Jun
2

Least Evangelical U.S. Metro Areas

written by JD

Where are the least reached cities in the United States?  The answer to this question is that it seems to depend on to whom you are speaking.  What I have found to be the case is that anyone serving in an urban context believes his or her city is the most unreached.  Now, while I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and maybe my city is the least reached–when it comes to the number of lost people per capita who live in green two-story houses with pink fences and on streets that have four vowels in their names), here is an amazing secret:  the reality is… that some places… are less Evangelical than others.  And since Evangelicals claim a born-again experience (John 3:16) in order to be members of the Kingdom, as a starting point, I prefer to understand reached and unreached areas/peoples/population segments based on the numbers of Evangelicals present.

While we can debate the minisucle points of the issue (such as evaluating lostness based on people living in green two story houses), what we do know is that in the year 2000 the best research on Evangelicals in the United States was conducted.  While this data from The Association of Religion Data Archives is a decade old (and includes some groups that I would not consider Evangelical), it is still the best data we have to date.  The good news is that during this year, another such study is being conducted which will provide us with a more-up-to-date perspective.

At the beginning of this year, I compiled the decade old data from The ARDA and did a few calculations to determine the concentrations of Evangelicals in the United States (and also used data from Outreach Canada to look to our northern neighbor).  The results are found in my report HERE and a very large PowerPoint presentation HERE.  In the four months since releasing these findings, I am pleased that many individuals and groups have been using them in their missionary strategy development.

Since I am writing about urban matters this week, I wanted to bring the matter of the U.S. cities and their Evangelical concentrations to your attentions.  The following is a chart of the U.S. Metro areas with a 5% or less Evangelical make-up as of the year 2000.

U. S. METRO AREA

TOTAL EVANGELICAL PERCENTAGE

EVANGELICAL CHURCH TO POPULATION RATIO

Provo-Orem, Utah 0.6% 1:18,427
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 1.5% 1:9640
Barnstable-Yarmouth, Massachusetts 1.5% 1:8889
Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket, Rhode Island 1.7% 1:8230
Springfield, Massachusetts 1.9% 1:9814
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA 2.3% 1:8517
Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah 2.3% 1:9808
Boston-Worcester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, Massachusetts 2.5% 1:7786
New London-Norwich, Connecticut 2.5% 1:6477
Hartford, Connecticut 2.7% 1:7557
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York 2.7% 1:5837
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania 2.8% 1:6577
Burlington, Vermont 2.9% 1:6630
Dubuque, Iowa 3.1% 1:6857
Glens Falls, New York 3.1% 1:4288
Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazelton, Pennsylvania 3.1% 1:4733
Utica-Rome, New York 3.4% 1:4837
Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE 3.6% 1:5704
Syracuse, New York 3.7% 1:5049
Bangor, Maine 3.8% 1:3535
Portland, Maine 3.8% 1:4580
Laredo, Texas 3.9% 1:4598
Reading, Pennsylvania 4% 1:4018
Rochester, New York 4.1% 1:5084
Binghamton, New York 4.4% 1:3504
Reno, Nevada 4.6% 1:4715
Salinas, California 4.7% 1:3686
Lewiston-Auburn, Maine 5% 1:4152
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 5% 1:3978

Now, I want to draw your attention to a few matters:

1) No, that is not a typo in the row for the Provo-Orem, Utah area.  Yes, 0.6% is the correct number, with one Evangelical church for every 18,000+ people. 

2) Aside from the two areas in Utah, the metro areas of the U.S. with a 3% or less Evangelical concentration are all found in the Northeastern part of the country. 

3) Dubuque, Iowa is just over 3% Evangelical….Dubuque??? Where in the world is Dubuque?  The point:  even in the nation’s heartland, there are places where Evangelicals are rare. 

4) Yes, Laredo, Texas came in at 3.9%.  But I thought Texas was a Big Five-Pointed (no reference to Calvinism) Star Buckle in the Bible Belt?  Hummm….Interesting.

Are you looking for a U.S. urban place to spend your life, making an impact for the Kingdom?  Are you wanting to lead your church to be involved in urban work in the States?  If so, I would encourage you to consider looking first to the major U.S. Metro areas with low percentages of Evangelicals.

What are your thoughts?  What do you see when you look over the table posted here?  What are the implications on how you will live as a Kingdom Citizen?

20 Responses to “Least Evangelical U.S. Metro Areas”

  1. sgillesp

    I’m serving in the Northeast, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’ll find the lowest percentage of Evangelical churches here. But what DOES surprise me is your limiting “churched” people to those who’ve had a “born-again experience.” I would rather you had looked for those who “follow Jesus” – since He said that many times and only told someone they had to be “born again” once! Of course, that would complicate your statistical work, since it seems to me there are people who follow Jesus in many kinds of churches – and people who don’t seem to follow him at all who populate Evangelical ones. In the Northeast, the Spirit is at work, even in Catholic churches and mainline churches, and there are many who are quite alive in Christ who may not identify themselves as meeting your standard.

