This is just one map of one small town, but it shows a microcosm of religion in the USA.
Carbondale, Illinois is a college town of about 25,000 people with about 70 religious communities, almost all of them Protestant churches. It’s a mix of midwestern and southern culture, a town in the land of Lincoln but located further south than most of Kentucky (it’s about the same latitude as Norfolk, Virginia). This map of its churches and other religious congregations is a primer on how religion in American developed and how it stands today.
Black and white map
Carbondale is divided by two roads, forming quadrants. Historically, blacks lived in the northeast section of the town. Today, most of the community is integrated residentially, but the northeast section remains 95 percent black. The churches in town, too, remain divided by race. The membership of churches in green on the map are almost exclusively black; other churches in town are nearly all white. The town and community are integrated, but Sunday remains segregated.
There are two notable exceptions. The Vine (a Vineyard-like church) and Calvary Campus (Assembly of God) are remarkably racially diverse, in part because they each draw sizable number of college students. Both are also relatively new congregations.
The churches in the northeast quadrant represent churches in the black Protestant tradition. Rock Hill Missionary Baptist, Bethel AME are some of the oldest congregations in town. Today’s churches show the religious diversity within black churches, including Baptist, holiness, and pentecostal churches.
Mainline located on main street
Mainline Protestants are churches that represent the establishment in America, churches that are now associated with the National Council of Churches. The term “mainline” isn’t to be confused with “mainstream.” It’s a term borrowed from the monied suburbs that were located on the commuter train lines. In Carbondale, these churches were founded near the town square on the east (read: historically white) part of town.
Today, most mainline churches are still located there (see the red marks on the map). The exceptions are those who have moved locations. The Lutheran church (now two churches: one Missouri Synod and one ELCA) sold their building. First Baptist sold its building (which is now demolished) and moved to the outskirts of town; the congregation also became “The View,” a nondenominational church. Grace United Methodist’s original building now houses a homeless shelter. Otherwise, the mainline churches remain near the center of town and still have memberships drawn from the higher socioeconomic status of the community.
Evangelicals grow and spread out
The evangelical churches (read: white evangelical churches) are newer, founded after the fundamentalist-liberal fights of the 1920s. Indeed, most were founded as the town expanded in the 1950s with the growth of Southern Illinois University. Instead of locations in the center of town, these churches were placed in areas of growth. These churches include Southern Baptist, pentecostal, reformed (but not PCUSA), and nondenominational churches.
These churches are located throughout the town (with the exception of the northeast section). Near the center of town, the original Lutheran church is now the home of an Assembly of God congregation. Another pentecostal church operates out of a storefront across the street from the town square. On the east and west edges of town, evangelical churches are in new buildings constructed on large plots of land on busy roads.
Given the size of the town, there is only one Catholic parish. St. Francis Xavier was founded in 1900 and now is located in a relatively new building.
Growth of Non-Christian religions
There are also growing religious communities outside of Christianity. There are two muslim congregations, a new Hindu center, and several other religious communities that are not Christian. As in earlier times with Catholics, Lutherans, and other congregations, these are largely immigrant communities.
What’s your town like?
Create a own map of your own community. You’ll be surprised what you learn. When I’ve shared this map, one of the first reactions from locals is “wow, we have that many churches?” Religion is both ubiquitous and hidden — we both see it all around us but miss many of the details.
You can quickly create a map of your community by going to the ARDA GIS website. This interactive website allows you to see which churches and congregations are in your area. More importantly, it may help you think about why your community has the churches it does in the places it does.
Thanks to Bob Velez, Sandy Kim, and other students who helped put this map together. This map is part of a larger project on religion in local communities.