USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Forging a New Moral and Political…

The religious and social ecology of Los Angeles

As the population of Los Angeles has grown, so have the many religious congregations and other faith- based nonprofits. Since 1990 the number of religious congregations has grown substantially, and since 1995, the number of faith-based nonprofits has more than doubled.3

In many ways, Los Angeles is a microcosm of the United States as its demographic character becomes increasingly complex. By any number of measures, Los Angeles is the most ethnically and religiously diverse city in the world. Virtually every religion is represented in the Los Angeles region. Many of these religions were transported by immigrants, but Los Angeles has also been a source of religious innovation, giving birth to global Pentecostalism in 1906, as well as religious movements that revive old religious forms and create hybrid expressions of traditional spiritual practice.

The official count of religious congregations in Los Angeles County numbers nearly 6,000, but this certainly does not include the hundreds, even thousands of “store front” churches, immigrant congregations, and groups that are not listed in the phone book or do not have official IRS registration. The diversity of the city’s religious ecology is apparent on church marquees that sometimes list services in four or five languages. In addition, many churches host multiple congregations under one roof. Still others meet in homes, social halls, schools, warehouses and other unexpected venues.

Number of congregations for major religious groups
in Los Angeles County, 2009
Major Religious Groups (Congregations) 2009
Evangelical Protestant 2,722
Mainline Protestant 773
Roman Catholic 276
Historically Black Protestant 243
Jewish Congregations 171
Jehovah’s Witness 133
Latter Day Saints (Mormon) 121
Orthodox Christian 65
Buddhist 61
Muslim 39
Hindu 11
Other 1,281
Total Number of Congregations 5,896

3 This count of nonprofits includes all IRS registered “religion related” nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles County. IRS data files are available for analysis at the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (http://nccs.urban.org/index.cfm).

Diversity: English only spoken in home, Los Angeles compared to
United States and New York City
2000 2008
Los Angeles County 46% 44%
City of Los Angeles 42 40
United States 80 80
New York City 52 52

Source: The U.S. Census Bureau (http://factfinder.census.gov) Accessed 12/12/2010

Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Brie Loskota is a contributing fellow and the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.

Donald E. Miller is the director of strategic initiatives with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.