Why so many churches in Las Vegas?

by on September 5, 2008 at 7:43 am in Religion | Permalink

Robert, a loyal MR reader asks,

I lived there for four years and was always curious.  I guess the more sin, the more churches???

For background, here is a 1997 look at the numbers.  It seems the city has more churches than average in per capita terms.  Among the cities claiming the highest number of churches per capita are Nashville, Grand Rapids, Mich., Waco, Texas, Wheaton, Ill., and Berkeley, Calif. (Berkeley?)  Overall the South has more churches per capita than the rest of the country.

I would think that most of the churches in Las Vegas are for the residents, not the tourists, and thus the quantity of sin is not a major factor.  Why should the residents be especially sinful?  (Don’t forget that lots of sinful activities seem to be produced at constant returns to scale, so there’s not always free-riding upon the sin infrastructure for tourists plus parking is an issue.)  In explaining the number of churches, I would expect three factors to play a role:

1. Perhaps migrants to Las Vegas are more likely to come from the South.

2. Most of the population growth is recent, so churches serve a valuable function of social networking.

3. Las Vegas has no dominant established religion so there is much religious competition and thus many different churches.

But surely Jacqueline (and others) can set us straight…

1 josh September 5, 2008 at 8:28 am

It’s not just for all the weddings?

2 superdestroyer September 5, 2008 at 9:07 am

Larger than normal Hispanic and Asian populations. Also, poorer than average for the size of the city cause people to value religion.

3 Brandon Robison September 5, 2008 at 9:25 am

… besides, what would Jacqueline know about religion? She’s a heathen! 😉

4 Peter September 5, 2008 at 10:15 am

Given the way Las Vegas has grown, statistics from 1997 are hopelessly obsolete.

5 Anonymous September 5, 2008 at 10:22 am

Maybe after you lose all your money in a casino, you become one of those bitter people who cling to religion that Obama told us about.

6 jmws September 5, 2008 at 10:39 am

the more sin, the more churches? Then Amsterdam would have the most churches in the world. As a matter of fact: There was, i believe some decades ago, a sexclub in Amsterdam, called the church of satan…Nowadays you are not allowed to smoke anymore in a bar… So bars are calling themselves churches of smokers…

7 Anittah Patrick September 5, 2008 at 11:05 am

“Larger than normal Hispanic and Asian populations.”

Dude, all Asians are not created equal, even if all look same. Koreans might be highly correlated with Presbyterianism, but the rest of us tend to be Buddhist.

8 JK September 5, 2008 at 11:12 am

From talking to folks who grew up in Las Vegas the resident culture is actually very conservative. It is considered unusual to get married after 25 and church attendance is the norm. It is more tolerant of the sex, gambling, and drinking than its southern variety but still holds the more traditional values. Why this is I have no idea.

9 Mace September 5, 2008 at 11:34 am

As mentioned before, lots of Mormons. Close proximity to Utah (100 miles?) always yields a lot of LDS members. Howard Hughs liked them.

10 SheetWise September 5, 2008 at 11:36 am

“Why should the residents be especially sinful?”

It’s not that they’re more sinful — it’s just that many things most people consider sins aren’t taken that seriously in Nevada — there’s not the same public scorn, so it’s very open. It is a very conservative population — conservatives who don’t take sex and drugs as seriously as the rest of the country (even though their laws are more strict and very selectively enforced), and conservatives who take violence and property crimes more seriously. A great place to live if you don’t have any kids.

11 Flash Gordon September 5, 2008 at 11:46 am

I don’t believe it has anything to do with sin, nor gambling. A simple explanation will suffice.

Las Vegas has been a good job market for many years and the influx of people seeking those jobs has also increased church membership, thus more churches. If you are from a distant part of the country a move to a new place that is much different than your home town can be daunting and stressful. But if there is a church there that is like the one you are used to at home it makes it easier. And if there is no church of your denomination, you have every incentive to start one. With people coming to Las Vegas from all over the country of different religious backgrounds, the result is a lot of churches. One of the selling points that is used to attract people is that no matter your religious preference, you will find a church that you like. Counterintuitive at it may be, Las Vegas is reputed to be a great town to raise a family.

Wallace has it right that churches are centers of social networking for new arrivals.

12 shachello September 5, 2008 at 12:20 pm

+1 on the Mormon comments. I would guess that accounts for the difference entirely, although I’m sure southern transplants play a role.

13 Sam September 5, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Isn’t density pretty low in LV? That would seem to agitate towards more churches? Who’s going to drive 20 miles?

14 FutureDave September 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I read somewhere that about 15% of the people who choose to have weddings in Vegas go to traditional churches for the ceremony. Since most weddings take place on weekdays, the weddings generate an easy cash flow for churches during their down time.

The wedding economy in Vegas is so massive and profitable that it allows hundreds of churches to stay in business that would fail if they had to rely on donations only. Five small weddings (or one big one) per week will cover the salary of a preacher. Any donations from the congregation are bonus money.

Several large suburban churches have representatives available to the Vegas hotel wedding planners. If you have the cash, the hotel has a fleet of limos standing by to drive the entire wedding party anywhere in the three state area. The church can be many miles from Vegas, and have a congregation of 100% locals, but still be 99% funded by the Vegas wedding business.

15 Alex September 5, 2008 at 1:25 pm

It’s because the statistics count wedding chapels as “churches.”

16 KobayashiMaru September 5, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Berkeley’s high ranking is due mainly to three factors:

1) No large congregations. This is itself due to small parcel sizes and a population with an above-average aversion to driving.

2) An overlap of several populations for whom religion is more central than average: African-Americans, seminarians (the Graduate Theological Union includes more than a half-dozen institutions of religious instruction), and New Agers. Plus, every denomination serving the population at large also probably has at least one congregation targeting the considerable student population.

3) A culture that celebrates spirituality and religious freedom. Being liberal is of course par for the course in Berkeley, but atheists are far more rare than you might expect.

17 Flash Gordon September 5, 2008 at 3:14 pm

A culture that celebrates spirituality and religious freedom.

Sounds like….America.

18 Adele September 5, 2008 at 10:01 pm

There are some great Catholic churches in Vegas. I have family there and have spent two Easter Tridiuums and one Christmas holiday out there.

I find the churches have strong homilies and devoted parishioners. The pews are packed. It’s great.

I wholeheartedly recommend Christ the King Catholic Community (try to go to Good Friday service here) on Tropicana, and Joseph, Husband of Mary (I forget where; I always go with family who drive). Also, Most Holy Redemmer Catholic Shrine, near the Tropicana hotel, and across from Luxor. And the Cathedral, at the north end of the strip. They have a great gift shop as well, and so does Christ the King.

19 Wallace September 8, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Another incentive for churchs in Las Vegas is that the large number of tourists mean donations to church coffers, but no drain on resources. If one has a large congregation, they will always donate, but also requrie services (insist on improving the choir loft, push for new ministries, etc.). With a small core congregation, but a lot of tourists flowing through, you can have a lot of donations, but only a few people placing demands on them. I’ve notice that tourist areas often have well kept churches.

20 John J. September 9, 2008 at 6:56 pm

I think that there are many churches in Las Vegas for many reasons. It is the entertainment capital of the world. One of the reasons is its where people can get married very easily. the amount of people that re in Vegas is a ridiculously large number, when people meet each other there why go all the way home and go through a whole bunch of legal matters to marry someone. Also people meet others and fall in love immediately and they don’t want to think twice about it and what an easy way to go about it. With all the adults entertainments and all those various shows people go to churches to change their lives and to stop doing whatever they do.

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