Highest Religious Affiliation

I’ve been spending a little time on the Religion Census 2010 website. It includes a wealth of maps and numerical tables which I’m sure to draw upon for future articles. A few data extremes came to the forefront of my mind immediately as I leafed through some of the reports.

First, this shouldn’t be confused with the 2010 Decennial Census conducted by the U.S. government’s Census Bureau, although it can be a nice companion to those data. The Religion Census taps a different source: "Each participating religious body supplies the number of churches, full members, adherents, and attendees for each county." This can lead to some interesting geographic anomalies which the website freely acknowledges, "It is possible for the number of adherents to exceed the county population. This may occur when congregations in one county draw large numbers of adherents from neighboring counties."

Duly warned, I turned to one of the Religion Census 2010 reports on "Counties Where Each Religious Body Has the Highest Proportion of Adherents in the Population," which they used interchangeably with the term "largest population penetration."

Southern Baptist Convention

No location comes close to beating King County, Texas for its completely monolithic religious affiliation. The number of people reportedly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in the county equated to 343.7% of the population. Let’s bear in mind that King has one of the smallest populations in the nation, a condition that did not go unnoticed by 12MC previously in Not Quite Obscure Enough. It doesn’t take much to skew the numbers.

Only 286 people lived in King in 2010, making the Southern Baptist Convention population less than a thousand. I found evidence of one and possibly two congregations within the county. The figure seemed plausible assuming they drew from neighboring counties and perhaps hadn’t weeded their list of members and adherents in awhile. I think the larger point would be that anyone traveling to the county seat in Guthrie or stopping at the Four Sixes Ranch would stand a very high chance of interacting with someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Two interesting and unrelated facts I encountered about King County while trying to learn more:

  • It’s alleged to be "the most anti-Obama county in the U.S. based on the 2012 election (includes footage from within the local Baptist church!)
  • One of its four settlements is called Grow. That may be the most wildly optimistic name in existence because the village remains stuck at around 70 residents after a hundred years.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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It’s easier to point towards a source for Madison County, Idaho’s high percentage of LDS adherents, which equates to 100.8% of its county population. First, Madison was settled originally by Mormons as they migrated west in the Nineteenth Century. One would expect a high percentage of LDS adherents due to historical circumstances. Second, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College) is located in the county seat of Rexburg. The LDS church owns BYU-Idaho which had 16,773 students at the beginning of the 2012/2013 school year.

Madison County includes a healthy population of nearly forty-thousand residents, many of them LDS affiliated. Swell the church rolls with non-resident LDS students who attend services locally during the school year and it’s logical to see how the Mormon population could exceed one-hundred percent. I’m surprised it’s not higher.

Catholic Church

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This one perplexed me a little. I figured the highest penetration might be found somewhere in the southwestern United States with a large Hispanic population. I bet I could find the answer in "History of Rolette County, North Dakota: And Yarns of the Pioneers" which, unfortunately, was published too recently to be seen in the public domain. It will remain a mystery unless some wise 12MC reader can track down an answer.

I found several congregations and even a convent although I wondered if those would be enough to push a Religion Census total to 100.0% of the U.S. population census total for the county. The combined total of Catholic affiliations in Rolette would have to hit 13,937. That seemed a bit high to me although I don’t have anything to support or dispel it.

A couple of other unrelated facts about Rolette County came to light:

  • It has a tiny practical exclave which I’ve highlighted on the map, above. One could probably wade across the pond so I’m not sure whether this passes the threshold of a bona fide geo-oddity.
  • The U.S. side of the International Peace Garden can also be found within the county. Don’t lose your identification while you’re at the garden, though! You’d be trapped in a weird topiary purgatory for the remainder of your life if I interpreted the website correctly. A pickpocket could cause serious mischief here.

Amish Groups, undifferentiated

SOURCE: Ted Ingraham on Flicker via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I’m going to take writers prerogative and jump down the line several positions to the "undifferentiated Amish Groups" due to their uniqueness. Reflexively one associates Amish with Pennsylvania, particularly the Lancaster area, and yet it demonstrated its greatest penetration in Holmes County, Ohio. Adherents to undifferentiated Amish Groups equaled 41.7% of the Holmes County population of more than forty thousand. That’s a lot!

Holmes county spotlights its Amish residents as a means to attract visitors. It also offers advice to those unfamiliar with Amish practices: "Buggies travel at 4-5 miles an hour, so when you are traveling at 40 or 50 miles an hour, you can come up to a buggy almost before you know it. Slow down, be careful at the top of hills (they say you can tell a Holmes County driver because he slows down at the top of the hill), and take care not to frighten the horses."

There are a number of other religious bodies with high concentrations of membership that you should feel free to explore on your own.

  • Non-denominational Christian Churches: Kiowa County, Colorado (map); 78.7% penetration
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Nelson County, North Dakota (map); 74.8% penetration
  • Orthodox Church in America: Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska (map); 70.1% penetration
  • American Baptist Churches in the USA: Arthur County, Nebraska (map); 68.3% penetration
  • Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ: Daniels County, Montana (map); 66.8% penetration
  • Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod: Traverse County, Minnesota (map); 53.5% penetration
  • United Methodist Church: McLennan County, Texas (map); 44.2% penetration
  • Episcopal Church: Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska (map); 38.4% penetration

I wish I had time to examine the Episcopal connection to Yukon-Koyukuk, in particular.

Many of these counties have small populations which make it easier for religious groups to register significant population impacts. It’s not relegated to rural areas, either. Virginia — with it’s odd system of independent cities considered county-equivalents — figured prominently in several religious groups. One area, the City of Fairfax, in a highly diverse area of Northern Virginia recorded the greatest population penetration for four distinct groups.

  • Coptic Orthodox Church: 13.3% penetration
  • Conservative Judaism: 7.4% penetration
  • International Churches of Christ: 1.6% penetration
  • Metropolitan Community Churches, Universal Fellowship of: 0.6% penetration

With a city population of only 22,565, that would mean that about 135 adherents from a single congregation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches within its tiny boundaries (map) was enough to skew the percentage.

4 Replies to “Highest Religious Affiliation”

  1. Rolette County is the site of a large Chippewa reservation and the county’s population is three-quarters Native American. I would imagine that Catholic missionaries converted most of the Chippewas decades ago.

  2. I think Peter is correct. There is a large group of Métis community who reside in the Chippewa reservation, and the Métis are traditionally a Roman Catholic group. A suspect there are also quite a number of Métis that live in the area off reservation.

  3. I was browsing through the highest affiliation chart at the Religion Census site and came across something so odd I must be reading it wrong – 38.3% of the population of Emporia, Virginia is Muslim?

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