What do you think of when you hear Seattle?
If you are like most Americans the first thought in your mind after hearing the name Seattle is, “it rains all of the time!” However, there is a lot more to Seattle than its occasional (o.k. often) wet and gray weather. In fact there is much that you need to know about Seattle history and culture before excluding it or including it on your list of potential areas to plant a church.
Seattle’s Early Story
Early settlers in the 1850s noted the opportunities for commerce in logging in the Northwest. So they staked a claim in what is now west Seattle. After a harsh first winter they were urged by a Native American chief to move more inland. They did, and re-established the city on the icy blue waters of Elliot Bay and named the city after the chief. Later, in the 1890s, Seattle served as a stop-off for miners headed to the Klondike gold fields of Alaska.
One of Seattle’s common surnames is the “Emerald City.” Like the first glimpse of Oz must have been to Dorothy and company , the first time that you see the city you are awestruck by the divine beauty of its surroundings and the magical flare of its cityscape. The city is nestled between the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges and in clear view of Mount Rainer. It is almost entirely surrounded by water with the Puget Sound to its west, Lake Washington to its east and Lake Union just to the north.
With close to 4 million people living between Tacoma and Everett (the Greater Seattle Area), the city streets are packed with cars and the buildings are filled with the bustle of industry. The city boasts an impressive list of big businesses. The city area is home to business giants like Microsoft, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Amazon.com, Eddie Bauer, and the commercial plane manufacturing wing of Boeing.
Equally surprising to the first time visitor to the Seattle area is the fact that the average Seattleite is just as likely to look like an average urban professional than a member of Pearl Jam or a poster boy for Grape Nuts. Seattle is a diverse city. Although the largest ethnic group in the Northwest is predominately Caucasian, there are multiple ethnic groups living in the area. Downtown there is both a large African American and Asian American population. Seattleites also love the outdoors, and with water or snow skiing, hiking, rafting, camping, boating, hunting, and climbing paradises only moments from downtown, they take every available opportunity to get out into the great outdoors. Right behind their love for the outdoors is Seattle’s fixation with coffee. It is everywhere. Almost every convenience store you frequent here has a latte stand, and there seem to be as many Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, or Tully’s coffee shops as there are grocery stores.
The Seattle Church
The Seattle area ranks at the top of largest unchurched populations in America. It is estimated that less than 4% of Seattle’s population attends a Christian church on any given Sunday. It is not that people in this area have no belief system. There are several religious groups that thrive in this area (Eastern religions, New Age, Wica, and Mormonism). It is not as if there are no positive expression of Christianity in the Northwest. There are a number of thriving churches -even mega churches in the Seattle area, as well as many smaller solid biblical traditional and contemporary churches. For the average Northwestern, though, it is fine if it works for them as long as they don’t want to try to make it an expectation for everyone.