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Think most Southerners are inherantly Christian, or that West Coasters are less likely to attend church? Although such regional stereotypes are often accepted without question, the latest study by the Barna Group proves these labels aren't far from the truth.

The findings, drawn from two reports titled Markets 2011 and States 2011, “confirmed many spiritual assumptions about various regions of the country," said David Kinnaman, who directed the seven-year research project for Barna Group. "The South hosts many of the nation’s Christians, while the West and Northeast play to more secular stereotypes."

Church attendance was highest among residents of Birmingham, Ala. (67 percent), Baton Rouge, La. (62 percent), Salt Lake City (62 percent), and Huntsville, Ala. (60 percent)—all cities in which at least four out of five residents describe themselves as Christian. Regions with the most unchurched adults skipped over the Southeast and instead included the West Coast, Southwest, Northeast and South Florida. San Francisco (44 percent) led the list, which included Portland, Maine (43 percent), Phoenix (38 percent), and West Palm Beach, Fla. (37 percent).

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The research also studied church-engagement patterns. For example, areas with the highest proportions of Christians who attend megachurches (1,000 or more adult attendees) included Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas; San Diego; Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Houston. Participation in small churches, defined as 100 or fewer adults, was highest in the Southeast and Northeast—Charleston, W.Va., led the list and was followed by Lexington, Ky.; Little Rock, Ark.; Scranton, Pa.; Shreveport, La.; and Pittsburgh.

Volunteerism in churches was most frequent in Charlotte, N.C., and Salt Lake City, while Tucson, Ariz., and Seattle led cities with the highest proportion of volunteers for other kinds of nonprofits.

"A majority of U.S. residents, regardless of location, engage in a church at some level in a typical six-month period," Kinnaman noted. "The real differences spiritually between various regions are not so much what they call themselves [but] how people think about, prioritize and express their faith.”



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