by Adventist Today News Team
California's San Bernardino County has the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist presence of any county in the nation, according to recently released data from the United States Religion Census. It also has one of the highest rates of church growth anywhere in the country.
In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 58 Adventist churches in the county with a total of 32,831 adherents. Adventists made up 1.6 percent of the total population of the county or four times the national percentage. From the 2000 census to the 2010 census the number of congregations grew from 45 to 58 and the number of adherents grew by 26 percent from 26,152.
There are places in the country where the percentage of Adventists in the population is greater, but those counties have much smaller overall numbers of adherents. In Walla Walla County, Washington, 11 percent of the population consists of Adventists, but that totals only 6,721 in a relatively small, rural area.
In California there is also a county with a larger total number of Adventists. Los Angeles County has a total of 45,000 adherents in 140 congregations, but that constitutes only a half percent of the population of one of the most urban counties in the nation. This is not much different from the national average for the percentage of Adventists in the population at four tenths of one percent.
Orange County in Florida and Montgomery County in Maryland come closest to the overall presence of the Adventist faith in San Bernardino County. In both counties the number of Adventists makes up 1.8 percent of the population, slightly greater than San Bernardino County. But, there are only 21,034 Adventists in Orange County and 17,318 in Montgomery County.
Orange County is the central county in the Orlando metropolitan area and Montgomery County is a suburb of Washington DC. Like San Bernardino County, these counties have a significant presence of Adventist health care and education institutions. Loma Linda University and associated hospitals are located in San Bernardino County. Florida Hospital and the Adventist University of Health Sciences are in Orange County, while Washington Adventist University and two Adventist hospitals are in Montgomery County, as well as the denomination's world headquarters.
Two other counties in the United States with large numbers of Adventists are Dade County, Florida, with nearly 28,000 adherents and Kings County, New York, with more than 26,000 adherents. Dade is the central county in Miami and Kings County is the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. In both cases there are no major Adventist institutions but a very high percentage of immigrants in the Adventist community. In both counties Adventists constitute about one percent of the population.
The U.S. Religion Census is conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). It measures "adherents," not official membership. Adherents includes children from birth that are not part of the membership data in the Adventist denomination. The data can be accessed online at www.thearda.com.
"Immigration and institutions are two of the biggest drivers of Adventist church growth in North America," Pastor Monte Sahlin, director of research for the denomination's Ohio Conference, told Adventist Today. "There is very likely a similar correlation in many other places around the world. Beyond those two factors, the strongest correlations with growth in Adventist churches are community involvement and a focus on spiritual growth. Where immigration and institutions are restricted to a relatively few places, community involvement and focusing on spiritual growth are much more widespread." He estimated that about one in five local churches is experiencing increase for these reasons.