A new census estimates that a new Amish community is founded every three and a half weeks in North America and they estimate that nearly 60% of these communities were founded after 1990. The census restricted the count to Amish who refuse or limit modern amenities, such as electricity and automobiles.
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.
Accordingly, researchers say that this suggests that the Amish religion is the fastest growing religion in the United States, but this grow is not due to new converts. The growth is due to the number of children the Amish give birth to every year and every 21 to 22 years, these children grow up, become baptized as adults into the Amish religion, and give birth to several more children. Only adults may receive baptism into the Amish faith and among “the 250,784 Amish adherents identified in the census, 145,235 are considered non-members because they are children who have not yet been baptized.”
"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."
The experts predict some changes to farming and the countryside during the coming years. They not only foresee cultural, religious, and social changes, but the Amish buying the land that farmers vacate for various reasons, but the land they buy will not be enough for the growing communities, so the men will take jobs as carpenters, woodworkers, and construction workers. They see this as boosting the economy over the whole nation.
In all, the census counts almost 251,000 Amish in the United States and Ontario, Canada, dispersed among 456 settlements, the communities in which members live and worship. The 1990 census estimated that there were 179 settlements in the United States.
If the growth of the Amish population continues at its current rate, the Ohio State University researchers predict that the census could exceed 1 million Amish and 1,000 settlements shortly after 2050, and these numbers will bring economic, cultural, social and religious change to the rural areas that attract Amish settlement.
This information took experts and census workers over two years to compile, but part of the difficulty in acquiring an accurate count is their churches are in homes, which are not only intentionally small and central to their community, but the larger the settlement the more “church districts” they make. There is no central church registry for the Amish.
The Amish date back to the Anabaptist sect, who came out of the Protestant Reformation and “based on their interpretation of the Bible, they settle where they can separate themselves from the rest of the world, minimize disturbance from others, and use the land for farming or other livelihoods.”
The church is central to Amish life and is intentionally small-scale in its organization in keeping with their religious philosophy of separation, Donnermeyer said. Larger settlements are composed of multiple church districts, which typically consist of a few dozen families whose baptized members use a lottery system to select leaders. Worship services are held in members' homes.
The absence of a centralized church registry makes it complicated to produce an accurate estimate of the Amish population, Donnermeyer noted, but he said this census is likely the most comprehensive scholarly count of the Amish population to date.
Census gatherers started with directories of over 60 Amish settlements kept by the Mennonites and three news publications by the Amish. This soon led to finding other communities around the United States and Canada.
The researchers also used demographic data from established settlements to produce average household estimates for newer or similar communities that had not published directories. A settlement, by definition, must contain at least three households and include members who are able to hold a church service; these criteria were the basis for estimating the population of settlements that were less than a year old.
Canada has 15 Amish communities with a total of 4,400 Amish men, women, and children. There are 29 states with Amish communities, most of which are in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, but also extend into Florida, Texas, Maine, and Montana.
Ohio has the most Amish with 60,233, with Pennsylvania coming in second with 59,078 Amish residents. Indianacomes in third with 44,831 Amish. The 456 settlements contain 1,868 Amish church districts of the “Old Orders”.
New York acquired the most growth though, with 15 new settlements since 2010. However, Ohio’s 54 settlements spread across six counties and is called the Greater Holmes County Settlement, even though the settlement spreads into Wayne, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Stark, and Ashland counties. This settlement has 30,000 Amish.
"My guess is that in 15 years, we'll witness a county whose population is majority Amish, and Holmes County is likely to gain that distinction first. Perhaps LaGrange County in Indiana will not be far behind," Donnermeyer said.