From its place in schools, to the public square, to people’s individual lives, the current and future role of the Bible in U.S. society is an often-debated topic. A new release from Barna Group shows how this debate plays out regionally and takes a look at how 96 of the largest cities in the nation view the Bible.
The report ranks the most and least “Bible-minded” cities by looking at how people in those cities view the Bible. The study is based on 42,855 interviews conducted nationwide and the analysis of Bible trends was commissioned by American Bible Society. Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded. This definition captures action and attitude—those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures. The rankings thus reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in the country’s largest markets.
Regionally, the South still qualifies as the most Bible-minded. The top ranking cities, where at least half of the population qualifies as Bible-minded, are all Southern cities. This includes the media markets for Knoxville, TN (52% of the population are Bible-minded), Shreveport, LA (52%), Chattanooga, TN (52%), Birmingham, AL (50%), and Jackson, MS (50%). Other markets in the top 10 include Springfield, MO (49%), Charlotte, NC (48%), Lynchburg, VA (48%), Huntsville-Decatur, AL (48%), and Charleston, WV (47%).
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Least Bible-Minded Cities
The least Bible-oriented markets include a mix of regions, but tend to be from the New England area. Easily the lowest Bible-minded scores came from Providence, RI (9%) and Albany, NY (10%). To put this in perspective, the most Bible-minded markets are five times more likely to have residents who qualify as Bible-minded than is true in these two Northeastern cities.
Though these two cities are the most extreme, none of the cities in the bottom 10 break 20%, where even one in five people could be considered Bible-minded. The New England area is home to most of the markets in the bottom 10 Bible-minded cities, including Burlington, VT (16%), Portland, ME (16%), Hartford, CT (16%), Boston, MA (16%), Buffalo, NY (18%) and New York, NY (18%).
The remaining markets in the bottom 10 are primarily in the West and include San Francisco, CA (16%), Phoenix, AZ (17%), and Las Vegas, NV (18%). Cedar Rapids, IA (18%) being something of an outlier.
See where your city ranks. See all 96 cities here.
On trend with much of the New England area, cities within the state of New York were on the lower end of the Bible-minded rankings. As for patterns in the three other most populous states, the research reveals the following.
- Florida: Though in the South, most of the major cities on the peninsula rank near the bottom middle of Bible-minded cities, including West Palm Beach (28%, ranked 53rd out of 96 markets), Tampa-St. Petersburg (27%, rank: 57), Orlando (25%, rank: 64), and Miami (24%, rank: 70). The exceptions to these patterns are in the northern part of the state, including Pensacola / Mobile (45%, rank: 13) and Jacksonville (41%, rank: 20). These two cities are more on trend with other Southern states and likely reflect more of a native Floridian or Southern population and fewer transplants than the Southern Florida cities.
- California: In addition to San Francisco being among the lowest rated, most of the major California cities are in the bottom third of the rankings. The Los Angeles media market represents a pretty normal range for California cities with 24% of the residents being Bible-minded (ranking 68th out of 96 cities,). San Diego (24%, rank: 74), Sacramento (24%, rank: 72), and Fresno / Visalia (25%, rank: 66) were also bunched in the same range. Bakersfield, CA stood out as being among the most Bible-minded cities in the Pacific states (39%, rank: 26).
- Texas: As part of the traditional “Bible belt,” Texas stayed fairly true to trend, with most of it’s major cities ranking in the top half of Bible-minded cities. Dallas / Fort Worth ranked as the top Bible-minded city in Texas (38% Bible-minded, ranking at 27th) over San Antonio (36%, rank: 33), Houston (32%, rank: 39) and Austin (29%, rank: 48). Notable exceptions to the Bible-mindedness of Texas cities were Harlingen / Weslaco / McAllen / Brownsville (28%, rank: 56), Waco (27%, 59), and most significantly El Paso (23%, rank: 80). These exceptions are likely a result of these markets having a higher percentage of Hispanic Catholics, who are less likely to engage the Bible.
