- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002


The Rev. Richard Magnus looks at the mountain of data gleaned by the Census Bureau and thinks about churches where to build them, whether they need bilingual pastors, if they should offer day care.

Mr. Magnus runs the national outreach office for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is among many religious leaders who are using the 2000 Census to expand their denominations.

The bureau collects no information about religion. But the statistics the agency compiles on immigration, population shifts, income, and the age and ethnic makeup of states are critical to spreading the faith.

"It tells us where we ought to do some shifts in ministries," said Mr. Magnus, who works from the Lutheran headquarters in Chicago. "It tells us if this is a good place to do a Congregational start."

Mainline Protestant churches that have been losing membership for years are hoping to reverse the trend, while majority white denominations are struggling to diversify. All see the census as helping them fulfill a mandate to identify spiritual needs and meet them.

Some denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), have their own demographers who break down census data for individual churches.

Many more also have contracts with companies that use the census to create neighborhood profiles, with information that includes residents' buying patterns, reading habits and income in areas surrounding a church.

"It's the same type of approach as any business understanding who your customer is, what it is we can do to enhance our membership," said Diana Dean-Nau, a sales executive with Claritas Inc. The San Diego-based marketing company serves churches along with corporations such as the Lowe's Cos. Inc. home improvement chain.

Using demographics to market faith makes some religious leaders uncomfortable, but most feel a sophisticated approach is necessary to draw nonbelievers and dropouts to church.

"We've got a deep commitment to doing this outreach," Mr. Magnus said.

The nation's population increases in the West and South pose particular challenges, because many denominations have their roots in the Northeast.

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