The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) has a handy website at which you can check out a city's population breakdown into all sorts of religious beliefs/practices. This organization is one of the newest and most creative statistical researchers into modern religion in the US and nationally (there are categories like "belief in angels" and "has respondent had 'born again' experience?"). It is based out of Penn State. Check it out!
In 2000, 356 religious congregations appeared on their Denver census. 356! It's probably safe to assume that there are a few dozen others that aren't even listed--and some people are so individualistic about their spirituality that you might count each of theirs as a congregation in and of itself.
The main group of practitioners in the Denver area, according to this census, is "unclaimed." This simply means that these people do not fit into the categories that were offered on the survey. After this group, we find Catholicism, "Other," Mainline Protestantism, and Evangelical Protestantism. "Other" means that they did choose a religion on the survey, but the percentage was too small to be included on the bar graph.
During my work as a hospice chaplain, the majority of the people I visited were over 80 years old. I could not find a census on this population alone, but I imagine that the breakdown of religious beliefs would be quite different. After attending a Buddhist-inspired university, it was kind of a hazing to be thrown straight back into the world of Christianity. I would confidently say that over 75% of my patients were practicing Christians.
As younger people grow older and begin the dying process, the shift in this percentage is going to be huge. Hospice workers need to be prepared for this shift by preparing now. In my opinion, the best way to "prepare" for diversity is to learn how to open not just the mind, but the heart.
As interfaith chaplains, we are committed to doing our work without letting our own biases get in the way. This means that if a family asks us to do a Christian prayer, we likely say yes. If someone requests the Sacrament of the Sick, we make the call to the closest Catholic Church. If someone tells us that God is a load of crap, we ask follow-up questions, and never try to convert the person into some kind of spiritual viewpoint.
I did take a Modern Religion class in grad school that "helped" with my ability to understand various faiths, but honestly the only thing that helps a person to become fluid in the work of a chaplain is the work itself. I learned, through the work, that I had some deep-rooted assumptions about a lot of beliefs, and that I needed to go home after a day's work and look at my judgments. Why, for example, did I assume that Born-again Christians were arrogant and closed-minded? Why did I assume that Buddhists wouldn't be arrogant and closed-minded?
Talking with one chaplain, I learned that beneath his "interfaith" work, he worries deeply about people who do not "believe in Jesus," and he goes home at night and prays for them. This, in my opinion, is ethically unsound. We cannot just wear the interfaith mask and go home to our own version of what other people believe. We have to learn to take off ALL of our masks.
I invite anyone who has any opinions on these matters to work for hospice. When you see someone die, their religious beliefs fall second to their effect on your heart. This, I noticed, was a reciprocal connection. I was barely asked about my religious beliefs by my patients. These people wanted human contact, music, and sometimes a deeply spiritual prayer. Some of them wanted to finally talk about the big elephant in the room that their families were not prepared to acknowledge. Some of them just wanted to sit quietly. And some of them, of course, wanted to be alone.
We learned in grad school that we need to "meet people where they are at." It is my own arrogance, always, that gets in the way of this. Through the work, I learned to put myself aside and listen to other people. It's one thing to know that there are other points of view. It's quite another to tear off your own, as if you are tearing off your own skin, and listen to someone from that place of raw, naked not-knowing.
The census from ARDA looks overwhelming, but as I scroll down to see all those various religious beliefs, I see that each number is a beating human heart with a lot of personal experience. The "religion" category is secondary, in my opinion, to that human quality. This, I feel, is the shift that we need to see in chaplain work, and in our lives in general.