September 13, 2013

What surveys say about worship attendance – and why some stay home

This Sunday is “National Back to Church Sunday,” a coordinated effort by more than 20,000 churches of various Christian denominations to reach out to people who rarely attend worship services.

The percentage of Americans who say they “seldom” or “never” attend religious services (aside from weddings and funerals) has risen modestly in the past decade. Roughly three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) now say they seldom or never attend worship services, up from 25% in 2003, according to aggregated data from Pew Research Center surveys. The share of people who say they attend services at least once a week has remained relatively steady; 37% say they attend at least weekly today, compared with 39% a decade ago.

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Of course, how often people say they usually attend services is not necessarily the same as how often they actually do attend. For example, time diary studies, in which respondents report on concrete activities over a limited span of time, often show lower rates of church attendance than data from surveys, which perhaps better reflect how people see themselves (rather than how they behave).

Among the growing share of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., the vast majority say they are not looking for a religion, and relatively few (5%) say they go to services weekly or more often. But what keeps people who have a religious affiliation – that is, who identify with a particular religious group – out of the pews?

A 2012 Pew Research poll asked respondents to answer this question in their own words. Among religiously affiliated Americans who say that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, but who attend worship services no more than a few times a year, 24% cite personal priorities – including 16% who say they are too busy – as reasons they do not attend more often. Another 24% mention practical difficulties, including work conflicts, health problems or transportation difficulties.

Nearly four-in-ten (37%) point to an issue directly related to religion or church itself. The most common religion-related responses include disagreements with the beliefs of the religion or their church leaders, or beliefs that attending worship services is not important. Meanwhile, almost one-in-ten (9%) do not attribute their lack of attendance at religious services to anything in particular.

Topics: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. is Editor at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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6 Comments

  1. Denis Logan5 months ago

    I’m 75 years old and in my life I have belonged to four different religions. Two or three years ago my wife and I quit our last affiliation, with the LDS Church (Mormon) Church. Our difference of opinion with our last Church was their activity in California and their opposition with proposition 8, that would allow Gay Marriage. I thought the Church’s, opposition, sending money and Church Members to California to fight in the election to defeat this proposition and to support politicians that were against Proposition 8, was against Churches protection under the U.S. Constitution. The Churches reluctance to admit their involvement was and is against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Also with members of the LDS Church there is wide spread Racism, which is condoned by the leadership, by their silence on this mater.
    Something I heard from a Law Enforcement offices was the inability to investigate Churches, suspected of illegal actives, such as money laundering, drugs, etc. I have given some thought to this, and it would easy to set up a Church, attract legitimate members and clergy. Then keep control of the books and the behind the scene leaders could control receipts and expenditures. and make it look like a legitimate Church. Police and Courts are not able to investigate the Churches because of Religions protection under the Constitution. Don’t you know criminals have thought exactly how to do this.

    Reply
  2. Lance6 months ago

    When any Church, Religion or Group calling itself Christian becomes a “Thou shalt not” group instead of a “Thou SHALL” group, there is degeneration, defamation and declination.
    There is actually only 1 Commandment in the Bible that is a “Thou SHALL” command: It eclipses every single one of the “10 commandments” and the over 600 rules, laws and regulations Pharisees found in the Scriptures. In fact, the Bible says the only way we can keep from self-destruct behavior is to DO this vital Command:
    “YOU SHALL LOVE God with all your mind, strength & energy…and then LOVE EVERYONE AROUND YOU the same way.”
    If this “THOU SHALL” Command is practiced, OUR THINKING will be transformed. Our identity will be driven by compassion instead of criticism & complaint. Our purpose will change from selfish motives into selfless deeds. The Church will grow OUTSIDE of the walls we have created…IF we obey this Commandment.
    Pastor Lance

    Reply
  3. Joy Job Thottukadavil1 year ago

    The ‘PRIESTS’ who are supposed to be the PASTORS OF FLOCK have now very pathetically degenerated to be the mere ADMINISTRATORS OF CHURCH !
    Pope Francis of course exhibits some signs of “BEING A PASTOR”.
    This of course, I believe would rejuvenate, not only Church but the Religions and Moral of the whole world.

    If this hope is fulfilled, no doubt the worship attendance is going to be on an increase.
    But I fear the evil forces at any time may put lock to his tongue and deeds!

    Reply
    1. DennisLurvey7 months ago

      I can go to any service, listen to the sermon, and go home and google the facts of his sermon; and find there is no historical or actual proof that it ever happened at all. Younger ppl are doing this and leaving religion because of what they find, as Jesus said ‘in the mind there lies the treasure’ or its all in your mind.

      I would rather go to a service where they admitted the sermon was advice to live by, and not an actual event. The ppl who say they dont believe they have to attend services to be good might be gnostics, ppl who believe god is within.

      Reply
      1. Lavender3 weeks ago

        I suppose I can “Google” anything and find something that goes against the truth. Google is not the final word, it in is itself is only a means to do research. In my efforts to “Google” facts about the Bible, I came across this:
        prevailmagazine.org/how-archaeol…
        so your statement that “Google” disproves the Bible, is incorrect.
        If you want the truth, study the Bible, and do more research. Don’t just choose the sites which try to disclaim the Bible. I have been reading the Bible and doing the same. Amazing how, when you open your mind and want the truth, you will see how the history in the Bible aligns with everything today. I have also seen several good shows that prove the Bible. It was common in those days, for the rulers to eradicate any history that makes them look bad. How many other books have survived 2000 years?

        Reply
  4. Robert Marcus1 year ago

    To the extent that any congregation would hopefully constitute a “community” where one would feel a sense, not only of some sort of religious congruity, but also a feeling of spiritual and benevolent well-being . . . ; where an inter-generational sense of tradition and roots, even if all the participants haven’t been born into that particular neighborhood or even that religion, are cherished and respected; but are NOT rigidly adhered to that new appproaches to the liturgy and interpretations of the sacred texts aren’t regularly introduced. No wonder, when I observe the bar/bat mitzvah extravaganza/horrors at many reform temples, that young Jews are disaffected and stay away: that Sheldon Adelson carries the torch of “b’nai israel”? Why go to shul? And for the Gentiles . . .to hear the USA described as a Christian nation and we see the discrepancy in poverty and wealth, in subsistence and in privilege? Who’re we kidding … after all, what DID rav Jeshua ben Miam v Joseph aka Jesus Christ really say!

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