Northern New England, however, is a land of rocky soil. This year it replaced the Pacific Northwest as America's least religious region, according to Trinity College's American Religious Identification Survey. Vermont tops the list in unbelief: 34 percent of Vermonters claim no religious affiliation.
Even so, conservative Christians see opportunity in a land of empty churches and unconverted souls. They're sending teams of volunteers from other states to restore old buildings. They're adapting outreach styles, much as they might in Africa or Eastern Europe, to fit the local culture. So far, they are getting a largely – albeit cautiously – warm reception.
"Vermonters aren't interested in a pie-in-the-sky, 'I'm better than you' kind of faith," says Terry Dorsett, the Southern Baptist Convention's director of missions for Vermont. "But a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-help-my-community kind of faith? There are a lot of Vermonters interested in that."
New churches are building good- will by addressing needs outside their doors. Example: Last summer, during renovations of what is now Mettowee Valley Church in West Pawlet, Vt., locals joined with teams from North Carolina to rebuild an elderly neighbor's collapsing porch. In Barre, Vt., members of five-year-old Faith Community Church regularly serve at the Open Door Soup Kitchen.