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Gallup poll: Provo named most religious metropolitan area in the U.S.

Thousands attend the groundbreaking for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Provo City Center Temple in Provo  Saturday, May 12, 2012.
Thousands attend the groundbreaking for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Provo City Center Temple in Provo Saturday, May 12, 2012.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Provo-Orem area, an educational and family-centered mecca for Mormon families, is the most religious of 189 metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to the results of a Gallup Poll released Friday.

It was one of two areas in Utah to crack the top 10, with the Ogden-Clearfield area ranked ninth most religious, with 55 percent of respondents classified as very religious.

Very religious reflects those who attend religious services every week or nearly every week and consider religion an important part of their daily lives. Poll results reveal that 40 percent of the country considers themselves very religious.

The survey found that 31 percent of Americans were nonreligious, seldom attending religious services and not considering religion an important part of daily life, while 29 percent considered themselves to be moderately religious, attending services, but finding religion to be less important.

Richard Bennett, Associate Dean of Religious Education for Brigham Young University, said he was not surprised by the findings:

“We currently have about 90 percent Latter-day Saints in this area. You have BYU here, with 32,000 students — most who go to church — and UVU, a public university with many who also attend church," he said.

"Then you have more church buildings per square block than any place in the state. You also have the MTC (Missionary Training Center), which is expanding, and then the two temples and additional coming up. This survey is merely one small testament to the religiosity of the culture.”

With a “clearly exceptional” 77 percent of its residents reportedly very religious, the Provo-Orem area was ranked ahead of the nation's other top religious areas in the South, Montgomery, Ala, (64 percent); Jackson, Miss. (64 percent); and Birmingham-Hoover, Ala. (56 percent).

“There is a strong connection to religion here, predominantly among LDS, but also among many Christian churches, and it’s only continuing to grow,” said Bill Young, a Pastor at The Rock Church, a Christian church in Provo. “I love it. It’s a great place to be, a great place to raise a family.”

For Logan Wolf, a North Carolinian who is now the pastor of New Morning Church in Provo, the culture contains similarities to the South.

“When you think of strong religious sectors, you think of the Bible Belt,” Wolf said. “Though I can’t say I’m surprised that Provo is at the top of those areas.” Such regions are defined as places where the culture intersects with religion.

“In Provo, community transcends the church. Everywhere you go, everybody is friendly and courteous,” he said. "A lot of this is due to a shared system of beliefs."

For Wolf, such a tight-knit community can present obstacles for those of a non-LDS faith and barriers, though there exists strong common ground.

“There can be barriers at the root of basic philosophical differences," Wolf said. "But I do feel that there is a good relationship between each body."

The least religious cities were clustered mainly along the Northeast and Pacific Coasts, with Burlington, Vt., and Boulder, Colo. ranked the lowest, both at 17 percent called very religious.

The high rate of religious residents in Provo-Orem is due, in part, to the high expectations among Latter-day Saints regarding church attendance, said Marie Cornwall, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at BYU.

Cornwall said the concept of religiosity can have multiple meanings: “One can be religious in other traditions without attending every week, for example.”

Utah is tied with Alabama in second place for the most religious state, second to Mississippi at 58 percent. While Utah is one of the nation’s most religious states, its capitol, Salt Lake City, showed only 47 percent very religious. As the state’s largest metropolitan area the data most likely reflects the tendency for Salt Lake City residents to be more urban, less Mormon than the other Utah metro areas, according to the Gallup analysis.

The analysis was based on cities under the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which have been weighted by Gallup to ensure correct demographic representation.