Religious Makeup of Southeastern Idaho

Part 2 post authored by Charles Barnes.

Anyone who has lived in Idaho Falls for very long gets a sense of the religious makeup of the area – the majority of the residents of our city are members, whether active or not, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the rest of the population is split between Catholics, evangelical Christians of various denominations, mainline Protestants, and people not affiliated with any religion. Idaho Falls has a few Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Baha’i, Zoroastrians, and people of several other religious persuasions, but very few. How does the religious makeup of Bonneville County compare with other counties in Eastern Idaho and with the rest of the country?

The easiest way to answer these questions is from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), which includes a breakdown of the population by religion for all states and counties in the United States. These data are collected every 10 years; the most recent available is for 2010.

Looking at the ARDA data, a few omissions are obvious, and a few numbers could be questioned, but they provide a pretty good overview of the religious makeup of Southeastern Idaho. The table below shows a comparison of percentages of the population divided into five categories:

1. Protestant, evangelical, pentecostal, charismatic and similar Christian denominations

2. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox

3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

4. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religions

5. Those not affiliated with any religion.

It’s not surprising that all SE Idaho counties show a high percentage of LDS, although these numbers range from a low of 29% for Clark County to a high of 98% for Madison County. The 57% LDS of Bonneville County shows that Mormonism is indeed the majority religion of our county. That is not the case for Teton or Clark Counties.

The percentage of combined Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics also varies widely in SE Idaho counties, from a low of only 0.5% in Madison County to high of 15% in Power County and 16% in Butte County. Bonneville ranks third highest at slightly under 10%. On the low side, Madison County has less than 1%, Jefferson and Teton Counties less 2% and Caribou County at slightly more than 2%.

Bannock is the only county in SE Idaho with a Eastern Orthodox congregation. With Bannock as the only exception, the numbers in the table thus reflect percentage of Roman Catholics. The lowest percentage of Roman Catholics is not in Madison County, but instead in Clark County with essentially none, with Jefferson County a close second at 0.5%. Power County on the other hand is 26.5% Roman Catholic.

Bannock County also has the highest percentage of people of other religions; predominately Muslims attending ISU.

The populations of the SE Idaho counties vary widely and need to be kept in mind when comparing percentages. To provide a comparison based on more even populations, the table below also shows percentages for Bingham and Bannock combined, and for the remaining eight counties combined, which have a combined population very close to that of Bonneville’s. This three-way comparison shows that Bonneville has the highest percentage of Protestants/Evangelicals/ Pentecostals/Charismatics; the highest percentage of Roman Catholics, and an intermediate percentage of nonaffiliated.

The United States has 3143 counties; a sample of 20 with populations similar to Bonneville’s were included in the above table to provide a sense of how the religious make up of our County compares with the rest of the country. Not surprisingly, the most glaring difference is the lower percentage of Mormons in all of these counties except the one in Utah. With a few exceptions, in the rest of the country, the majority of people are unaffiliated with any religious group. The exceptions are in parts of the South, where Protestants/Evangelicals/Pentecostals/Charismatics exceed 50% of the population.

As individuals, we walk in various circles of relationships, and most of us tend to gravitate to people most similar to us – in beliefs, lifestyles, etc. People in other groups, even if they are our neighbors, can easily become stereotyped if we have little or no interaction with them. However, based on Jesus’ incarnation and many passages of Scripture, the body of Christ has an obligation to cross barriers of ethnicity and religion with the message of the gospel and the love of Christ. So, is there a message in the religious makeup of Bonneville County and Southeastern Idaho for the church of Idaho Falls? I think there is. How are we relating to the LDS community? How well do we understand them, how well are we communicating with them? What were the results of efforts in the past and what effects are present efforts having? What, by calling us to or placing us in southeastern Idaho, is Jesus asking of us relative to the majority population of our community? What do you think?

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