In times of trouble, many people often wonder, “Oh, God. Where are you when I need you most?”
But with the nation facing drastic financial and social challenges in recent years, a new study ranking American support for the Holy Bible reveals an astounding 91 out of 96 U.S. cities – a whopping 95 percent – are not “Bible-minded.”
The study by the California-based Barna Group on behalf of the American Bible Society is based on 42,855 nationwide interviews, and defines “Bible-minded” people as individuals who typically read the Bible each week and who strongly assert Scripture is accurate in the principles it teaches.
Authors of the report say the definition captures action and attitude – those who both engage and esteem the Christian Scriptures, reflecting an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in the country’s largest markets.
“The overall picture that is painted depends on one’s vantage point,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. “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.”
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But for those who prefer to look on the bright side, Kinnaman explains, “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.”
He continued: “Among some researchers, this proportion – 20 percent – 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 percent 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.”
The study ranks the top markets for Bible-mindedness, and not surprisingly, the South, known for years as the Bible belt, is at the top of the list.
Knoxville, Tenn., Shreveport, La. and Chattanooga, Tenn., all have 52 percent of their respective populations being Bible-minded.
They’re followed by Birmingham, Ala. (50 percent), Jackson, Miss. (50 percent), Springfield, Mo. (49 percent), Charlotte, N.C. (48 percent), Lynchburg, Va. (48 percent), Huntsville-Decatur, Ala. (48 percent) and Charleston, W.V. (47 percent).
The least Bible-oriented markets tend to be from the Northeast, especially the New England area.
The lowest score came from Providence, R.I. at just 9 percent. Ironically, the city’s name actually refers to God’s divine providence. Albany, N.Y., is next from the bottom at 10 percent.
Putting 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 percent, 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, including Burlington, Vt. (16 percent), Portland, Maine (16 percent), Hartford, Conn. (16 percent), Boston, Mass. (16 percent), Buffalo, N.Y. (18 percent) and New York City (18 percent).
The remaining markets in the bottom 10 are primarily in the West and include San Francisco (16 percent), Phoenix, Ariz., (17 percent), and Las Vegas (18 percent).
The study found some notable patterns.
- 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.
- 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 percent, 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, D.C. (25 percent, rank: 63) and Baltimore (26 percent, 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 percent, rank: 76th). Colorado Springs, Colo., which is also home to many Christian organizations, is right in the middle of the pack (29 percent, rank: 51st). By comparison, Denver is ranked lower (71st) with about one in four individual’s qualifying as Bible-minded (24 percent).
- 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 percent, rank: 65th and Seattle, WA (24 percent, rank: 69th).
- In 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 percent, ranked 53rd out of 96 markets), Tampa-St. Petersburg (27 percent, rank: 57), Orlando (25 percent, rank: 64), and Miami (24 percent, rank: 70). The exceptions to these patterns are in the northern part of the state, including Pensacola / Mobile (45 percent, rank: 13) and Jacksonville (41 percent, 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.
- In 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 percent of the residents being Bible-minded (ranking 68th out of 96 cities,). San Diego (24 percent, rank: 74), Sacramento (24 percent, rank: 72), and Fresno / Visalia (25 percent, 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 percent, rank: 26).
- In 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 percent Bible-minded, ranking at 27th) over San Antonio (36 percent, rank: 33), Houston (32 percent, rank: 39) and Austin (29 percent, rank: 48). Notable exceptions to the Bible-mindedness of Texas cities were Harlingen / Weslaco / McAllen / Brownsville (28 percent, rank: 56), Waco (27 percent, rank: 59), and most significantly El Paso (23 percent, 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.
The Barna Group study is already getting varied reaction online.
“I think that it is interesting that you used the term ‘Bible-minded’ as opposed to Christian. I’m assuming that is because you, like me, acknowledge that those are two different things. ‘Bible-minded’ areas have more assault rifles, more venereal disease, fewer college graduates, more poverty, and if it were not for the Civil War would probably still have slaves, had to have integration forced upon them. In short, some of the most ‘Bible-minded’ states (like Mississippi) are the least Christian,” said Keith Johnston.
But Robert Netterville responded, “Having grown up in the Deep South (Mississippi to be exact), I will simply say that Christianity is a cultural phenomenon. It is one thing to hold a mental high regard for the sacred but another to live it out. As a Baptist pastor in the South, I will acknowledge that many people have a shallow affinity for the Bible but have not had a life-changing experience (born again) with Jesus Christ. The South is going the way of the North as we continue to slip into a godless country. There was a day when the northern brethren of the faith believed the Bible, too. Gone are the days of ‘In God We Trust.’”