America’s Most and Least ‘Biblically-Minded’ Cities

The Story: A new report from Barna Group ranks how 96 of the largest cities in the nation on how they view the Bible.

The Background: The study, based on 42,855 interviews conducted nationwide, attempts to determine the overall openness or resistance to the Bible in the country’s largest markets. The report ranks the most and least “Bible-minded” cities based both on weekly Bible reading and who strongly asserts the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.

The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:

• The top ranking cities, where at least half of the population qualifies as Bible-minded, are all Southern cities.

• The least Bible-oriented markets include a mix of regions, but tend to be from the New England area.

• 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.

• Markets having a higher percentage of Hispanic Catholics are less likely to engage the Bible.

• The cities with the highest percentage of the population being defined as ‘Bible-minded’ are:

1. Knoxville, TN (52%)
2. Shreveport, LA (52%)
3. Chattanooga, TN (52%)
4. Birmingham, AL (50%)
5. Jackson, MS (50%).
6. Springfield, MO (49%)
7. Charlotte, NC (48%)
8. Lynchburg, VA (48%)
9. Huntsville-Decatur, AL (48%)
10. Charleston, WV (47%)

• The cities with the lowest percentage of the population being defined as ‘Bible-minded’ are:

85. New York, NY (18%)
86. Las Vegas, NV (18%)
87. Buffalo, NY (18%)
88. Cedar Rapids, IA (18%)
89. Phoenix, AZ (17%)
90. San Francisco, CA (16%)
91. Boston, MA (16%)
92. Hartford, CT (16%)
93. Portland, ME (16%)
94. Burlington, VT (16%)
95. Albany, NY (10%)
96. Providence, RI (9%)

An infographic listing all 96 cities can be found here.

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  • Michael Cooper

    Joe, what I find interesting is in 1638 Roger Williams planted the first baptist church on American soil in Providence, RI. Now, it is the least Biblically minded city. It reminds me of a familiar trait found throughout Europe. Cities and towns that were once strong in Biblical history are in decline.

    • Joe Carter

      That’s a great point. I didn’t even make that connection or recognize the irony of a town called ‘Providence’ not being “Biblically-minded.”

  • Ben

    I would have liked this piece to end with your typical “Why it Matters” section, Joe, cause I don’t really see why it does at all.

    • Joe Carter

      On surveys and studies, I usually like to leave off the “Why It Matters” section for two reasons: (1) They are usually broad enough that the reader can find a ‘Why It Matters’ angle that is likely to be either obvious or better than what I could come up with, and (2) It’s easy for me to overinterpret the results.

      For example, some of the reasons I personally think it matter is because being “Biblically-minded” (a good concept with a terrible name) seems to be limited, at least in cities, to the South and to the less populous metropolitan areas. In some ways it’s not surprising, but it is still a rather stunning fact. When most of America lives in cities, and most people in cities do not read the Bible and believe it is true, it has significant ramifications for the church and culture.

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    Minneapolis/St Paul is all the way down at #81.

    Get to work, Piper!!!

    • Darwin

      Maybe that’s why he’s working there..

  • Jin Kim

    14And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”…..18Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19

    You never know where God has His people hidden and working.

  • James Ruddy

    See Justin Ruddy’s related post at the Center for Gospel Culture:

    • Joe Carter

      Good post. I especially agree with this point: “A lack of bible-mindedness is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. “

  • Scott B

    This is a really interesting post! I wonder how this list would correspond to level of education?

  • Darren Blair

    If the Waco / Temple / Killeen metroplex here in Texas came in at #59 (the region is home to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, a *very* religious private college) and Salt Lake City came in at #87, then I’d really, seriously like to see what the questions were and what the evaluation criteria was.

    • Joe Carter

      ***If the Waco / Temple / Killeen metroplex here in Texas came in at #59***

      Actually, Barna lists it as the Waco / Temple / Bryan area. I think that helps explain the lower levels of Bible-reading. The Bryan–College Station metropolitan area is home to Texas A&M, and as any Longhorn fan can tell you, Aggies don’t know how to read. ; )

      As for Salt Lake City, it could be that Mormons don’t really read the Bible on a weekly basis. Anyone more familiar with Mormons know if that’s the case?

      • Darren Blair

        I *am* a Mormon, actually.

        And believe it or not, the church regards the Bible as part of the canon.

        The church leadership encourages the laity to read the entire canon as often as possible, preferably once a day *minimum*.

        In fact, I’ve actually read it more times than some of the counter-cult types who have come out to “save” me over the years.

        • Joe Carter

          Yeah, I knew you were a Mormon—but I thought you were a Texas Mormon not a Utah Mormon.

          And while the LDS church considers the Bible part of the canon, Catholics consider the Bible to be *the* canon—and they still have low levels of Bible-reading.

          But the question had to be some variation of “Do you read the Bible every week?” so the results have to be somewhat accurate since it is based on direct response to the survey.

          • Darren Blair

            Not necessarily.

            While going for my undergrad, I took a course in survey design & administration.

            You’d be surprised how easy it is for a person to muck up a survey.

            Near the top of the list is “failure to ask appropriate questions”.

            In this case, it could be that they had a series of questions concerning such topics as the literalness & completeness of the Bible and weighed them against how often a person reads it. Such questions might be fair if they were assuming a Protestant majority in each of the places where they conducted the survey, but would skew the results in a heavily Mormon community or Catholic community. This would be especially true if they presumed a hardline, “God dropped the KJV down from Heaven” approach to writing the questions.

