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.


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

Leave a Comment


All comments must follow the Pew Research comment policy and will be moderated before posting.


  1. Joy Job Thottukadavil7 months 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!

    1. DennisLurvey3 weeks 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.

  2. Robert Marcus7 months 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!