Fastest Growing Religious Group in America: The Amish (?!?)

Ohio State University researchers are reporting that the Amish may be one of the fastest growing religious group in America. It’s arguable that that distinction currently belongs to the non-religious:

A new census of the Amish population in the United States estimates that a new Amish community is founded, on average, about every 3 ½ weeks, and shows that more than 60 percent of all existing Amish settlements have been founded since 1990.

This pattern suggests the Amish are growing more rapidly than most other religions in the United States, researchers say. Unlike other religious groups, however, the growth is not driven by converts joining the faith, but instead can be attributed to large families and high rates of baptism.

The researchers who compiled the census used a variety of sources to produce this count, including current and archival settlement directories and statistics from publications that cover some of the largest Amish communities, as well as by calculating estimates based on research-based facts about Amish settlement characteristics.

“The Amish are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in North America,” said Joseph Donnermeyer, professor of rural sociology in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, who led the census project. “They’re doubling their population about every 21 to 22 years, primarily because they produce large families and the vast majority of daughters and sons remain in the community as adults baptized into the faith, starting their own families and sustaining their religious beliefs and practices.”

It still seems like a leap to say growth will continue at the same pace indefinitely…

Also, keep in mind there are only about 250,000 Amish according to the U.S. Census — a fraction of a fraction of the population. Rapid growth for them doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking over anytime soon — unless there’s reason to think the growth will be sustained.

(Thanks to Ashley for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Tainda

    I’ve always been fascinated with the Amish.  It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

    My dream of a religion free society will probably never happen because these people will just keep breeding.  The movie Idiocracy is such a true story.

    Though, with inbreeding, I don’t see how the Amish will last.

    • Stev84

      At least the Amish are pretty harmless. They largely keep to themselves and don’t force others to live by their rules.

      • Tainda

        That is true.

        I guess my “these people” was mainly about people like the 20+ kid reality show people.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          The Duggars. Much scarier than the Amish. They’re Quiverfullers and Christian dominionists.

          • Tainda

            Yeah, they frighten me.  

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            Yeah, I love horror movies, and the Duggars scare the hell out of me. That’s just… not healthy, man. Not for the mom, not for the kids, not for the family as a whole.

      • The Vicar

        Well, yes and no. The Amish teach their children that the rest of the population are a bunch of sinners and it really doesn’t matter what happens to us. They also permit their teenagers to have a brief period of freedom in the wider world — sort of a “sow your wild oats” kind of thing. And a sufficient number of those teenagers take up various forms of crime, particularly drug dealing, that it’s no longer a surprise when it happens. (See, they’ve been taught that it’s okay to hurt non-Amish people, so under those circumstances, why NOT make a living that way?)

      • Ibis3

         No they don’t, but their children are still indoctrinated. Sure, they may have rumspringa, but how many kids of that age faced with that kind of choice (leave all your friends and family forever) would be prepared to do that? Especially when they have no notion of what’s really open to them on the outside?

        Women are still treated as lesser beings–that’s certainly not harmless. The community (i.e. the elder men) choose how you’re going to dress, how to behave, how to spend your time.

        In other words, they may be harmless to us, but they are harmful to each other.

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        Know how I know you don’t live near or interact with the Amish? They’re not harmless by a long shot. Until you’ve mopped the blood off of a young girl’s face after her dad beat her bloody (for asking a question), you don’t even come close to having an idea what monsters these people can be.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

          don’t get me started on the puppy mills, either. 

          not “harmless.” just a cult that keeps its head down, and its oppressed groups quietly out of the limelight. the one thing i’ll give them is that they don’t crave wealth like other cults. in that, they are “better.” 

        • Travshad

          Actually Gloom, I do live near a good sized Amish community in Ohio (within 10 miles) and my family is friends with several of the families in the community.  I interact with Amish on a weekly basis both personally and in business dealings.  I recently had a new roof put on my house by Amish friends.  Their bishop does not allow them to work in the small town that I live in, so they put the roof on my house for no cost.  I bought the materials and they supplied the free labour.  We often drive them to the bus station or to various doctors, etc.  I have ate meals with them in their houses and even spent the night in Amish homes when we have taken them out of the area. 

