How Many UUs are There in the USA?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life today released the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.  According to the survey, .3% of the American population is Unitarian-Universalist.  That means the number of adult Unitarian-Universalists in America is approximately 683,000 (rounded).  If demographics hold true for UUs as for other religious groups, we would expect there to be an additional 228,000 children under 18 years old who are growing up in UU churches.  However, it seems reasonable to expect that UU fertility is somewhat lower than average: firstly, because the average UU’s social class and level of education places her in a demographic that has smaller than average households, and secondly because many UUs come to Unitarian-Universalism as individual adults, and therefore in some cases their children are already grown and out of the nest.  So perhaps we should make a rough guess that the number of kids is closer to 220,000 to 225,000 or so.

The UUA does not keep very good records on individual memberships in member congregations, but the current figures they are working with are about 163,000 adults and 57,000 kids/youth (these numbers are rounded).  That means that Unitarian-Universalists in America overwhelmingly do not belong to congregations affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association: approximately 76% of UUs are not members of an UUA congregation, while only 24% of UUs do currently belong to a UUA congregation.

It would be interesting to compare these numbers to other denominations.  Are Congregationalists in America represented in a similar ratio compared to members of the United Church of Christ?  Do Presbyterians in America fall about 76% of the time outside of churches affiliated with the main Presbyterian bodies?  Or is there something unique about Unitarian-Universalists that leads so few of them to affiliate with UU congregations?  Is this something that the UUA should be worried about?  Or is it perhaps a hint at a great potential waiting to be tapped?  What leads a UU not to affiliate with a congregation?  Or to affiliate?  And how does UU identity play itself out beyond congregations?  It is often noted that perhaps 90% of people raised Unitarian-Universalist do not go on to join a UU church.  Are they the bulk of these hundreds of thousands of non-affiliated UUs–have they left their churches but retained their UUness after all?  As always, surveys and studies tend to provoke as many or more questions than they answer.



Filed under Unitarian-Universalism

11 responses to “How Many UUs are There in the USA?

  1. I suspect the numerical disconnect between self-reported Unitarian Universalist statistics and UU congregation-reported statistics can be explained by three words:

    “Annual Program Fund”

    Nearly every UU congregation pays contributions to the UUA to fund denominational work that is beyond the capacities of individual congregations.

    Most congregations are “taxed” based on voting membership numbers with a per-member amount of $54.00 (for the 2007-2008 fiscal year).

    Congregations (wanting to reduce operating costs as much as possible) tend to “purge” inactive members from the congregational membership lists.

    Members who have drifted away, who only attend occasionally, financially contribute occasionally, etc may identify as “Unitarian Universalist” when asked by pollsters. However, UU congregations may not count them as members.

    This is one possible explanation for the disconnect between congregational numbers reported to the UUA and pollster numbers observed in the population.

  2. Jeff

    Steve, I think that has to be part of the story, but I don’t think it can account for the wide disparity. Congregations certainly haven’t purged more than three quarters of their membership in order to avoid paying dues(!).

    Also, this raises the definition of “member.” Typically, you are considered a member of a UU congregation if you pledge and have voting rights (granted, a small percentage of congregation members are given a pass on their dues do to hardship). Furthermore, as you know, no one is an individual member in the UUA–one is a member of a member congregation. So the UUA only represents those people who are members of member congregations, and that number appears to be less than a quarter of the number of UUs in America.

    Granting that some UUs are attendees (especially former or occasional attendees) but not members of congregations, and that this must account for some of the disparity, it still doesn’t seem close to plugging that enormous gap. UUs who aren’t members outnumber member UUs by more than 3:1. There must be some other factors at work here too. Perhaps other readers can suggest additional factors that might explain in part the difference.

  3. ok, the United Methodists say they have just under 8 million members – Pew says 5.1%. so thats 5.1 of 303 million? or just adults?


  4. Jeff

    It would be 5.1% of adults, which equals 11,609,000 (rounded). Assuming that the United Methodists are only counting adults, that means that 69% of Methodists in America are on the books at United Methodist congregations. That is close to three times the percentage of UUs in UUA congregations (24%), a very significant difference. However, the gap is even smaller than it looks between non-member and member Methodists, because there are other Methodist denominations active in America besides the United Methodists (that said, the United Methodists account for the lion’s share of affiliated Methodists).

    Just as a note, I have to imagine that the United Methodist congregations too scrub their membership lists in the way you mentioned UU churches doing.

  5. (there are two Steves on this thread )
    the 5.1% Pew has is for United Methodist – a specific denomination. It lists a few more Methodist types, without listing the specific denomination.
    come to think of it, most UM Churches do have lists of “Non-active” members. that might explain part of the difference….

  6. Pingback: Zach Alexander » New survey on (ir)religion in the U.S.

  7. David Pollard

    A couple of factors are at work here. First, is the aforementioned financial inducement for UU Congregations to report memberships as low as can be justified. Next with only 1,000 congregation in the US – and then with a concentration in the NorthEast. There are large populations without easy access to a UU church. Then, because of the variety of “spiritual styles” of our churches – even if there is a UU Church in a community it won’t serve the needs of a significant portion of the UU community. (Think of a historically Christian UU Church this is disatisfying to Atheists, or a Humanist Fellowship that is likewise for classical Universalists.)

    *Perhaps* if the APF keyed off a percentage of a churches budget, we’d get “better” membership numbers.

    The current push to more narrowly define what is “UU” (ie casting out IA’s, YRUU & CUUYAN) won’t do anything to help but worsen this disparity.

  8. Pingback: Why Don’t Your Local Unitarian-Universalist Churches Meet Your Needs? « Transient and Permanent

  9. There are so few UU churches, societies, fellowships or congregations in the US that many UUs don’t live near one. Who wants to drive two hours to attend church on a precious day off work? It would take quite a commitment.

    I think congregations typically draw at least 80% of their members from within a few miles of the church building.

  10. Pingback: Round-up of Pew Research on UUs, American’s Religious Liberalism « Transient and Permanent

  11. juuggernaut

    If you ask Peter Morales (whom I’m rooting for as president of the UUA!), he’ll tell you
    1) it’s time we acknowledged those figures are abysmally low, as they have essentially stayed the same since 1961 while US population has more than doubled. In other words, UU is shrinking dramatically and may be on a path of total insignificance or extinction.
    2) the figures are low because the UUA’s approaches for growth so far have failed.
    3) As Peter writes on his campaign website, “We can be the religion of our time”. I very much concur. UU has the potential to be a home for a great many people, and with inspired leadership we can make many of those visitors return that we currently manage to rebuff.
    For details check out the site or better yet, should you be at GA, talk to him directly.

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