By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, senior writer for The Gospel Coalition
Every year, the American Bible Society and Barna Group rank 100 of the nation’s most Bible-minded cities—that is, how many people read the Bible at least once a week and who strongly believe the Bible is accurate. And every year, cities from the Bible Belt—Chattanooga or Birmingham or Knoxville—come in first, while cities from the coasts—San Francisco or Boston or Albany—come in last.
It’s all fairly predictable, except for one city: Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Cedar Rapids, the second-largest city in Iowa, has ranked in the bottom five for the past four years, and its percentage of Bible readers and believers keeps going down—from 17 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015 to 13 percent in 2016. Barna measures by media market, so Cedar Rapids’s numbers include nearby Waterloo, Dubuque, and Iowa City.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” That was pastor John Janke’s reaction when his Cedar Rapids church included the stats when it called him two years ago. “I was surprised.”
Janke took the call to Northbrook Baptist Church and has spent the last few years trying to figure out why the Cedar Rapids area is so apathetic about Scripture—and what he can do to change it.
He’s not alone. While growth can be excruciatingly slow, some churches in TGC’s Eastern Iowa regional chapter are finding ways to reach a surprisingly post-Christian culture in America’s heartland.