Barna Research put out a fascinating list of America’s Top 100 most ‘Bible-Minded Cities’. Its not the top 10 Bible cities but the bottom 10 that are so telling!
The bottom 10 are:
- Boston, Mass
- Manchester, NH
- Hartford/ New Haven, CT
- Portland/Auburn, ME
- Plattsburgh, NY
- Albany/Schenectady/Troy, NY
- Providence, RI
- New Bedford, MA
It really caught my attention for 3 main reasons.
1. When I was in college I was an evangelist and Barna was our go-to source
2. During that time a common mantra in my circles was that ‘the Pacific-NorthWest is the most unchurched are in North America.’
3. After college I went to help plant a church in upstate NY (near the VT border) and grew suspicious about that Pacific NW thing.
I had spent time in the Pacific NW and while there were lots of unchurched people … there were also tons of churches – but specifically big churches aggressively engaged in the culture wars.
In the New England (or NorthEast) region, it was different. There was a cynicism is had not seen. Not a coffee shop atheism like the west. I deep suspicion unlike I had encountered.
This came to a head for me when two roads converged.
Ingredient 1: I was charismatic and had bought into a thing call “Re-digging the Wells of Revival” where you go to places where God has worked in the past and, through prayer, you try to unplug that ancient well of what God wants to do to release the anointing that once flowed.
I lived in area that had seen large revivals in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In fact, the denomination I was a part of was founded in the region and still had some of the revival tabernacles as properties! I would go to the one closest to my house (Round Lake, NY) and pray for revival to sweep our area again.
I even started doing historical research. I stumbled into something. It was called ‘the Burned Over region’. It turns out that the much celebrated revival had burned through so fast and so hot that when it was over … a cynicism had set into many people. Families that had given large amounts of time, sums of money and even family jewelry collections grew bitter.
A problem developed for me. The circles I was running in were celebrating the 2nd Great Awakening and other historical renewals of the church. I was growing suspicious and that altered my prayers. I stopped praying for the same kind of revival we say 100 years ago and started praying for a different kind that didn’t leave generations of families bitter and broke.
Ingredient 2: I went to a Barna Conference in western NY (Syracuse or Rochester area). I sat there the whole time shaking my head as Mr. Barna presented to a packed massive auditorium. The finding that he was presenting were not exactly true of my area.
I had read a book by that point called “The Nine Nations of North America” and had begun to concoct a theory that merged (for churches) the New England of Nine Nations and my findings in Burned Over research. When you put those two together it really explained a lot.
I kept saying to myself, “Even NY is different east of the Hudson river. From Albany east NY is more like New England than like Western NY and Pennsylvania”.
After Barna’s presentation I voiced my suspicion and that was not greeted well by my denominational cohort I was attending with.
I even brought up the Pacific NW thing and how out there you can hear 3 big christian radio stations and find a christian bookstore every couple of miles. We had neither.
The Pacific NW had mega-churches. We had one church over 1,000 and people in our area were suspicious that it was a cult, “because how else could you get that many people to all come and sing the same thing at the same time and then listen to one guy talk for a half-hour?”
All of that is background for this past weekend. Barna put out a fascinating new list of the 100 most biblically minded cities. You can go read the article to see how they configured that. The 2 most important things to me:
1 – the top 50 are East of the Mississippi River (except for Bakersfield, CA).
2 – the bottom 10 are all in NE or that NY Hudson River basin.
To me this says two things. First, the Bible Belt is a real thing and when combined with something like ‘Nine Nations’ is potent to think about.
Second, The bottom 10 are all in the burned over region and should give us concern about what 100 years from now will look like. I know that there are lots of factors over the last century and that someone will say “the past is not the future” and I get that.
But as one who a) studied this, b) while I lived there, and c) called it out in real time… I’m telling you –
The bottom 10 of this thing are far more relevant to our future than the top 10.