University of Southern California

Los Angeles County's Ten Largest Faith Groups in 2000

Religious Group Number of temples, churches, mosques, or synagogues Number of adherents % of total population % of total adherents
Roman Catholic 278 3,806,377 40 68.8
Jewish 202 564,700 5.9 10.2
S. Baptist Conv. 312 111,634 1.2 2
Mormon 239 97,347 1 1.8
Muslim 48 92,919 1 1.7
American Baptist 211 73,217 0.8 1.3
Independent Charismatic 11 71,500 0.8 1.3
Assembly of God 260 64,327 0.7 1.2
United Methodist 177 54,676 0.6 1
Intl Four Square Gospel 225 52,362 0.6 0.9
Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States: 2000, Glenmary Research Center, Nashville, TN

Selected Non-Christian Religious Traditions in Los Angeles County: 2000

Religious Group Number of temples, mosques, or synagogues Number of adherents % of total population % of total adherents
Baha'i 44 6,346 NA* NA*
Hindu 37 NA* NA* NA*
Muslim 48 92,919 1 1.7
Jewish 202 564,700 5.9 10.2
Sikh 14 NA* NA* NA*
Buddhist 145 NA* NA* NA*

Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States: 2000, Glenmary Research Center, Nashville, TN
* Data not available

Los Angeles is the most religiously diverse city in the world

John Orr
Center for Religion and Civic Culture

At a meeting sponsored by the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, a politically active Protestant denominational leader expressed frustration: "It's wrong to say there is a Los Angeles religious community," he argued. "In fact, we're incredibly fragmented. I'm often introduced to people who I'm told are important religious figures in Los Angeles. To tell you the truth, I've never heard of most of them."

The frustration expressed by this denominational executive probably could not have been avoided as Los Angeles has by-passed London and New York as the world's most religiously pluralist metropolitan region. More than 600 separate faith communities have established religious centers in Los Angeles neighborhoods, and these communities conduct their affairs in a large number of different languages and in a large number of racial/ethnic enclaves. Most of their clergy are strangers to one another.

During the 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles was a bastion of Anglo Protestantism, reflecting the values of Midwestern parishioners who had been carried to the Southland on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Well into the 1970s, Protestant denominational leaders enjoyed comfortable, influential ties with the city is still-strong "downtown business
establishment," which itself was largely Protestant.

The Immigration Act of 1965, however, created the condition for a radically different religious future for the City of Angels-a future that would anoint Roman Catholicism as the area's dominant religious group. Today Roman Catholicism is the single largest faith tradition in Los Angeles County, with 294 parishes and 3,631,368 adherents.
Among Christians, 71% are Catholics. Between 1980 and 1997, Roman Catholicism experienced a 36% growth.

According to Louis Velasquez, director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese Office of Hispanic Ministry, approximately 70% of Roman Catholics in Los Angeles County are Latino, mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Father Gregory Courier, speaking for the three-county Los Angeles Archdiocese, suggests that as many as one million undocumented immigrant Catholics probably remain uncounted. Sixty-percent of these Latino Catholics,

Valasquez says, speak Spanish as their primary language. Spanish masses are held at over two thirds of the Archdiocese's 287 parishes, and in most of these parishes, Spanish language masses make up about 80% of the total number of masses offered.

An additional 10% of Roman Catholics in Los Angeles County are Asian, weighted toward first and second generation immigrants from East Asia, especially from Korea and the Philippines. Nine percent are African-American.

Today only 26% of the County's Christians are Protestant, and Los Angeles County Protestantism is no longer led by mainline Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, American Baptist, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church. Only 29% are mainliners-successors of the region's previous mainline "Protestant Establishment." Although the mainline denominations have experienced decline during the past three decades within Los Angeles County, there are now signs that that decline may be bottoming out. Between 1990 and 1997, for example, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have apparently experienced growth, even as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA have continued their descent.

Among Protestants, 55% are evangelical and 16% are Pentecostal. In 1906, in what is now the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles, a revival held on Azusa Street launched an international Pentecostal movement-a movement that, at the end of the century, is being energized by a surge of Latino converts. Latino Pentecostalism is the major growth area of Southland Protestantism. In the City of Los Angeles, there are about 1,000 Latino Pentecostal churches. According to a recent national survey by the Tomas Rivera Center, although about 77% of Latinos continue to be affiliated with Roman Catholicism, the momentum is toward affiliation with Pentecostalism. That momentum is apparent all over the central areas of the city, where neighborhoods housing Latino immigrants host storefront Pentecostal churches, sometimes at a density of two or three to a block.

Los Angeles County's Jewish community appears to be experiencing a slight growth, from approximately 503,000 in the mid-to-late 1980s to approximately 519,000 in 1997.13 Of these, approximately 34% are affiliated with temples and synagogues. In 1990, Jews made up 10.3% of the population that identified with Judeo-Christian traditions.

There are roughly 30,000 Iranian Jews in Los Angeles. Most live in Los Angeles's exclusive West Side. Eighty-five percent are self-employed. Their employment is concentrated in sales, technology, and administrative support services. After their arrival in Los Angeles, about 90% of Iranian Jews maintain their pre-immigration level of religious practice.

According to anecdotal reports, attendance at Buddhist temples and meditation centers is rapidly growing in Los Angeles County. There currently are 131 Buddhist temples and meditation centers in Los Angeles County.

Islam is also on the rise, making Southern California the third largest concentration of practicing Muslims in the United States, with 58 mosques, community centers, and study centers in Los Angeles County. According to J. Gordon

Melton, who regularly charts the growth and decline of the nation's faith traditions, 40% of American Buddhists and Muslims reside in Southern California.

In Los Angeles County, there are 6 Bahai worship centers, 18 Hindu temples, 16 Shinto worship centers, and 28 Tenrikyo churches and fellowships.

Southern California is the largest growth area in the United States for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nevertheless, Mormonism in Los Angeles County experienced a slight decline between 1990 and 1997-from 103,286 to 96,300 members, probably because of an outflow of members to the Inland Empire.

Source: John Orr, Religion and Multiethnicity in Los Angeles, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California, 1999.