History of Indianapolis From a Religious Perspective: Institutions

Vanderstel, David G. “History of Indianapolis From a Religious Perspective: Institutions.” POLIS Research Center, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. February 1995.

Against the backdrop of the great religious, social and cultural changes of late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, David Vanderstel surveys religious affiliation and denominational distribution among the Christian churches in the United States, the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis for the period 1906-1926. While mainline Protestants maintained their dominance in the total number of churches nationwide, their proportion of church bodies decreased while Catholic, Jewish and more recent Protestant bodies experienced increases, contributing to the over 200 denominations dotting the American religious landscape by 1926. Indiana suffered a slight decline in the number of religious bodies during this same period, while Indianapolis became a “city of churches,” witnessing a 63 percent increase in the church population between 1906-1926 (compared to a 57 percent increase in city population) and numbering 343 religious bodies by the close of the period. <p> Indianapolis also distinguished itself as having a higher proportion of Catholics, Black Baptists and Jews than did Indiana yet being much less Methodist and United Brethren than the rest of the Hoosier state. Church membership in Indianapolis grew both numerically and as a proportion of the city’s population. Although Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Disciples and Presbyterians constituted nearly three-fourths of the city’s total church membership in 1916, that proportion dropped to two-thirds by 1926, indicating the growth of smaller new and existing religious bodies. <p> A few conclusions about religious patterns in Indianapolis during this period include: (1) while mainline denominations continued to dominate, they did so at an increasingly diminished level as new organizations captured the attention of the population; (2) growth was most apparent among the “non-traditional” minor denominations; (3) local church membership was consistently dominated by women except in those bodies populated by high levels of immigration; (4) church membership grew by 10 percentage points from 1916-1926; and (5) church membership continued to be an important part of a person’s life and civic duty in the Hoosier capital.