American Religiosity and You
Gallup's latest state by state breakdown has few surprises. But how does it impact you?

Gallup's latest State of the States research is in. There are no real surprises here for religion analysts, with Bible Belt states ranking highest in religious engagement, and the top corners of the U.S. (New England and Cascadia) ranking lowest. (If that ever changes, trust us...we'll tell you.) But as you glance through this research, consider what the statistics aren't showing you.

For Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport's video analysis, click here.

These numbers are familiar, with only minor changes from recent years. But the bird's eye view they give us can make it easy to miss their impact on ministry.

As an example, my native state (Oregon) is tied with Rhode Island for fifth least religious state, which sounds about right. But having lived in multiple settings across the state, I've seen ministry dynamics change dramatically after a drive of only a few miles.

As well, while few Oregonians identify as "very religious," if you changed the term to "very spiritual," the numbers would go through the roof. Sure, our spiritual culture is vastly different from, say, suburban Illinois, but it exists, and it is not always as hostile to the church as stereotypes would tell us.

The numbers are useful, but they don't tell the whole story. So, I want to hear from you.

Please respond in the comments with your take on how Gallup's numbers look from the ground in your region.

What dynamics are at play?

What do you feel are the pressing challenges to ministry in your neighborhood?

If you're in New England or the Northwest, how do you relate to a largely post-Christian culture?

If you're in the Bible Belt, what challenges do you face?

If you're somewhere in between, how would you describe your religious climate?

February 20, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 12 comments

Michael Snow

March 09, 2013  11:58am

I suspect that the top ranked states would sink rapidly if Spurgeon's criteria of Christian living were added to the questions.

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Mandy Principato

March 06, 2013  1:21pm

I agree with Mario Torres, we need to take to heart the Great Commission. Although this is the verse most people concentrate on when they think about missions, they're are many more. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation God is a mission God. We can see all the back in Genesis when God tells Abram to "go." And the call doesn't stop with us. We are all waiting for the second coming og Christ and more then halfthe world has never heard of the first. The thing I think we forget somethimes is that our nation is a nation too. Going overseas is awesome and I saw God at work in my life through some many different experiences, but just because I am back in the US doesn't mean I stop teaching about the Gospel. If we can not walk across the street and share God's love with our neighbors then what are we doing? Our lives are mission fields!

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Mario Torres

February 24, 2013  2:01pm

We need to concentrate and the Great Commission. "Go, Teach, Baptize and Preach." If we just concentrate on preaching Him and Him crucified, He promises to draw every man unto Him. The reason we are seeing a decrease in religiosity in America is because we are doing a poor job in fulfilling the great commission.

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John W Brandkamp

February 23, 2013  10:57pm

In my 48 years on this planet, I've lived in four locations here in the US: NYC (Staten Island, to be precise, in my childhood and early adulthood), North Carolina as a teen, Holland, Michigan for college and working for Christian retail, and now in the North Shore of Boston for the last 3 1/2 years. Staten Island, though it's in NYC, is a religious outlier, since it's the Bible Belt of NYC in one sense, yet also a very tough territory for evangelism. The churches that succeed there know how to speak to an urban community with those unique challenges and needs. The gospel can speak to the city. My short stay in NC was strange to say the least. Though almost everyone self identified as "Christian" most of the folks I knew never attended church (including us btw). Being Christian was conflated with being southern. In other words, I was born here, therefore I'm a Christian. I even heard a strong defense of the Klan by my uncle's coworker at a cookout we attended. I was blown away that anyone still thought that way. But still, the gospel can speak to the country. Then I went to college in Western Michigan and lived in the Christian subculture for 12 years. Both in the church sense, but also in the Christian retail sense, since I worked for a Christian bookstore for several years. Like the south, in Western Michigan it's assumed that you're Christian unless you say otherwise. And I would say this made any evangelism especially hard, because so many assumptions went into what it meant to "be" Christian, culturally, politically, economically, etc., that it was the "hardest ground" spiritually I've ever seen. Yet, even in this, the gospel can speak to "Christianized" communities. Now that I live in the supposedly "least religious" area of New England just north of Boston, though admittedly shaped by my connection with GCTS (a holy bubble I struggle with), I've found that this area is surprisingly spiritually vibrant with many opportunities available for gospel work. So yes, the gospel can definitely speak to a secular area like mine. One of the things that seems to jump out at me from these polls from various Christian organizations is how much they presuppose a Christendom model for their framework. They assume cultural dominance as the norm. That's a real problem. First and foremost because that's NOT what scripture, especially the New Testament witness, attest to in its own account of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. It's starkly counter-cultural. Christianity, if it's to remain true to its origins, must ALWAYS be inherently counter-cultural and biblically based, guided by the historic teaching of the church in all her strengths and weaknesses.

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February 23, 2013  1:32pm

I live in NorCal.

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February 23, 2013  12:36pm

Private or government funded, one still wonders who actually pays for polls and why. It seems to me that an awful lot of money is thrown around to buy useless information these days and it seems like an awful lot of the posts here are based on some sort of poll. I'm trying to picture Jesus (or the first century church) commissioning a poll to see how religious people of the day were- like they didn't already know. They just got out there and preached. Marketing was just not part of the mix. Sometimes I think the Evangelical Church is the most self over-analyzed entity in the world.

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February 22, 2013  11:42pm

I live in a major metro area on the West Coast. We don't expect anyone we meet casually to be a Christian. Spiritual yes, Christian uh no. Usually there's a story behind their rejection of organized religion and if you are willing to listen, you'll often agree that it was justified. Part of it is materialism. And part is that there's little cultural or familial emphasis. In my Sunday school class of 60 people, only 3 of us had devoutly Christian parents.

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February 22, 2013  11:55am

Being from Oregon, I would have to say that it's difficult to frame the question to get a good answer about spirituality. I live in a small town and find that we have two shops that deal with beads, stones and crystals for spiritual enlightenment. Yet some well recognized religious organizations are having trouble getting enough people to be able to have a building. Many small groups have a store front church for a little while and then disappear. I grew up in a large city, but now two old church building are being used for religious meeting places you would not expect. One a Hindo temple and the other a Buddhist church. When Paul preached in Athens he remarked, " I see you are very religious (superstitious)" . I would have to agree that her in the Great North West we are very superstitious.

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Paul Pastor

February 22, 2013  8:23am

@ elegance - My understanding is that Gallup is a private company. @ Tom - Thanks for the insight. I think a lot of ministers could relate to the "I belong to" response, and unfortunately, to the spotty engagement with the church body. @ sheerahkhan - What region of the country are you in?

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February 21, 2013  8:45pm

"Who pays the Gallup organization to take polls?" Now that is a very good question! " My take-away from most experiences is that many people in my area still see church membership as "fire insurance" and not a path of discipleship." My sentiment as well.

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