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Among the nation’s largest 30 cities, 10 of them are in the top half of the Bible-minded market rankings, while 20 of them are in the bottom half. Generally speaking, the more densely populated areas tend to be less Bible oriented. Only three of the most Bible-minded cities are among the largest 30 cities—Charlotte (7th), Nashville, TN (14th) and Raleigh / Durham, NC (22nd). The other 22 top Bible-minded markets have fewer than 1 million households.
Still, among the largest markets there are many more relatively Bible-minded cities, including Dallas / Fort Worth (27th), Atlanta (28th), Indianapolis (32nd), Houston (39th), St. Louis (41st), Cleveland (43rd) and Detroit (46th).
Philadelphia (28%, rank: 52) is among the most Bible-minded cities along the eastern seaboard, ranking slightly higher than the aforementioned Northeastern cities as well as Washington, DC (25%, rank: 63) and Baltimore (26%, rank: 60).
Chicago is the nation’s third largest city, and while it tends to be a bastion of many evangelical organizations, ranks between New York and Los Angeles in terms of Bible-mindedness (23%, rank: 76th). Colorado Springs, CO, which is also home to many Christian organizations, is right in the middle of the pack (29%, rank: 51st). By comparison, Denver is ranked lower (71st) with about one in four individual’s qualifying as Bible-minded (24%).
In the Northwest portion of the country, the cities are all fairly similar, with about a quarter of the population being Bible-minded, including most notably Portland OR (25%, rank: 65thand Seattle, WA (24%, rank: 69th).
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, suggested several implications of the Bible-minded research.
First, the large range of Bible-minded scores—from 52% in the highest markets to 9% in the lowest—shows just how diverse the nation’s population can be, from city to city. The rankings reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible, and in some markets half or more of the population claim to be open, while in other areas the proportion that is open to the Bible is more like one in ten adults. These gaps make a significant difference in the tone and tenor of conversations about Christianity, morals, public education, and spirituality, among many other topics.
Second, although there are outliers—cities in which the Bible-minded rankings are significantly above- or below-average—the overall picture that is painted depends on one’s vantage point. The least sanguine way to analyze the results would be to emphasize the lack of Bible-mindedness in America; in 91 out of 96 markets a majority of the residents are not Bible minded.
However, a more optimistic way to view those markets would be to look at those cities with at least one-fifth Bible-mindedness—meaning those areas where at least one out of five adults are open to engaging and esteeming the Bible. Among some researchers, this proportion—20%—is often thought to be something of a social or technological “tipping point” (for example, once one in five people had mobile phones, the momentum toward more people owning mobile phones began to grow exponentially). In this analysis, 83 out of 96 cities in the U.S. have at least 20% of their residents qualifying as Bible-minded. Christian leaders should recognize that most of the major cities in the nation continue to have basis for biblical engagement among a significant share of the population.
As ministry leaders in particular, it’s important to keep both vantage points in tension. Whether you live in a city ranked in the top half of Bible-minded cities or in the bottom half of Bible-minded cities, there are still tens of thousands of people to reach regarding both the message of the Scriptures and their importance. However, no matter what type of city you live in, there is also a significant remnant of Bible-minded individuals. The key is to not merely “preach to those insiders” but instead to equip and empower those who do believe with a strong and relevant message to take out into their communities, vocations and spheres of influence. They are the tipping point and can have great influence on the greater city.
This article and infographic are part of a larger initiative of Barna Group to measure and track the nation’s faith by city and by state. This report is based on 42,855 interviews conducted between 2005 and 2012. More information about the Barna: Cities effort is available here. The Bible-minded rankings have been commissioned by American Bible Society, the go-to source for all things Bible (www.americanbible.org).
To read more about the faith views, demographics and general market trends in U.S. cities and states, order a copy of your city or state report.