  2. New England Church Planter here. God is doing some great things in the Hartford/Springfield area. These two cities are only 30 minutes apart and need the gospel desperately. I have a buddy who is planting a church in Springfield, MA (thecitywithin.org) and I am planting in Hartford, CT (redeemerhill.org). I know of another solid man planting in New Haven, CT and two guys up in Amherst MA area. There are somethings happening that make us hopeful for New England!

  3. J.D.

    Thank you, Joe for sharing this encouraging news about what the Lord is doing! May your tribes increase!

  4. J.D.

    Thanks Susan for sharing. You are correct that true believers exist in non-Evangelical groups. And I would add that there are Evangelicals who are not true believers. But when you are attempting to study 300 million people in the third largest country in the world, you have to have a bench-mark on which to focus.
    I would add that biblically speaking if someone is a follower of Jesus then he or she has been born again (or what is known as regeneration by the Holy Spirit). I would also direct you to the section of my report as to why I look at Evangelicals. See http://www.northamericanmissions.org/?q=node/525

  5. You make a great case for church planting in New England and the broader Northeast. Even by the standards of global missions, those places could be considered unreached. Maybe some African or Asian brothers should apply for missionary visas to come plant churches in New England?

    Also, I think it is interesting to note that the percent evangelical in Provo-Orem, Utah (0.6%) is only ever so slightly higher than percent evangelical in Thailand (0.54%), a Buddhist nation.

    2009 Thai Church Statistics (http://dahlfred.com/en/blogs/gleanings-from-the-field/334-2009-thai-church-statistics)

  6. J.D.

    You make some great points, Karl.

  7. Thank you so much for your work! This is what I have been looking for. We are still trying to decide whether to go to Mormonland, the Northeast, or Ireland/UK. We would love to talk with any evangelicals currently in UT or ID, especially those with schoolage children.

  8. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton (bilingual/multicultural ministry) church planter here. J.D. thank you for the great job in showing us that what at one time was the hub of Christian worker preparation (US Northeast) has become the most unreached part of our nation. Did you know that the story of redemption began at the garden of Eden(suburbia) and finished at the New Jerusalem (the city)? Stories of transformation and restoration are taking places in the Lehigh Velley. The harvest is ready, where are the workers? Lord send them!!! Follow his call!

  9. Hi JD-
    You are to be commended for taking on such a task as this but as a mainline church member I am somewhat offended at your characterizations. Evangelical Christianity, while very energetic, is also the brand of Christianity that is probably most often tagged with ‘judgmental’ – when polls are done by non-Christians and other Christians, and your post is probably a big reason why. It is one thing to try to find the ‘least reached’ area of the country, but when you classify ‘least reached’ as only those who have your same theological leanings, doesn’t that sound a bit judgmental? Why only include evangelical churches? Please try to be a bit kinder to other sheep in the flock, we too love Jesus and want to bring others to Him, but just because we don’t call ourselves Evangelical does not mean we don’t know Jesus.
    Your brother in Christ, Chris Yaw

  10. JD

    Thanks, Chris, for writing.

    Have you read the report that corresponds to the Power Point presentation? It is there that I explain my reason for using Evangelicals as a benchmark for research purposes. I have mainline friends that I find as kindred spirits, theologically. And yes, as I note in the report, I am not saying that only Evangelicals (to use your quote) “love Jesus and want to bring others to Him.”

  11. JD,
    Thanks for posting this info! The “buzz” that I have been hearing for the last year or so is that the New England area is the least churched area in the U.S. The call has gone out and I have met several church planters that have responded- I see that some commented here, hallelujah!
    I serve with CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) and we are targeting many of those cities on your list for Good News Across America. We went to Boston last year and are going to Salt Lake this year and D.C. next year. God is definitely raising up people to reach the lost in these areas!

  12. JD

    Thanks, Jeff for sharing. This is great news! Keep up the great work.

  13. Mike from New England

    I think what you are all forgetting here is that there are many of us who simply don’t believe and don’t want to be preached to. I am culturally Christian, though not a Christian by choice. That is my Right as an American and as a human being. You seem to labor under the illusion that I, and many like me, are lost and in need of salvation. I don’t begrudge you your beliefs, I wish you would not begrudge us ours.

  14. JD

    Thank you, Mike, for your post. I would love to talk with you about your concerns. Feel free to email me at jpayne@sbts.edu, if you are interested.

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