The screenshot shows the configuration you need to find and download places of worship in Cook County, Illinois, using the Overpass Turbo website.

If you’re looking to make a map of churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, you’ll need data.

  • The Yellow Pages won’t help because you can’t download that.
  • And Google Maps doesn’t let you have a slice of their database, either.
  • There’s no open data* for this because churches don’t pay taxes, don’t have business licenses, and aren’t required to register in any way

This where OpenStreetMap (OSM) comes in. It’s a virtual planet that anyone can edit and anyone can have for free.

First we need to figure out what tag people use to identify these places. Sometimes on OSM there are multiple tags that identify the same kind of place. You should prefer the one that’s either more accurate (and mentioned as such in the wiki) or widespread.

The OSM taginfo website says that editors have added over 1.2 million places of worship to the planet using amenity=place_of_worship.

Now that we know which tag to look for, we need an app that will help us get those places, but only within our desired boundary. Open up Overpass Turbo, which is a website that helps construct calls to the Overpass API, which is one way to find and download data from OSM.


In the default Overpass Turbo query, there’s probably a tag in brackets that says [amenity=drinking_fountain]. Change that to say [amenity=place_of_worship] (without the quotes). Now change the viewport of the map to show only the area in which you want Overpass Turbo to look for these places of worship. In the query this argument is listed as ({{bbox}}).

The map has a search bar to find boundaries (cities, counties, principalities, neighborhoods, etc.) so type in “Cook County” and press Enter. The Cook County in Illinois, United States of America, will probably appear first. Select that one and the map will zoom to show the whole county in the viewport.

Now that we’ve set the tag to [amenity=place_of_worship] and moved the map to show Cook County we can click “Run”. In a few seconds you’ll see a circle over each place of worship.

It’s now simple to download: Click on the “Export” button and click “KML” to be able to load the data into Google Earth, “GeoJSON” to load it into a GIS app like QGIS, or “save GeoJSON to gist” to create an instant map within GitHub.

*You could probably get creative and ask a municipality for a list of certificates of occupancy or building permits that had marked “religious assembly” as the zoning use for the property.