Multiplication Center

Most and Least Unchurched Cities

October 12, 2010

people going in church Many people wonder what U.S. city is least churched. Areas with the largest share of unchurched adults included San Francisco (44% of whom had not been to a religious worship service in the last six months), Portland, Maine (43%), Portland, Oregon (42%), Albany (42%), Boston (40%), Sacramento (40%), Seattle (40%), Spokane (39%), New York (38%), Phoenix (38%), Tucson (37%), and West Palm Beach (37%),  among 85 major cities studied by Barna Research Group based on 40,000 interviews conducted over the last 7 years.

By contrast weekly church attendance was highest among residents of Birmingham (67%), followed by Baton Rouge (62%), Salt Lake City (62%), and Huntsville (60%). In another approach to the same questions, cities with lowest share of self-identified Christians inhabited the following markets: San Francisco (68%), Portland, Oregon (71%), Portland, Maine (72%), Seattle (73%), Sacramento (73%), New York (73%), San Diego (75%), Los Angeles (75%), Boston (76%), Phoenix (78%), Miami (78%), Las Vegas (78%), and Denver (78%). Even in these cities, however, roughly three out of every four residents align with Christianity.

The cities with the highest proportion of residents who describe themselves as Christian are typically in the South, including: Shreveport (98%), Birmingham (96%), Charlotte (96%), Nashville (95%), Greenville, SC / Asheville, NC (94%), New Orleans (94%), Indianapolis (93%), Lexington (93%), Roanoke-Lynchburg (93%), Little Rock (92%), and Memphis (92%).

The research also pointed out some other interesting church engagement patterns.  For instance, the markets with the highest proportions of Christians who attend megachurches (1,000 or more adult attenders) included Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas, San Diego, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Houston. A similar pattern was discovered when it came to those who felt a “responsibility to tell others about their religious beliefs.” Evangelism was firmly endorsed by a majority of those residing in Birmingham (64% said they agreed strongly that a person has a responsibility to share their beliefs with others) and Charlotte (54%); residents of Providence (14%) and Boston (17%), among other cities, were generally least supportive of such faith-sharing activities.

David Kinnaman, who directed the research project for Barna Group, commented that “one of the underlying stories is the remarkably resilient and mainstream nature of Christianity in America.  Nearly three out of four people call themselves Christians, even among the least ‘Christianized’ cities.  Furthermore, a majority of U.S. residents, regardless of location, engage in a church at some level in a typical six-month period.”


Bird-Warren-Oxford3 Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director for Leadership Network and a frequent contributor to this blog, a books blog and a multisite church blog

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