SIC 8661

This category covers organizations operated for worship, for religious training or study, for government or administration of an organized religion, or for promotion of religious activities, including religious groups reaching the public through radio or television media. Other establishments maintained by religious organizations, such as educational institutions, hospitals, publishing houses, reading rooms, social services, and secondhand stores, are classified according to their primary activity. Establishments of such religious groups that produce taped religious programming for television are covered in SIC 7812: Motion Picture and Video Tape Production, and those that produce live religious programs are classified in SIC 7922: Theatrical Producers (Except Motion Picture) and Miscellaneous Theatrical Services. Radio or television stations operated by religious organizations are classified under SIC 4832: Radio Broadcasting Stations or SIC 4833: Television Broadcasting Stations.

NAICS Code(s)

813110 (Religious Organizations)

Industry Snapshot

Religious organizations in the United States have been involved in an innumerable range of activities. In recent years, these activities have included everything from organizing food drives for the poor, to campaigns to aid those victimized by the terrorist attacks of September 11, to grassroots measures to remove the teaching of biological evolution in U.S. science classes.

On a comparative level, the greatest number of religious organizations, and those boasting the largest membership figures, remain overwhelmingly Christian. Between the mid-1960s and the early 2000s, Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism increased their membership as mainstream Protestant groups suffered significant losses in membership. This shift in numbers in America's religious groups has been especially painful for the largest, most well-established denominations. With membership a paramount concern for congregations across the country, many churches have adopted active philosophies designed to attract and keep worshippers.

Near the end of the twentieth century, 70 percent of U.S. citizens age 18 or older were members of a church or synagogue, a figure that has not experienced much net change since the early 1980s. Although 62 percent of Americans were of the opinion that religion was taking on a diminished influence in national life, up from 49 percent in 1989, the proportion who place a great priority on religion in their own lives held steady at 59 percent.

Background and Development

The United States has long prided itself on its diversity of religious expression. Numerous faiths are practiced in America, ranging from the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam to the other major world religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as myriad others. The church has traditionally functioned as a major institution for vast numbers of the American populace.

Although churches do not have to pay government taxes, they still must secure income for a variety of purposes. Most churches sustain themselves financially through "tithes"—contributions made to the church by those who worship there. Tithing permits churches to meet their financial obligations in the realm of operating costs and payroll, as well as to contribute to charitable or social causes. In recent years, this primary source of income has risen in value but fallen as a proportion of the giver's income. By 1998 the average annual family income of Catholic homes was $43,000, but the contributions to the church was a mere 0.6 percent of their income, a fact that observers attribute to factors such as a growing tendency for worshippers to disagree with the leadership's allocation of church resources.

The pilgrim fathers of the early seventeenth century created a powerful white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. From about the mid-nineteenth century on, the nation's majority of Protestant denominations increasingly consolidated in churches that operated the financial aspect of their existence in a manner not unlike a corporate business.

In the 1970s and 1980s, however, Evangelical Protestant congregations increased in popularity. Long part of America but previously found among the poorest and least powerful sections of society, the numbers of Evangelical Protestants increased during this time, as did their socioeconomic status. This provided an influx of wealth that brought further conversions, together with additional power and prestige in both the religious and political halls of the United States.

During this same period, six of the seven sister denominations of mainstream Protestantism collectively suffered significant membership losses. From 1965 to 1995, the membership in the United Methodist Church dropped from 11 to 8.5 million. Losses were posted by other Protestant groups as well: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, from 5.7 to 5.2 million; Presbyterian Church (U.S.), from 4.2 to 3.7 million; Episcopal Church, from 3.5 to 2.5 million; and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from 1.9 to 1 million. The American Baptist Church, however, grew from 1.3 to 1.5 million members. The general loss of membership should have created a corresponding drop in revenue, which would force many congregations to tighten budgets and curtail community programs, but according to the 1996 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, most religious denominations showed an increase in revenue despite attendance figures. For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), with one of the biggest membership losses, still had an increase of 4.8 percent in contributions/revenue, totaling $2.1 billion.

By the late 1990s, the top five religious groups by membership size accounted for 61 percent of all memberships in religious organizations in the United States. The Catholic Church was the largest religious body in the United States with 61.2 million members and 33,000 churches; the Southern Baptist Convention had 16 million members and 41,000 churches; United Methodist Churches had 8.5 million members and 33,000 churches; the National Baptist Convention, USA, had 8.5 million members and 36,170 churches; the Church of God in Christ had 5.5 million members and 15,300 churches; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had 5.2 million members and 10,900 churches.

Among those Americans older than 18, 59 percent identified themselves as Protestant; 27 percent as Catholic; and 2 percent as Jewish. In addition, there were about 530,000 Muslims, 400,000 Buddhists, and 227,000 Hindus. Only 7 percent identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Affiliation with a religious organization was directly correlated with age; among those 65 and older, 75 percent belonged to a church, whereas the percentages dropped among younger populations to 63 percent for those between the ages of 18 and 29.