            Given this, I think they ought to publish the list of questions they used, the number of people contacted in each metropolitan area, and just how they decided to arrange each area (for example, Bryan / College Station is far enough away from the Waco / Temple / Killeen metroplex and shares so few cultural or physical ties beyond “they’re in Texas” to be considered its own metroplex area).

  • Sean

    Looking at this list I’d like to see somebody juxtapose the categories “biblically-minded” and “racist.” When will we get past the idea that numbers on a survey have any sincere relevance to what the Kingdom really looks like?

    • Collin Hansen

      What an odd response, since the most “Bible-minded” cities tend to have one major trait in common: very high percentages of African Americans. Those of us who live in these cities know that’s why they top the list.

  • Joe Carter

    ***Looking at this list I’d like to see somebody juxtapose the categories “biblically-minded” and “racist.” ***

    Why in the world do you think there would be any correlation? Many of the cities in the top 10 have large numbers of African Americans. Are you implying that Southern blacks are more prone to being racist?

    ***When will we get past the idea that numbers on a survey have any sincere relevance to what the Kingdom really looks like?***

    They obviously have some relevance. If people in an area have little regard for God’s Word they aren’t likely to be building God’s Kingdom.

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  • Joel Avery

    Without seeing the questions, I can’t be sure I’m understanding the survey, but I thought their definition of “Bible-minded” was interesting: “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 brought two thoughts to mind: if we’re to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”, this suggests that much more than simple Bible *mindedness* is at play in Christianity.

    Secondly, the survey (apparently) presents the Bible as a set of principles, and asks people whether they agree with those principles or not. That’s a very specific and limited way to look at the Bible. There are a host of orthodox ways of engaging the Bible that don’t treat it like a set of principles. To limit regard for the Bible to this specific way of regarding the Bible might limit the insights the survey can offer.

    Given the legacy of Carl F. H. Henry on Evangelical Christianity (holding the Bible to be inerrant, regarding all truth as propositional, and Christian doctrine as “the theorems derived from the axioms of revelation”), I wonder if a survey that seems to follow in Henry’s assumptions doesn’t simply tell is where the Evangelicals are.

    If that’s the case, this might be a good mapping of where Evangelical Christianity is dominant, but I don’t think there are any surprises here.

    What do you think? Do think their starting place is adequate? Do you think there’s helpful information here?

    • Darren Blair

      It’s like I mentioned in my above comments:

      If the people who did the survey were approaching the concept of “being Biblically-minded” from the POV of an Evangelical Protestant, then it’s possible that they wrote their questions and set their criteria in such a fashion as to *only* pick up other Evangelical Protestants; they would need to make public the questions used and the weighting rubric in order to know for sure.

      Absent this data, there are simply too many irregularities in the results to permit anyone to take it at face value.

  • Bob Sawyer

    Why does it matter? Because it helps folks in Knoxville know how to pray for folks in Providence.

  • Darren Blair

    I just looked over the list again.

    Phoenix, Arizona, came in at #89.

    Isn’t Phoenix predominantly Catholic?

    If so, then that’s another argument against the survey’s relevance; it’s shaping up to be “map of Evangelical leanings” rather than a “map of Biblical-mindedness”.

    • Joe Carter

      Why is that an argument against the survey? Ask any Catholic and they’ll admit that most Catholics don’t read the Bible weekly.

      • Darren Blair

        *Have you* spoken with anyone Catholic lately?

        As it is, the evidence is slowly becoming clear that the survey was skewed somehow, resulting in data that merely reflects a single religious POV rather than usable data. That alone means that the survey was compromised.

        • Joe Carter

          ****Have you* spoken with anyone Catholic lately?***

          Um, yeah. I speak to Catholics every (week)day and have done so for at least the past five years. I’m not saying anything that don’t acknowledge.

          As George Weigel, the biographer of JPII, has said, “The hegemony of the historical-critical method of biblical study has taught two generations of Catholics that the Bible is too complicated for ordinary people to understand: So why read what only savants can grasp? Inept preaching, dissecting the biblical text with historical-critical scalpels or reducing Scripture to a psychology manual, has also been a turnoff to Bible study. ”


          • Darren Blair

            Congratulations –

            You’ve just given me the final piece of evidence to prove that the survey was written by Evangelicals, for Evangelicals and that no attempt was likely made to take other denominations into account.

            In other words, the survey was borked before it was even conducted.

            • Caleb W

              You had to know that was the case when a term like ‘bibically-minded’ gets used to rank American cities.

  • Darren Blair

    Pew Forum interactive map:

    I did a little bit of searching, and found this here map.

    Select the faith tradition on the tool bar, and it’ll adjust the map to show the percentage rates of people in a given state that identify as a particular religion.

    The Pew Forum map for “Evangelical Protestant Tradition” syncs up almost perfectly with the city listings we have for the “Biblically-minded cities” survey in the OP.

    I already had some suspicions based on what city ranked where, but this is leading me to *seriously* think that the survey was somehow skewed Evangelical Protestant from the get-go.

  • Suzanne

    I thought for sure I was “biblically minded” for over 30 years, until God actually saved me from my sins and made me biblically hearted, which makes one really truly, “biblically minded”.

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  • theoldadam

    Jesus minded is better.

    One can easily turn that Bible into a law book.

    • Darren Blair

      That’s what it’s rapidly looking like with this here survey.

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