living.’
But he added: ‘The single largest religion in every state is Christianity, if one counts Mormons as a branch of Christendom – which the LDS Church does.’
While Mormonism is growing, the census found the number of Catholics, the largest single faith in the country, declined five per cent to 58.9 million over the decade.
‘Catholics had the largest numeric decline,’ including big losses in Maine where a priest abuse scandal came to light, Jones said. In New England, Catholic funerals are outnumbering baptisms.
The data also shows that Utah has the highest percentage of believers of any state, as well as the highest number of Mormons.
The study is ‘the most comprehensive local-level analysis of U.S. religious adherents’ since the census began 60 years ago, Clifford Grammich, who led the supervising committee, told the Tribune.
While other studies tally membership, beliefs or worship attendance, the study counts the actual number of people ‘involved enough to the point where they know to count you’, Jones said.
The study found that while more than 80 per cent of Americans claim to be Christians, only around 49 per cent are affiliated with a local congregation.
Places of worship: The census, assembled by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, noted there were 50 per cent more mosques, left, than in 2000. Mormon communities (right) are now in 295 counties across the United States than they were ten years ago
Among the other largest U.S. faiths, the United Methodist Church lost 4 per cent to 9.9 million adherents, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 18 per cent to 4.2 million and the Episcopal Church lost 15 per cent of its adherents to 1.95 million.
Jones added that Buddhists made strong gains in the Rocky Mountain states, where the number of temples and congregations increased markedly.
The total number of Buddhist adherents in the United States was nearly one million. There was no estimate in 2000.
‘Based on some of the temple names, I think some of the yuppie types are looking for something different than the church they grew up in,’ Jones said.
The study was assembled by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and included self-reported numbers from 17 of the country’s largest religious groups.