          Every Amish community is independent and unique,  I have never seen the behavior you are describing.  Their treatment of animals is horrible, but no worse and in many ways better than the non-Amish farmers, hunters, dog breaders, etc.  in the area. 

          I think it is monsterous of you to paint an entire group of people as “monsters” based on your limited interaction with a few members of a minority group.

          • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

            Oh goody, you’ve seen their public put-on show and buy it. Adorable. Keep making excuses for them. Most of them are monsters. Sorry, but I classify people that abuse their animals, beat their children, and rule with fear as monsters. If you don’t? Well, I’m that glad I don’t know you. It’s pathetic to say that because they were nice to you that they mustn’t be so bad. You’re deluding yourself and buying the act.

            And to say they’re no worse to animals is insulting. They run puppy mills. That’s real kind salt-o-the-earth stuff there. Oh, wait, it’s not. It’s disgusting abuse.

            Also, spell check/proof-read. For real.

            • missizzy

               So Gloom… you seem to be saying that you want people to judge an entire population based on their limited exposure.  Clearly your experience with the Amish has been horrible and inexcusable.   But seriously, that enables you to judge an entire population?  So every single Baptist, Jew, Muslim… is exactly like the Baptist, Jew, Muslim I have come in contact with?  Or, every blue haired female with glasses makes gross generalization?

              Again, I believe that you have clearly been exposed to some horrible people.  That doesn’t mean all people of the same religion are horrible.

              Just like all Muslims are NOT terrorists, all Jews are NOT misers, all black people are NOT gang members… and on and on.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Q: What goes: “CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP **BANG** CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP”?

    A: An Amish drive-by shooting.

    (Cue golf clap)

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      *snicker*

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    Statistics can be very misleading.  That’s not to say that this is untrue, but could it be that with the options of birth control and abortion to the rest of the world, the amish are growing faster because they do not use birth control?  While outside that, others freely use it, and when pregnant, abort the pregnancy?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I love me some Amish food. I don’t care how strange they live, the Amish know how to cook and as someone else has stated, they pretty much keep to their selves.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Any future projections should take into account the interaction of ever larger pickup trucks and SUVs with horse-drawn carts that are no longer legally required to bear gaudy, sinful warning reflectors on the back.

  • Epi Nephron

    They’re doubling their population about every 21 to 22 years,
    primarily because they produce large families and the vast majority of
    daughters and sons remain in the community as adults baptized into the
    faith

    The families can’t be that large, or they aren’t largely remaining in the faith. 

    If they had 100% adherance, and brought in no new blood, you’d expect that an average of 4 children per family would be enough to support roughly doubling every 22 years.  How many kids do they have on average?  Looks like 8 in that photo, but that may be a big family.  If that’s the norm, then only about 50% could stay with the faith.  On the flip side, if most stay with the faith, the families aren’t that big.

    • Phil Bellerive

      The “no new blood” thing is beginning to manifest itself in genetic disorders among them.  It’s not a brother/sister thing, but distant cousins, etc.  After a few hundred years, this is not unusual among groups that close themselves or are closed off by others from the gene pool at large – think European royalty (hemophilia), East european Jewry (Tay Sachs), etc.

  • http://www.willsloan.com/about/ Will Sloan

    This is what happens when you have nothing else to do but farm and breed. I doubt those numbers are really dealing on converts, but in an abundance of inner-circle births… some of which are imbred. ::shudder::

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    A guess on why the Amish retain their kids in their religion so well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_v._Yoder
    (Fun fact: this is my extended family.)

    Social isolation and often denying kids even a high school education is a fantastic way to keep the next generation ignorant and faithful. Tossing them out into the world briefly to experience culture shock is a great way to kill their curiosity. I want to give parents some leeway on the religious education of their children, but I don’t think we pay enough attention to the religious and educational rights of children. Every kid should have a chance to make their own way in the world.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Absolutely. It’s amazing how many people seem to think of the Amish as sweet and quaint and wholesome, when they are just as harsh as any other fundamentalist group. I’d even argue that they’re worse than a lot of them, since they not only deny their children a high school education but also formally shun the few who dare to leave the fold.

