Chicago, the City of the Century, is recognized for its leadership in various facets of history and society. But, perhaps, one of its lesser known roles is as a religious center, serving as the base of various faiths seeking to grow and influence the spiritual lives of people not only in the metro but around the world.
There are numerous churches of different Christian-based faiths and denominations throughout Chicago. These include over 350 Baptist, 250 Catholic, and 230 non-denominational churches. In addition, Chicago is the headquarters and home to places of worship for other religions, including Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and others.
Today, some of the most architecturally significant buildings in the metro are churches. The magnificent domes and steeples of old Catholic churches stand alongside impressive chrome and glass skyscrapers, providing contrast in architectural styles. Protestant, Jewish, and other faiths are also well represented, with places of worship steeped in history and designed by some of the world’s most notable architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Adler and Sullivan, and Louis Sullivan.
The influence of religion in Chicago is not limited to the presence of various churches and ministries, but extends to other aspects of society, as well. The birth of gospel music, community building, and the emergence of theological schools and seminaries are just some of the manifestations of the far reaching effects of religion in the city.
Churches in Chicago’s history
Catholics were the first to establish a church in the Chicago area, with the creation of the Mission of the Guardian Angel in 1696. However, the mission was short-lived and was closed in 1699.
In the 1830s, English speaking Protestants established churches around Fort Dearborn, a military fort on the south bank of the Chicago River. Toward the end of the century, Lutherian and Reformed churches followed suit and challenged the supremacy of their predecessors. However, Catholics eventually gained dominance, when Irish Catholics, followed by other European Catholic immigrants, established large churches in the area.
As part of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, the World’s Parliament of Religions was organized to showcase various world religions. This led to the establishment of Chicago as a center for interreligious exchange, as well as a base for launching ministries and conversion missions.
In the post-WWI and WWII period, which was also Chicago’s Industrial Age, thousands of African Americans migrated to Chicago from the South, bringing with them Methodist, Baptist, and other Pentecostal faiths. The leaders of the black churches, including Joseph Jackson, who was president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; and Martin Luther King, Jr. made Chicago a base for their ministry and civil movement.
- As of 2019 Census estimates, the city of Chicago has a population of 2,693,000, making it the 3rd most populous city in the US
- The Chicago metropolitan area has an estimated population of 9,533,000 as of the 2010 Census
- The Chicago metropolitan area is the third largest in the US and includes 14 counties in the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
- According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of adults in Chicago are Christians. Around 34% are Catholics, 16% are Evangelical Protestants, and 11% are Mainline Protestants.
- 47% of adults in the metro think religion is very important in one’s life, while another 28% say it’s somewhat important
- 38% of residents in the metro attend religious services once or twice a month, or a few times a year; 29% attend religious services at least once a week
- 48% of residents pray at least once a day, 19% pray weekly, and 8% pray monthly
Notable Christian Churches in the City of Chicago
These are just a few of the many significant religious landmarks that can be found throughout the city of Chicago.
- The Chicago Temple
Founded in 1831, the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is the oldest church in Chicago. Its present home at the heart of the downtown area is a skyscraper with a towering spire that reaches 568 feet into the air. One of Chicago’s foremost landmarks, the church was dedicated in 1924 and is considered the world’s tallest church.
- Holy Name Cathedral
The seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the present day Holy Name Cathedral was built in the 1880s after the original church was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It’s Gothic Revival architecture, history, and intricate details have made it one of the top attractions in the city, and one of the most visited places for prayer and meditation.
- Fourth Presbyterian Church
Established in 1871, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago was a merger of two Presbyterian congregations during the city’s pioneering days. The present day church found on Michigan Avenue was completed in 1914, and presently serves as the spiritual home for the River North neighborhood.
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