Protestantism, the most widely practiced religion in the United States, covers more than 70 denominations. Most Protestants identify with one of the five major bodies of Protestantism: Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian. The leading Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was expected to split sometime in 2000 along ideological grounds between the conservatives and the moderates, the latter of whom sought greater tolerance of diversity in doctrinal, ethical, and social issues. Between 400 and 3,500 churches were likely to leave the organization.

While the Baptists were separating, other Protestant organizations were striking alliances. The nation's largest Lutheran congregation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church agreed in 1999 to fully accept each other's members and sacraments. Although the two denominations maintain their respective structures and practices, the alliance allowed for an exchange of clergy and collaboration of projects and services.

Religious organizations received about 60 percent of all household charitable contributions in 1998. Among the 70 percent of U.S. households that donated money to a church or religious organization, the average contribution was $1,022.

Current Conditions

According to the publication America , a study entitled Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States: 2000 —issued in September 2002 by the Glenmary Research Center and the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies—found that 50.2 percent of Americans were affiliated with a religious organization in 2000. This was a decrease from 1990, when affiliation levels were 55 percent.

Although the aforementioned study indicates that church affiliation declined during the 1990s, the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2003 revealed that membership in religious organizations was increasing in the early 2000s, reaching 159 million members in 2001. Among factors that benefited church attendance and membership levels during the early 2000s were the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, as well as the U.S.-led war with Iraq in the spring of 2003. These events increased the importance of spirituality and prayer to many Americans.

Although church membership levels increased during the early 2000s, this growth was not equally distributed among denominations. For example, strong membership increases occurred in the Catholic Church, where membership ranks increased 2.1 percent in 2000 and 2.5 percent in 2001, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which achieved growth of 1.9 percent and 2 percent, respectively. However, many of the largest denominations continued to see year over year memberships decline. Among these groups were the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In 2001, the top five religious groups by membership size accounted for about 69 percent of all memberships. The Catholic Church remained the largest religious body in the United States, with 65.3 million members. The Southern Baptist Convention was the next largest organization with 16.1 million; United Methodist Churches had 8.3 million members; the Church of God in Christ had 5.5 million members; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had 5.5 million members; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had 5.1 million members.

Since the mid-1990s, churches have enjoyed a growing base of financial contributions. From $15.3 billion in 1994, contributions increased steadily, reaching $22.8 billion in 1999, $24.5 billion in 2000, and $26.5 billion in 2001.


Protestant ministers and diocesan priests have a wide array of duties. They read and study to prepare texts for preaching or publication, perform, offer religious instruction, and often are called upon to address various other community needs—conducting marriage and funeral services; visiting the elderly, sick, and handicapped; and responding to emergencies. Additional administrative, educational, and community service activities represent an unpredictable but typically heavy burden. Particular activities of course vary widely according to the religious group and the specific institution's mission and resources.

In recent years, there were more than 300,000 Protestant ministers leading individual congregations, as well as thousands of others with no fixed congregation. Other ministers worked in correctional institutions, universities, military, hospitals, and other establishments. Other faiths had a considerable number of religious leaders in America as well. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the late 1990s approximately 4,300 rabbis were employed in America (1,000 Orthodox, 1,250 Conservative, 1,800 Reform, and 250 Reconstructionist). By 2000, there were about 45,000 priests and many more laywomen and/or nuns associated with the Catholic Church in America.

Employment prospects were considered much more favorable for Evangelical ministers than for those in the mainstream, where the number of qualified candidates seemed likely to exceed the available positions, with the possible exception of congregations in rural areas. The Catholic Church requires that its priests remain celibate and does not allow women to serve the church in that capacity. These restrictions have been widely viewed as the primary reasons for the shortage of Catholic priests in America. By the mid-1990s, with approximately 10 percent of the Catholic Churches without a resident priest, many of them began to rely on women to act as administrative pastors, changing the participatory numbers of women greatly.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03, salaries for Protestant ministers vary considerably depending on factors like age, experience, denomination, the size and wealth of the congregation served, and geographic location. In recent years, the average salary (including such fringe benefits as housing and insurance), was $30,000. Diocesan priests' salaries were typically as low as $13,000, but were usually supplemented with a comprehensive package of benefits including a retirement plan, free room and board, a transport allowance or car, and health benefits. Diocesan priests also often supplemented their income with teaching activities within the church parish; required to take a vow of poverty, priests were reliant on the support of their religious order. In recent years, annual earnings of American rabbis generally ranged between $45,000 and $75,000, including benefits such as those mentioned above. Their income usually depended on the size and financial capabilities of their congregation.

Further Reading

Condren, Dave. "Empty Pulpits: Protestant Churches are Facing Dwindling Ranks of Clergy." The Buffalo News, 27 November 1999.

"Nearly Half of Americans Unchurched, Census Finds." America, 30 September 2002.

Niebuhr, Gustav. "A Religious Union May Beget Others." The New York Times, 29 August 1999.

"Religion Is Important to a Large Majority of Americans." Research Alert, 3 December 1999.

"Religious Leaders, Organizations Respond to U.S. War on Iraq." America, 7 April 2003.

Sheler, Jeffrey L. "Christians, Unite!" U.S. News & World Report, 15 November 1999.

"Southern Baptist Leader Predicts Split." Los Angeles Times, 11 December 1999.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03. Available from .

Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 2003. New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., 2003.

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