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        I find most that have this quaint Amish image in their heads don’t luve in an area with a fair sized Amish population. I do. They’re awful to their kids, smug as all get out, game the system as much as possible to keep the kids dumb, and total hypocrites. Nooo thanks, Amish Andy, I’m no nixnootz!

        • Phil Bellerive

          Nixnuz (different spelling).  Some relatives used to use that term and we aren’t nor were never Amish.  Must be a German term.

          • D. Beat Walter

              It’s indeed a german word, meaning literally something like  “a not useful person” ot a person without any use (nix=nichts=nothing (or for nothing), Nutz=nutzen= use, utility)

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I admit I had a major Amish obsession as a kid. I so wanted to wear a bonnet and long dress and ride in a buggy. I had no interest in the religion, but I imagined that it would be fun living like a pioneer girl. I think that’s part of the appeal. The Amish seem like they’re from another, simpler time, and a lot of people romanticize the past.

    • Isilzha

      It’s ‘strange’ how the PARENT’S right to freedom of religion trump the interests of the CHILD.

      • Ibis3

         For ‘strange’ read ‘repugnant’.

    • anon101

      I always have in mind http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumspringa

      and thus retaining that many kids in the relgion is actually quite impressive.

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        Rumspringa is kind of a false choice. There’s technically an option to refuse baptism, but it would be so emotionally and financially difficult to leave that very few actually end up doing that. The kids have been indoctrinated with fear of hell and told that living any other sort of life will almost surely send them there. Plus, they have no education and leaving would mean giving up their entire family. Not many teenagers are prepared to cut ties with everything they’ve ever known.

  • beatlefreak9

    I, for one, welcome our new Amish overlords!

  • A3Kr0n

    exponential growth – It’s scary to do the math.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Luckily, in the real world, true exponential growth is extremely rare (or perhaps it would be better to say extremely transient).

  • Kate Donovan

    I spent one quarter at university doing a research project on the Amish, and the most recent data showed a birth rate of 7.5 children per family–the highest of any part of the US population. 

  • Luther

    Wait, what about the church of the FSM. That started at zero within the last 20 years so it has doubled many times over. Amish have to aim much higher to beat that.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      But a doubling of zero only produces… zero.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat animals. The Amish are one of the biggest operators of puppy mills in the United States. And I would suspect that they’re less than honourable in their other dealings with the “Englisch”, as they call the non-Amish.
    Puppy mills. Anybody’d run one of those holds life cheaply.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I think this is the fundamentalist attitude towards animals in general. They’re sort of treated like objects for people to do with what they wish. I don’t think most fundies consider animals to have any right to live out their natural lives or any value besides that bestowed on them by humans.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        That’s… sad. For me, animals under my care (or under the care of family members) ARE part of the family. I can’t imagine treating an animal like it’s just some… disposable thing.

  • Brad

    “…the Amish may be one of the fastest growing religious group in America. It’s arguable that that distinction currently belongs to the non-religious”

    I may just be being pedantic, but surely the “non-religious” are, by definition, not a religious group?

  • Eliza Wood

    Awesome, Hemant!  We love you over here at Progress Planet. Are some people “converting” to Amish or is that even possible?  It looks like birth rate is the cause…

  • http://www.facebook.com/church.state.9 Church State

    For years if not decades the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons have claimed bragging rights of being the fastest growing religion.  I have distrust of Mitt Romney being a faithful member of a church of which leaders seem not concerned about the ethical issues of Mormon Missionaries (60,000 worldwide) and LDS faithful members (those granted the right to wear temple garments) performing baptisms of minor children into the Latter Day Saints (LDS) faith without the written consent of the child’s parent(s).  Another accepted practice is baptizing prosepective church members into the LDS faith after only three visits of Book of Mormon and other religious teachings.  Don’t most reputable religions require the person to live the faith of the religion for six months before baptizing them – to ensure the new faith is a good match for the prospective convert?  What about the practice of baptizing an individual who is intoxicated or impaired?  What about the LDS practice of Proxy Baptism – baptizing deceased persons of other religions into the LDS faith without the written consent of the family.  I personally find all the above mentioned practices quite questionable. 

  • RPlunkett

    Similar situation with Haredim Jews in New York and New Jersey. As a result, two German languages not long ago thought to be dying out (Pennsylvania German and Yiddish) are growing at largely the same rate.


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