Urban White Evangelicals? Yes, they exist!
Are They Any Different Than Those Who Live in Rural America?
One thing that I always found astonishing about Tim Keller was where he founded his church, Redeemer Presbyterian. It was right in the middle of Manhattan. That’s not at all where I would expect a large, vibrant, and influential church to start.
The one thing that’s clear to me is that if I were to start a church that I wanted to grow, I would put it in the suburbs of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. That’s the blueprint. The strategy worked for Rick Warren when he founded Saddleback in Orange County, California. It worked for Bill Hybels when he founded Willow Creek in suburban Chicago. And Elevation Church was planted in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina by Steven Furtick and friends.
It’s just logistically hard to do anything in Manhattan, let alone start a church and expand to satellite locations all over New York City. But that’s what Keller did for the last several decades. It got me thinking this week about what kind of person sits in the pews of Redeemer Presbyterian every week. And, if Keller was really facing an uphill battle in trying to get new folks in the door.
The Cooperative Election Study asks people to describe the place where they live with four options: city, suburb, town, or rural area. This is total self-selection and I have no way to check if they are actually being honest. But I think it gives us a unique insight into what evangelical Christianity looks like in an urban setting compared to a suburban or rural one.
The first thing to note is that white evangelicalism is fairly scarce inside urban areas. Just 16% of folks who said that they lived in a city were white evangelicals. As the population density goes down, the share who are white evangelicals begins to rise. It’s a quarter of those living in towns and about a third of those living in rural areas.
In the 2022 data, there were about 1.5 rural white evangelicals for every one white evangelical who lived in the city. Thus, it’s clear that despite the fact that there are simply more people living in urban centers, that does not completely make up for the fact that they are just a smaller percentage of the population.
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