10 Facts About Faith in American Cities


Articles in Cities & States • August 8, 2017

While national faith trends dominate the headlines, they often belie the diverse religious makeup of cities and metro areas throughout the country. Barna takes a comprehensive look at the faith profiles of 131 metro markets and 48 states in the Cities & States reports. These metrics provide faith leaders with invaluable theolographic data, tracking the spiritual beliefs and practices among American adults. To celebrate the release of this year’s Cities report, here are 10 interesting findings and updated faith metrics from cities and metropolitan areas across the country.

1. The Biggest and Smallest Churches
Chattanooga, Tennessee (19%) has the highest percentage of those who attend megachurches (with 1,000 attendees or more), a rate more than twice the national average (9%). The city with the highest percentage of those who attend churches with 100 or less attendees is Shreveport, Louisiana (66% | U.S. average: 41%). This doesn’t mean Shreveport has a lower percentage of church-going Christians, but just that its churches are, relatively speaking, smaller on average than other cities.

Chattanooga, TN has the highest percentage of those who attend megachurches. Click To Tweet

2. The Most and Least Prayerful
A key measure of faith engagement is prayer, and to measure it, respondents are asked whether they have prayed to God in the previous seven days. Almost all the residents of Augusta-Aiken, Georgia (98% | U.S. average: 78%) say they have. The city least likely to have prayed in the last week is Springfield / Holyoke, Massachusetts (53%).

3. The Most and Least Orthodox View of God
American adults are asked to identify which among six different descriptions comes closest to what they believe about God. Those who choose “God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today,” have what Barna defines as an orthodox view. Myrtle Beach / Florence, South Carolina (87%) has the highest percentage of those with an orthodox view of God, while Springfield / Holyoke, Massachusetts (31%) have the fewest, with less than half the national average (64%).

4. The Most and Fewest Amount of Evangelicals
Chattanooga, Tennessee again claims a top spot, this time for the sheer amount of evangelicals who call it home (18% | U.S. average: 7%). The city with the lowest percentage of evangelicals is abovementioned Springfield / Holyoke, Massachusetts (1%). Evangelicals, as defined by Barna, meet the born again criteria plus seven other conditions which include (but are not limited to) saying their faith is very important in their life today and believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians. Definitions below.

5. Political Leanings
In this divided political age, cities across the country hold radically different political ideologies. Those who identify as “mostly conservative” are concentrated in Lincoln / Hastings / Kearney, Nebraska (52% | U.S. Average: 33%); those who identify as “mostly liberal” are concentrated in San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, California (36% | U.S. Average: 20%); and those who identify as “somewhere in between conservative and liberal” (a.k.a. “moderates”) are concentrated in Ft. Myers / Naples, Florida (63% | U.S. Average: 47%).

How well do you know the spiritual profile of your city?

6. The Most and Fewest Practicing Christians
Respondents who identify as Christian, say their faith is very important in their life and have attended a religious service or gathering in the past month are what Barna considers a “practicing Christian.” The city with the highest percentage of practicing Christians is the region around Monroe, Louisiana / El Dorado, Arkansas (65%), at almost double the U.S. average (36%). The city with the lowest percentage of practicing Christians is San Francisco / Oakland / San Jose, California (17%).

7. Marital Status of Practicing Christians
Among practicing Christians, the highest percentage of those who are married are in the Midwest city of Lansing, Michigan (81% | U.S. Average: 61%). The highest percentage of never married practicing Christians reside in New York City (32% | U.S. Average: 19%). And finally, the highest percentage of practicing Christians who have ever been divorced are in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (36% | U.S. Average: 25%).

The highest percentage of never married practicing Christians reside in New York City. Click To Tweet

8. Diversity of Practicing Christians
Also among practicing Christians, the city with the highest percentage of non-white residents (Hispanic, Native American, Black, Asian) is Harlingen / Weslaco / Brownsville / McAllen, Texas (88%, in a market that is 83% Hispanic overall), much higher than the U.S. average of 35 percent. On the other hand, the city with the highest percentage of white / Caucasian practicing Christians is Wausau / Rhinelander, Wisconsin at a staggering 98 percent. The U.S. average is 65 percent.

9. Education Levels of Practicing Christians
Education levels among practicing Christians differ dramatically depending on the city. Ft. Myers / Naples, FL (69% | U.S. Average: 43%) has the highest percentage of practicing Christians who only have a high school education or less. At the other end of the spectrum, Burlington / Plattsburgh, Vermont and Washington, DC / Hagerstown, MD (42% | U.S. Average: 28%) are tied with the highest percentage of practicing Christian college graduates.

10. Income Levels of Practicing Christians
Economic disparities are very real among practicing Christians. More than half of all practicing Christians in Augusta / Aiken, Georgia (54% | U.S. Average: 29%) earn what Barna considers a “low income” (under $30K). Washington, DC / Hagerstown, Maryland (46% | U.S. Average: 27%) boast the highest percentage of upper income practicing Christians (those who earn $75K+).

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About the Research
The data reported are from this year’s Cities report, based on telephone and online interviews with nationwide random samples of 76,505 adults conducted over a seven-year period, ending in April 2016. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is plus or minus 0.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All non-institutionalized adults in the United States were eligible to be interviewed, and the distribution of respondents in the survey sample corresponds to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population.

Evangelicals met nine specific theological criteria. They say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” that their faith is very important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; firmly believe that Satan exists; strongly believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; strong agree that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strong assert that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent on church attendance, the denominational affiliation of the church attended or self-identification. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.” They represent 6% of the adult population.

Practicing Christians are those who attend a religious service at least once a month, who say their faith is very important in their lives and self-identify as a Christian.

Born again Christians have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and believe that, when they die, they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2017


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