With the recent release of ASARB data on the size of U.S. religious group memberships and our previous post on this topic I began to think about the multiple ways in which one could think about the "number of Catholics." I am preparing for a presentation next week for an Ave Maria Press webinar (you can sign up here) on the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project. We are looking at a very specific sub-group of Catholics—parish leaders. We define this in the project as all of those on staff, volunteers, council members, and highly active parishioners. The presentation will include results from a national survey of parish leaders regarding their evaluations of their parish and their ministries, as well as their descriptions of how they were called to ministry.
Among parish leaders is a specific group of interest who are defined as Lay Ecclesial Ministers (LEMs). A LEM within a parish is someone with professional training working or volunteering in a ministry at least part-time. How can we understand the size of this group relative to the total Catholic population? How about some charts...
First, let me note these estimates are generated for 2010 and are derived from multiple data sources including CARA (1, 2, 3) and Pew (1, 2). The bars are like a Russian doll with each lower bar generally being a subset of those above it (don't add the bars together!). The largest bar on the chart is the total number of people in the U.S. baptized and raised Catholic. This includes nearly 97 million people in the country today (...and remember, because of immigration some of these individuals were baptized in other countries). Of course some of these individuals no longer self-identify as Catholic and either have no religion or are affiliated with some other faith (although technically they remain baptized Catholic and could return to the Church). Of these 97 million people, nearly 75 million continue to self-identify as Catholic (approximately 24% of the U.S. population).
The next group of bars covers those who are parish-connected. The number for individuals registered with a parish is based on a CARA survey of pastors in U.S. parishes for the Emerging Models project. At 58.3 million this is nearly identical to the ASARB estimate of 58.9 million Catholics adherents, which is "roughly equivalent to those who are known in some way to each parish or mission" (the difference between these counts and what dioceses report in The Official Catholic Directory, 65.4 million, is the adjustment some are making for active Catholics who are not registered. More than 6,500 U.S. parishes indicate they serve a significant number of non-registered parishioners. Most pastors indicate these parishioners are recent immigrants, Hispanics, and young adults). Some 50.6 million Catholics attended Mass at Christmas or Easter in 2010 (...some are not registered with a parish and many in this group overall attended Mass regularly as you will see below).
For those readers interested in New Evangelization you now know the approximate size of three important populations. First, there are the 22.5 million people who were baptized and raised Catholic who no longer self-identify as Catholic. Second, there are the 16.2 million people who self-identify as Catholic but who are not in a household that is registered with a parish (although technically there is no requirement to register with a parish... But it is helpful!). Finally some 23.8 million self-identified Catholics (many not registered with a parish) who do not attend Mass even at Christmas or Easter.
From here on Catholics who are parish-connected and who attend Mass with some regularity come into full view. Some 36.5 million Catholics attend Mass at least once a month (i.e., this total includes those who attend more frequently) and 32.8 million are in a household that gives regularly to a parish offertory collection. We must drill down further to specifically focus only on the 17.9 million Catholic weekly Mass attenders (i.e., those attending every week. This is different from the number of Catholics attending in any given week. This total is not shown on the graph and includes approximately 23.1 million individuals on a typical weekend).
Now down to the question of parish leadership—the number of Catholics who say they are "very involved" with parish life other than attending Mass. This totals just under 3 million or about 168 people per parish in the U.S. (there were 17,782 U.S. parishes in 2010). To give you a better idea of all the populations discussed above per parish see the graph below.