A Religious Experience

We wanted to know: What do Coloradans believe?

April 2012

This article was a finalist for the 2013 City and Regional Magazine Award in the reader service category. 

Religion is on the wane in America—at least that’s the most recent wisdom. It’s something of a surprising claim, however, considering the United States has long been thought of as one of the most pious of the world’s developed nations. But in the past decade or so, a number of credible surveys and studies have concluded that our devotion is slipping. Religious affiliation—across nearly all faiths—is down. Americans aren’t going to church or synagogue or prayer services like they once did. And our belief in God is diminishing as baby boomers die and the millennials come of age.

But these polls may be overlooking a crucial phenomenon: Although participation in organized religion is declining, religiosity and spirituality may not be on the same downward trend. After examining the national research and thinking about life on the Front Range—an area that juxtaposes the Christian stronghold of Colorado Springs with cosmically in-tune Boulder—we began to wonder how the people at our lofty elevations really feel about a higher power.

The American West is historically religiously unaffiliated. Whether that’s a result of a deep-seated independent spirit, a lifestyle that deems being outside on a Sunday to be more holy than being inside a sanctuary, or a holdover from a bygone era when there simply weren’t enough clergy west of the Mississippi, religious organizations have had a difficult time settling here. That’s not to say they’ve been entirely unsuccessful: Focus on the Family found fertile ground in Colorado Springs in the early 1990s*; the Catholic Church has been the dominant dogma in Denver County for more than a century; more than 60 percent of Utah’s population identifies as Mormon; and more than a handful of mystical western locations (the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado; Valley of the Shining Stone and the town of Chimayó in New Mexico; Cathedral and Bell rocks in Arizona) engender religious and spiritual fervor.

But the question is, in A.D. 2012, what do the residents of the Front Range truly believe? Are we religious or spiritual—or neither? Are we averse to organized religion? Are our habits of worship in flux? And, if religion is truly disappearing, then how do we explain the 14,000 people who visit a nondenominational Lafayette-based church every Sunday; a progressive Jewish organization experiencing a surge of interest; and a host of other groups that are finding devotees in these allegedly secular times?

To find some answers, we asked these questions—and many more—of you, your friends, and your neighbors. With the help of market research firm Resolution Research, we surveyed 408 people in the Denver-Boulder-Colorado Springs triangle. We inquired about your religious affiliations and practices, spiritual beliefs, and how these things influence your life. So, along with insights from local theological scholars, essays that examine personal belief, and profiles of religious practitioners, we present the results of our survey. We hope you’ll find it all just as enlightening as we do.

*An earlier version of this story said that "Focus on the Family found fertile ground in Colorado Springs in the late 1970s." 

The Survey

5280 partnered with Denver-based Resolution Research, a full-service market research firm specializing in qualitative and quantitative research designed to gather market intelligence and opinions, to conduct our Religion Along the Front Range survey. Resolution Research conducts online and telephone surveys, focus groups, product tests, taste tests, clinical trials, mock juries, and more. For more information or to participate in panels, visit resolutionresearch.com.