How far are you from church?

Years ago, and I don’t know if its true anymore, there was an unwritten rule that someone would go as far as a work commute to go to church. So I guess it’s important to know how far someone will commute and now?

Two considerations are important.

Some studies (referenced here)suggest that the phenomenon of the ultra-commuter is overstated, and that there is a near-universal 30 minutes maximum average commute in US cities.

Also the number of younger adults driving continues to fall, with the pickup of public transportation use. The cautionary tale is not that we will become more dependent upon transit for Sunday service attendance (though I would be if I didn’t walk to church) but that young adults increasingly substitute driving/in-personĀ  experiences for online experiences.

The result is the same. Unitarian Universalists too often have regional congregations — and many of these are small — that I wonder if many “covered areas” are in fact unevangelized. This also suggests that some in-town neighborhoods in major cities are completely unserved.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I’ve always wondered why more UU churches don’t do like a lot of churches that serve lower-income areas and have mobile(van or bus) ministries. As many UU congregations are in places that are not accessible by public transportation, this would be a great way to be welcoming to people who, for whatever reason, use public transportation.

  2. I have double the average job commute FWIW. We’ve posted a map at Church where members can put a tack showing were they live and then look for members close by for ride sharing. Don’t know how well that’s worked. I’m surprised how far people will travel for our Church, especially when there are other UU Churches closer to them, but each UU Church has its own personality and style; so people make some effort to go to one that fits them. I think there are many unevangelized areas in Chicago. Churches have tried but they haven’t had the right appeal (as far as I can tell.) It’s amazing we only have Second UU on the Northside. There should be a few more up there and near West. I spoke to folks at All Souls once and they told me they’d love to get a building on the near South or West Sides. They have a long tradition. I hope its not lost as it’s an older, smaller bunch there now. By the way, they commute from all over the South Side and South Burbs to the West Chesterfield neigborhood for Church.

  3. This is very helpful. In all the time I’ve lived in the Anchorage area, I’ve lived more than 30 minutes from the one congregation in Anchorage–and it always felt like too far to go. This helps alleviate some of the non-attendance guilt.

    My situation makes me wonder about all the other factors that play in to this–in my case, weather. An hour-long commute in the dark on an icy highway in the winter is different than that same commute in the summer.

  4. I live 1.5 miles from work and next to one UU church (my back yard buts up to their front yard). And I drive past 2 other churches to get to MY church. As you see I feel a sense of ownership. The church I go to is 20-30 minutes away. My UU church has kids my son’s age, a sense of community that is unsurpassed, a wonderful minister and occasionally I run into family members there. We are there every sunday. I think I can commute to church because I don’t have to drive far to wrok each work day.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.