April 24, 2015—The U.S. has a reputation for being exceptionally religious—and it is true that, historically speaking, churchgoing has played an outsized role in American identity. Still, millions of Americans have little to no connection to local congregations.
Currently, about four in 10 U.S. adults qualify as “unchurched” under Barna’s definition (38%). Unchurched adults have not attended a church service, except for a holiday or special occasion, at any time within the past six months.
Churched and unchurched adults are not evenly distributed across the country. Church attendance varies widely from city to city and region to region. Many cities outpace the overall U.S. population when it comes to church avoidance.
For example, the San Francisco metro area tops the list of America’s most churchless cities: Six in 10 Bay Area residents meet the Barna definition of unchurched (61%). A full list of the nation’s largest metro media markets is shown below, ranked by unchurched population.
Barna tracks not only overall churchlessness, but also what proportion of unchurched adults are “dechurched”—that is, who used to attend regularly but have not attended at all in the past six months—and what proportion are “never churched”—meaning they have never in their lives regularly attended a church. Among the general U.S. population, 29% are considered dechurched and 9% are never churched, for a combined total of 38% unchurched. (For a deeper dive into the substantial differences between these two groups, read Churchless by George Barna and David Kinnaman.)
While San Francisco is number one overall when it comes to churchless residents, it ranks sixth on the never-churched list (14%), outpaced by:
- West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL (17%)
- Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo, CA (16%)
- New York, NY (15%)
- Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, TX (15%)
- Chico-Redding, CA (15%)
However, the California Bay Area takes the top spot when it comes to dechurched adults (48%), ahead of:
- Seattle-Tacoma, WA (44%)
- Portland-Auburn, ME (43%)
- Boston-Manchester, MA (42%)
- Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY (41%)
About the Research
The data reported in this table are based upon telephone and online interviews with nationwide random samples of 62,896 adults conducted over a ten year period, ending in August 2014. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±0.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Respondents who say they have not attended church within the past six months are classified as “Churchless.”
The data 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 just 117 of them. Those are the areas in which we had a sufficient number of completed surveys with people from a given market (a minimum of 150 or more).
About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, Barna Research Group) 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.
If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org).
© Barna Group, 2015.