Researchers Rank Most, Least Megachurch-Oriented Cities in U.S.

A new study reveals which U.S. cities have the highest and lowest concentration of megachurch attenders among the Christian population.

Only 10 percent of self-identified Christians in the United States attend megachurches – defined in the new Barna Group study as congregations of 1,000 people or more – though the concentration of megachurch attenders varies from city to city.

Las Vegas has the highest percentage of megachurch attenders, with 29 percent of Christians in the market attending these large churches. Baton Rouge, La., is second on the list (27 percent) and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla. (21 percent) is third.

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Other cities situated at the top of the list include Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (19 percent), Houston, Texas (19 percent), Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M. (19 percent) and Orlando, Fla. (18 percent).

The three cities at the bottom of the list, with the lowest percentage of megachurch attenders among Christians in the market (1 percent each), were Salt Lake City, Utah, Toledo, Ohio and Madison, Wis.

The Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based research organization, published the study's findings on its new Barna: Cities website. David Kinnaman, president of the organization, says the site is designed to help people minister and lead more effectively by obtaining faith-related information specific to their city or region.

"City metrics are crucial. It is more important than ever to understand local trends in light of national patterns," Kinnaman said in an email to Barna Update subscribers.

"For one thing, faith leaders are facing increasing pressure to provide meaningful contributions to their communities. And as Christians face new pressures, the most effective leaders must find effective ways to partner with each other. We hope that Barna: Cities can help."

Derek Neider, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Spring Valley in Las Vegas, believes rapid population growth in the region – specifically in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located – has played a role in the growth of megachurches in the area. The population of Clark County rose by over 450,000 residents between 2001 and 2011, a demographics sheet from the county's Comprehensive Planning Department web page shows.

"So there's a massive population explosion," Neider told The Christian Post on Friday. " And the city's kind of like an island...So, if your vision's not to plant more churches in the Valley, then the very nature of that means that the church is just going to inherently grow."

Calvary Chapel Spring Valley is regularly attended by about 2,500 people. It is just one of several independent Calvary Chapel churches in the area, the others ranging from 100 to 1,000 people in attendance each week.

Another factor Neider says may play a role in attracting people to local megachurches is the "transient" nature of the people living in the city. People moving in from out of town are often looking for a well-established church, he says, or one they would be somewhat familiar with by association.

"I think that the nature of that draws people to some of the larger churches that maybe have a longer history or a connectedness to another denomination or church organization," he said.

Lastly, Neider says the attendance at megachurches in Las Vegas suggests that the Holy Spirit is working there.

"What's unique about Vegas is it's a place that's known – I travel all over the world, you know, and it's globally known as 'Sin City.' But I think God takes a lot of pleasure in doing a work of salvation among the people that live here, and the tourists. Just the very nature that we're having a conversation about megachurches in Vegas, really, the miracle of it is what I hope isn't lost on people," he said.

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