Answer: In casual conversations, I’ve heard the following cities mentioned as being among the least churched cities, aka most unchurched cities, in the United States: Seattle, Miami, San Francisco, New York City, Salt Lake City, Portland, Philadelphia, even Reno. Curiously, a comprehensive list wasn’t easy to find using a search phrase like “least churched cities“; a few more results did show using a search on “most unchurched cities“. Here’s what relevant data I could find about the least churched cities and the unchurched:
- The American Church Research Project has a book, DVD, and a bunch of presentations for purchase, including ones for each of the largest 90 metropolitan areas. 10 presentations available for free.
- This list of Church Planting Hotspots (via PCA – Presbyterian Churches in America) and The North American Mission Board (Southern Baptists) have a list of strategic focus cities. AVC (Vineyard) had this 1997 list of hot spots [Word .DOC format].
- Charting the unchurched in America (USA Today, 2002) cites the ARIS – American Religious Identification Survey, which lists the most non-religious states as Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming, surpassing Oregon and Washington. This list is by percentage rather than population count.
- America’s Most Sinful Cities (Forbes Magazine, 2008)
- The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has some great visuals, maps, and charts.
- Free resources for Contextualization / Demographics from newchurches.com
- “Only 1 percent of the population in the Northeast is Baptist… population centers include New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington. ‘Those cities and the countryside that surrounds them make up “the most unchurched 25 percent of the American population…’ (The most unchurched 25 percent, 2001)
- This student church planters research project in 2006 looked promising, as they set out to produce lists of the most unchurched places.
- Annotated North American Church Planting Bibliography (Updated April 2009, by Ed Stetzer)
The 1000s of church leaders gathering at the Exponential Conference – National New Church Conference (Orlando, April 2010) probably have the answer, the lists, and more data than you can imagine. Until then, we’ll keep on the search.
Can you help? Add a comment and make the the definitive list of the top unchurched cities more available to the masses!
Cities with the largest share of unchurched adults (polled as: had not been to a religious worship service in the last 6 months):
- San Francisco (44%)
- Portland, Maine (43%)
- Portland, Oregon (42%)
- Albany (42%)
- Boston (40%)
- Sacramento (40%)
- Seattle (40%)
- Spokane (39%)
- New York (38%)
- Phoenix (38%)
- Tucson (37%)
- West Palm Beach (37%)
Cities with lowest share of self-identified Christians:
- 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%)
- Denver (78%)
[cf. February 2010 Gallup Poll results for church attendance by state. 10 states with lowest church attendance: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington]
[update May 2011] Using a number of sources (U.S. Census, the yellow pages, the number of volunteers, the amount of money donated to religious organizations and spent on religious books), Men’s Health Metrogrades identified these 10 (out of 100) cities as the least religious:
- Miami, FL
- Newark, NJ
- Manchester, NH
- Fargo, ND
- Jersey City, NJ
- Portland, ME
- Hartford, CT
- Boston, MA
- Providence, RI
- Burlington, VT
// [Update April 2015: via Barna Group’s What Are the Least Churched Cities in the U.S.?]
Barna’s definition of churchless and unchurched = Respondents who say they have not attended church within the past six months are classified as “Churchless.” //