National Center for Charitable Statistics

Identifying Faith-based Organizations in NCCS Databases (Method Note)

In the late 1990s, there were approximately 353,000 congregations according to the most reliable estimates. (Independent Sector and the Urban Institute, The New Nonprofit Almanac & Desk Reference, Jossey-Bass 2002, p.10) Congregations are NOT required to register with the IRS. However, based on the IRS Activity Codes (activ1=001), approximately 91,000 congregations are registered and appear in the NCCS-IRS 07/2003 Business Master File. Other fields in the IRS Business Master File may be useful. The FRCD field and FNDNCD both have values for churches. FRCD:

  • 03 990 - Group return
  • 07 990 - Government 501(c)(1)
  • 01 990 (all other) or 990EZ return
  • 02 990 - Not required to file (income less than $25,000) 06 990 - Not required to file (church)
  • 13 990 - Not required to file (religious organization)
  • 14 990 - Not required to file (instrumentalities of states or political subdivisions)
  • 00 990 - Not required to file(all other)

Nor are congregations required to file the annual IRS Forms 990 -- and virtually none of them do. See the attached NCCS Working Paper for a detailed discussion of religious organizations in the IRS files and one method for determining faith-based organizations. (The first file contains the text and 2 tables; the 2nd, an Excel spreadsheet contains the remainder of the tables plus charts.) Thus, the best sources for data on congregations come from a variety of denominational lists, research surveys, and general purpose mailing lists. Some resources include: Data on giving to congregations

County-level data on congregations

  • Glenmary Research Center, Religious Congregations Membership Study 615-256-1905 or

General mailing lists

  • American Church Lists 5711 S. 86th Circle Omaha, NE 68127 (888) 733-1812 or (402) 596-8907
  • American Church Lists Directory.
  • Electronic Yellow Pages available on CD-ROM and on the web.

Some of the scholars who work with organization-level religion data

  • Mark Chaves (Duke Univ.) - The National Congregations Study
  • Peter Dobkin Hall (Baruch College, Harvard Univ.) - historian of religion and the nonprofit sector
  • Ram Cnaan (Univ. of Pennsylvania) - Role of congregations in provision of social services
  • Bob Wineburg (NC State, Greensboro) - Faith-based organizations and human services
  • Jan Shipps (Univ. of Indiana, Bloomington) - historian specializing in the Mormon Church

Other Sources

American Jewish Committee (New York): American Jewish Year Book. (Urban Inst. has 1996 edition, which contains section on federations and welfare funds.) In addition to religious congregations, there are many other organizations in the IRS files with a religious connection. These range from human service organizations and universities with explicit religious sponsorships to organizations that were started by religious groups and have since become independent. The CNP Working Paper, A Profile of Religious Organizations in the IRS Business Master File and Return Transaction Files (1997) provides greater detail on the topic. KEY WORDS: RELIGION, FAITH-BASED

Associated File: FAITHPA1.doc -
Associated File: faith-tables-final.xls -