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Spiritual Districts: The Origins and Dynamics of US Cities with Unusually High Concentrations of Parachurch Organizations

  • Christopher P. Scheitle, Erica J. Dollhopf and John D. McCarthy

Parachurch organizations are Christian, heavily evangelical Protestant, 501(c)(3) public charities focused on providing religious goods and services outside of any congregational or denominational sponsorship. The parachurch sector in the United States has been growing rapidly in recent decades, yet this growth has been highly uneven across communities. Many communities have very few parachurch organizations, while a few exhibit incredibly higher concentrations of them than would be expected based only upon their religious composition. Using IRS records, we isolate communities with the greatest concentrations of parachurch organizations, and then, drawing upon ideas developed in studies of industrial districts, we address this puzzle by exploring four of those communities, which we refer to as spiritual districts: Tulsa, Oklahoma; Nashville, Tennessee; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Washington, D.C. We utilize interviews with organizational leaders and archival records to attempt to account for the makeup of and dynamics of each of the four unique clusters of parachurch organizations, concluding with a discussion of how understanding spiritual districts can contribute to greater understanding of the phenomenon of industrial districts.

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Social Science History
  • ISSN: 0145-5532
  • EISSN: 1527-8034
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