Over the past year, Barna research has unpacked faith trends in the U.S. including a general reluctance to engage in spiritual conversations, an aversion to evangelism and the erosion of religious belief and practice. These stories and more continue to point to an increasingly secularized nation made up of increasingly secularized cities. Based on data compiled from FaithView, Barna’s new subscription-based online database of city, state and national spiritual profiles, let’s take a look at the changing religious makeup of American cities using our “post-Christian” metric.
To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals must meet nine or more of our 16 criteria (listed below), which identify a lack of Christian identity, belief and practice. These factors include whether individuals identify as atheist, have never made a commitment to Jesus, have not attended church in the last year or have not read the Bible in the last week. These kinds of questions—compared to ticking the “Christian” box in a census—get beyond how people loosely identify themselves (affiliation) and to the core of what people actually believe and how they behave as a result of their belief (practice). These indicators give a much more accurate picture of belief and unbelief in America.
Here are this year’s top 10 post-Christian cities in America:
According to Barna’s most recent data, which includes the addition of a number of new cities since the 2017 rankings, the most post-Christian city in America is Springfield-Holyoke, MA (66%). This Northeast city is the first of eight (in a row) from this region that makes the top 10. These include Portland-Auburn, ME (60%), Providence, RI-New Bedford, MA (59%), Burlington, VT (59%), Boston, MA-Manchester, NH (58%), Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY (56%), Hartford-New Haven, CT (56%) and Rochester, NY (55%). The two non-Northeast cities to make it into the top 10 are Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo, CA (54%) and Seattle-Tacoma (54%).
As you’ll see below, the rest of America’s cities fall somewhere along the spectrum between Springfield-Holyoke, MA and Charleston-Huntington, WV (32%). To get a more in-depth look at how Barna compiled this list, let’s break down some of the key metrics for these two top and bottom cities, as well as one of the cities that falls toward the middle of the ranking: Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX (43%). Using Barna’s FaithView tool, here are some of the key metrics for each city that make up the post-Christian definition:
Have not read the Bible (in the last week):
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 87%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 67%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 58%
Have not attended a Christian church (in the last 6 months):
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 65%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 45%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 37%
Have never made a commitment to Jesus:
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 60%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 37%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 22%
Have not prayed to God (in the last week):
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 47%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 27%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 25%
Disagree that faith is important in their lives:
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 41%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 25%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 13%
Do not believe in God:
- Springfield-Holyoke, MA: 11%
- Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX: 6%
- Charleston-Huntington, WV: 6%
Where does your city rank?
To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals had to meet nine or more of the following factors. “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 13 or more of the factors (out of these 16 criteria).
- Do not believe in God
- Identify as atheist or agnostic
- Disagree that faith is important in their lives
- Have not prayed to God (in the last week)
- Have never made a commitment to Jesus
- Disagree the Bible is accurate
- Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
- Have not attended a Christian church (in the last 6 months)
- Agree that Jesus committed sins
- Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
- Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
- Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
- Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
- Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
- Bible engagement scale: low (have not read the Bible in the past week and disagree strongly or somewhat that the Bible is accurate)
- Not Born Again
Cities vary widely around the country on each of these metrics and understanding how those in your city relate to Christianity, the Bible and religion can be a helpful tool in making your local ministry match the needs of the community. Find out how people in your city rank for each of these questions with the FaithView tool.
(see barna.com/glossary for more)
About the Research
The data reported in this table are based upon telephone and online interviews with nationwide random samples of 21,378 adults conducted over a ten-year period, ending in April 2018. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is plus or minus 0.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The data in this study were analyzed by DMA. The label “DMA” stands for Designated Market Area and represents a unique geographic area that also serves as a commonly accepted media market as defined by The Neilsen Company. DMAs have been configured so that the entire U.S. is assigned to one – and only one – of 210 DMAs in the country and are based on the television viewing habits of the residents in each county. While there are 210 DMAs, this table contains data for the top 100 markets.
Barna 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, 2019