And the most churched, unchurched cities in U.S. are …

Monday, April 27, 2015
Michael F. Haverluck (

When it comes to America’s most churched and unchurched cities, regions along the coasts are more likely than the nation’s interior to be the home of residents who aren’t worshipping, come Sunday morning.

A Closer LookA recent study conducted by the Barna Group has divulged where the 100 biggest U.S. cities fall when it comes to going to church … and avoiding it.

“Every week, nearly half of Americans attend church,” Barna researchers discovered. “Nationwide, just over two in five Americans (42 percent) are ‘very active’ churchgoers — meaning they attend church weekly. That’s a substantial number — yet it’s only four percentage points higher than the number of Americans who haven’t attended church in the past six months (38 percent) — people Barna Group defines as ‘churchless.’”

Many cities, however, divert from the norm significantly.

“However, church attendance varies widely from city to city and region to region,” the nationwide study found. “Many cities outpace the overall U.S. population when it comes to weekly church attendance; an impressive two-thirds of America’s largest metro areas have a better-than-average proportion of weekly churchgoers. This is particularly true in the South and the aptly named ‘Bible Belt.’”

Extremes on both sides of the equation should not come as too much of a surprise to most.

“In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example — the American city with the highest percentage of active churchgoers — nearly two-thirds of adults report attending church on a weekly basis (63 percent).” Barna revealed. “Contrast that to the San Francisco metro area, which tops the list of America’s most churchless cities: Six in 10 Bay Area residents have not attended a service, other than for a holiday or special occasion, in the past six months (61 percent).”

Taking it from the top … and the bottom

Here are how America’s top 10 churched cities stack up by percentage of active (weekly) church members:

1) Chattanooga, Tenn. ─ 63 percent
2) Baton Rouge, La. ─ 62 percent
3) Salt Lake City, Utah ─ 60 percent
4) Birmingham, Ala. ─ 60 percent
5) Augusta/Aiken, Ga. ─ 60 percent
6) Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson, S.C./Ashville, N.C. ─ 57 percent
7) Paducah, Ky./Cape Giradeau, Mo./Harrisburg/Mt. Vernon, Ill. ─ 56 percent
8) Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem, N.C. ─ 55 percent
9) Myrtle Beach/Florence, S.C. ─ 55 percent
10) Montgomery/Selma, Ala. ─ 55 percent.

And America’s least churched cities? They’re all on or near the Atlantic or Pacific. Here they are by the percentage of their populations that are unchurched:

1) San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, Calif. ─ 61 percent
2) Burlington, Vt./Plattsburgh, N.Y.  ─ 55 percent
3) Boston/Manchester, Mass. ─ 53 percent
4) Portland/Auburn, Maine ─ 52 percent
5) Chico/Redding, Calif. ─ 52 percent
6) Las Vegas ─ 51 percent
7) Seattle/Tacoma ─ 50 percent
8) Albany/Schenectady/Troy, N.Y. ─ 50 percent
9) Phoenix/Prescott, Ariz. ─ 49 percent
10) New York, N.Y. ─ 48 percent.

Besides identifying unchurched cities, Barna calculated the most “dechurched” cities — ones with the highest proportion of residents who used to regularly attend church, but have not gone for the last six months. Across the U.S., 29 percent of Americans are dechurched. True to form, Bay Area residents topped this list:

1) San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose ─ 48 percent
2) Seattle/Tacoma ─  44 percent
3) Portland/Auburn,/Maine ─ 43 percent
4) Boston/Manchester ─ 42 percent
5) Albany/Schenectady/Troy, N.Y. ─ 41 percent.

On a slightly different note, here are to five most “never churched” cities in America — cities with the highest percentage of residents who have never regularly attended church in their lifetimes:

1) West Palm Beach/Ft. Pierce, Fla. ─ 17 percent
2) Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/San Luis Obispo, Calif. ─ 16 percent
3) New York, N.Y. ─ 15 percent
4) Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen, Texas ─ 15 percent
5) Chico/Redding, Calif. ─ 15 percent.

Even though San Francisco didn’t make this list, it came in a close sixth place at 14 percent. The U.S. average for never churched adults stands at 9 percent.

100 most/least Bible-minded cities

Barna also partnered with the American Bible Society to rank America’s 100 tope media markets based on their level of Bible engagement. This measures the percentage of adults in each city/metropolitan area who proclaim to read the Bible on a weekly basis and strongly believe that the Bible’s teachings are true.

The top 10 Bible-minded cities are:

1) Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa, Ala. ─ 51 percent
2) Chattanooga, Tenn. ─ 50 percent
3) Tri-Cities, Tenn. ─ 50 percent
4) Roanoke/:Lynchburg, Va. ─ 48 percent
5) Shreveport, La. ─ 46 percent
6) Springfield, Mo. ─ 46 percent
7) Jackson, Miss. ─ 46 percent
8) Charlotte, N.C. ─ 46 percent
9) Geensville/Spartanburg/Anderson/Ashville, S.C. ─  percent
10) Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Ark.

Here are the 10 least Bible-minded cities: 

100) Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Ma. ─ 9 percent
99) Albany/Schenectady, Troy, N.Y. ─ 10 percent
98) Boston, Mass./Manchester, N.H. ─14 percent
97) San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose ─ 15 percent
96) Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, Iowa ─ 15 percent
95) Las Vegas, Nev. ─ 15 percent
94) Hartford/New Haven, Conn. ─ 16 percent
93) Buffalo, N.Y. ─16 percent
92) Phoenix/Prescott, Ariz. ─ 17 percent
91) New York City, N.Y. ─ 17 percent.

And a sampling of a handful of some of America’s largest cities in between —from the greatest to least in Bible-minded — are as follows:

19) Oklahoma City, Ok. ─ 40 percent
26) Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas ─ 38 percent
27) Memphis, Tenn. ─ 38 percent
30) Indianapolis, Ind. ─ 34 percent
31) Atlanta, Ga. ─ 34 percent
36) New Orleans, La. ─ 33 percent
40) San Antonio, Texas ─ 32 percent; 46) Houston, Texas ─ 29 percent
53) Portland, Ore. ─ 27 percent
60) Detroit, Mich. ─25 percent
66) Philadelphia, Pa. ─ 24 percent
67) Baltimore, Md. ─ 34 percent
68) Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. ─ 24 percent
71) San Diego ─ 24 percent
75) Seattle/Tacoma ─ 22 percent
70) Los Angeles, Calif. ─ 21 percent
81) Chicago, Ill. ─ 21 percent
81) Denver, Colo.─ 21 percent
85) Washington, D.C./Hagerstown, Md. ─ 20 percent.

The complete list of the 100 cities can be accessed on Barna’s website.


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