Friday, January 11, 2013

What’s up with the cities?

So i’ve been traveling to the east coast the last little bit (hence the lack of posts), and that led me to an observation:

     →We are such an incredibly non-urban church!

Or, more precisely, we just don’t seem to do central cities. I mean, the way conferences in my field work is that they generally end on Sunday around noon and then i spend my afternoon flying home so i don’t get to go to church, but this time i actually had the time to go to church after the meeting ended—but there wasn’t a Mormon congregation anywhere i could have gotten to.

And i was in downtown Boston, which is a pretty big city—over 625,000 people. Really? We only have one ward in the entire city,* and i’d’ve had to have figured out a way to the suburbs to get to another one?

And i’m not cherry-picking here—Philadelphia has a similarly meager presence in the city itself compared to the suburbs, as does Washington DC. Even here in Alaska, where we’ve got a good presence in Anchorage, the suburbs have more congregations than you’d expect given their comparative population.

And even in the heart of Mormon country, there’s gobs and tons of church units in Salt Lake City, but compared to its suburbs? Not even close.

So what is it about our church that doesn’t appeal to city dwellers so much?** Back when i was growing up on the east coast people used to chalk it up to our whiteness (what with the cities having such a large number of non-white individuals), but that kind of falls apart when you see the same pattern in Anchorage and Salt Lake City.

So: Any ideas?

* One English-speaking non-singles ward, that is.
** In the United States, at least. My intuition is that you’re more likely to see Mormonism as an urban church is some other parts of the world.


Michelle said...

I think you are right about the church being more urban-centered in other countries. Our experience in Europe was that church buildings were placed in larger cities, where it was fairly easy to get there by public transportation. Maybe it's a car issue? Europeans (historically - this is definitely changing) walk and use public transportation more, even when they live outside of cities; Americans can't even learn to carpool because they want to drive. Honestly, I have no idea why this problem of church buildings being in the suburbs exists in this country - it has been irritating to us when we are traveling without a vehicle.

Maybe it's a city vs suburb citizen issue? That would be an interesting case study - are city-dwellers less likely to join our church (or any church for that matter) than suburb-dwellers? There's already a difference (generally) in political affiliations, or I wouldn't be surprised if there are religious tendency differences as well.

Interesting to note, though - in Europe we found one exception to the placing church buildings easily accessible to cities habit. The Freiberg Germany temple. When we first drove there we thought we were in the wrong Freiberg because it is so rural. No big train station, no airport, no major bus line. You really need a car to get there. We were surprised based on our experience with other European temple locations.

Heather the Mama Duk said...

I'm not sure if you would call San Antonio a big city. It's certainly a lot smaller than many cities in the country (and it's only the 3rd biggest city in TX). The racial make-up of San Antonio is also quite different from cities like Washington DC.

Anyway, San Antonio has the highest concentration of Church members outside of Happy Valley than anywhere else. I don't know why that is. The temple was built there just about a decade ago so I don't know if that is why. It sounds like the member concentration has increased since the temple was built. The ward we will be in, while inside SA city limits, is on the northern edge of the city. It has the highest concentration of members in the whole city. Our ward boundaries are about 3 miles top to bottom and maybe a mile across. I'm not sure if our ward boundaries include the temple inside of it or if the ward next door does. The temple is 1 mile from where we will be living. The entire stake boundaries (there are several stakes in San Antonio) are smaller than our current ward boundaries.

I've noticed the same thing about cities tending not to have many members in our country, but it's different in other countries. Dublin has 4 or 5 wards. There are 4 branches around the entire rest of the Republic of Ireland, very spread out. San Antonio is just an anomaly, I think. I wonder if the racial make-up is part of it. (Side note: my current stake is the most racially diverse stake in the entire church.)

Heather the Mama Duk said...

One more thing... just for fun I played with's meetinghouse locator and there are many, many more units inside the city of San Antonio than in the suburbs. The city of San Antonio is pretty big, though. You'd think where we will be living is suburbs, but it is within city limits.