November 16, 2015

Church involvement varies widely among U.S. Christians

While most Americans still identify as Christian, there are big differences when it comes to how involved they are with a congregation – or whether they’re involved at all. Indeed, some of the largest Christian denominations in the U.S. have relatively low levels of involvement among their members.

Among all Christian religious traditions in the U.S., Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have the largest shares of members who are highly involved in their congregations, according to a new analysis of data from Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.

How Involved Are Christians in Their Congregations?Our analysis uses a scale we created drawing on the survey’s three measures of congregational involvement: membership in a congregation, frequency of attendance at worship services and frequency of attendance at small group religious activities. While these three measures don’t encompass all the potential ways people might be involved in their congregations, they represent common and broad categories of congregational engagement.

Those who are members of a congregation, attend religious services at least weekly and attend a prayer or scripture group weekly or monthly are categorized as having a “high” level of congregational involvement, while those who are not members of a congregation and who seldom or never attend religious services and small group prayer or scripture-reading groups are in the “low” category. All other respondents are categorized as having a “medium” level of congregational involvement.

Among U.S. adults who are Christian, three-in-ten have a high level of congregational involvement, while 58% have a medium level and 12% fall into the low category.

For some groups, however, much bigger shares of members are highly involved. Among Mormons, 67% have a high level of engagement, while a comparable share of Jehovah’s Witnesses (64%) are highly involved. Indeed, these two groups have the highest level of involvement by all three measures – membership, church attendance and small group activities – we used to create our scale.

Overall, evangelical Protestants (43%) and members of historically black Protestant denominations (41%) are less likely than Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to have a high level of involvement in their congregations. However, some denominations within these two religious traditions are highly involved. For instance, a majority of members of the Church of God in Christ (57%), a historically black Pentecostal denomination, have a relatively high level of involvement, as do 56% of Seventh-day Adventists and 44% of members of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

Mainline Protestants and Catholics are least involved in their congregations. Just 20% of mainline Protestants are highly involved. And among Catholics, 16% are highly involved, according to our measure, while a solid majority (70%) have a “medium” level of involvement. Indeed, most mainline Protestants and Catholics fall into this medium level of engagement in part because while many of their members attend religious services, they do not participate in a prayer or Scripture group on a weekly or monthly basis.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Mormons and Mormonism

  1. is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Becka A. Alper

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

16 Comments

  1. Nitsa1 year ago

    Mormons and Jehovah’s are NOT Christian!

    1. Holladay1 year ago

      Nitsa, I am a Mormon, and the REAL name of our church is : The CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day-Saints, and each of our prayers, millions every day, end with: We say these things IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, amen. So apparently, you have said we are not Christian without looking into it further. Are you afraid to know the truth? Then, ask for the “Mormon Missionaries” to come teach you. Don’t be afraid. We are very caring and giving people and have a whole warehouse in Salt Lake City that gives everything anyone needs to people ALL OVER THE WORLD. So, will you describe “Christian” — to me? In your eyes, what is a Christian?

    2. Vincent1 year ago

      Do your homework. Mormons are Christian.

    3. Tynwald1 year ago

      You are correct they are not Christian. Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons deny God’s triune nature and that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. I am shocked that the Layman has not corrected this blatant error.

      1. TeeDee1 year ago

        Why limit the eternal God’s nature to three? Am I missing something here? I am is missing much.

  2. Clark1 year ago

    This study indicates a lack of serious involvement in the church on the part of many members of mainline denominations. And that can’t be explained away by referring to churches which require involvement. Many organizations require involvement, but I don’t think requirements work for Christian churches–they should be open always and to all no matter what. But what about expectations, or hope, for members’ involvement? Shouldn’t churches be welcoming and encouraging in an active, personal way? This worked for me.

  3. M. Phillips1 year ago

    Your parameters for ‘church involvement’ appear too circumscribed. It is more than attending services, the rector’s forum or Bible study. I suggest that you expand your definition of involvement to cover participation in one or more church missions. This encompasses the tension between salvation by faith alone (the Marys of a congregation) and the the concept that faith without works is empty (the Marthas of a congregation). A church active in the community has many outreach missions, from helping the homeless, to counseling those in need, to feeding/clothing the poor. I wouldn’t go to Bible Study if you paid me but I volunteer twenty-hours a week at my church thrift shop.

    1. Lora1 year ago

      why is it you wouldn’t go to bible study ?

  4. E. Harris1 year ago

    Mormans are only first in involvement because all the males are required to have an assignment in some area of their operation. Most organizations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not require their members to take on any role in their organization.

    1. Robert1 year ago

      It is true that males are given an assignment in the congregation, but so are women. A standard belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints is that everyone needs a friend, a responsibility, and nourishment by the good word of God.

    2. Marc1 year ago

      Jehovah’s Witnesses are also REQUIRED to be involved. If you are NOT involved then you are NOT considered an ACTIVE Witness; you are considered INACTIVE. To be considered “Active” you MUST go door to door AT LEAST 15 minutes per month AND attend EVERY meeting or (call-in when circumstances prevent attendance). In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses are REQUIRED to record every month the time they spend out in “field service” and the elders make certain to count every meeting ALL who are there (including the call-ins).
      Now, conttrast the Mormons and JW’s who require their members to be “involved” and “active” in their churches with the Seventh-day Adventist Church (a church of which I am a part). We do not require anything of our members. We have high standards, but you will not find the pastor or the elder looking over the shoulders of members to make sure they tow the church line, yet look at our participation rate.
      I cannot say anything of the Church of God in Christ if they force their members to be involved or not because I know nothing about them- aside from what I’ve read from the Pew Research Center.

  5. Britt1 year ago

    The thing is religions on top have a come or be kicked out policy . The members have no choice or they will be outed from the religion. No religion should enslave you to it. Members have no choice.

    1. E. Harris1 year ago

      Not all on top (Jehovah’s Witnesses), require their members to be involved. They do encourage their members to “reach out,” for responsibilities within the organization, however, it’s not required.

    2. Darlene Alexander1 year ago

      You are so right – the top two use fear and guilt to control members – their “salvation” is based on how many hours they put into their ‘religion.’ They must keep up, or else they are considered “spiritually weak.”

      1. James Michael1 year ago

        I was raised Lutheran went to a Lutheran College for one year. Got disgusted with the teaching of situation ethics. Decided to look at the JWs became one been one for over forty years. Your statement is incorrect. I do what I do as a JW because I follow the two laws: Love God and Love his creation especially fellow humans. No guilt trips and no gain. Just happily proving true the statement: It is better to give than to receive.

        1. Marc1 year ago

          So James, you are not expected to fill in “field service reports” to demonstrate that, in order to be an “active” witness you MUST have 15 minutes of field service? And that if you neglect to turn a field service report for a month you DON’T recieve “friendly reminders” from your elders?Also, are you saying there is no “pressure” to meet JW average of at least 10 hours of field service AND attend EVERY meeting to be a member in good standing??
          Jehovah’s Witnesses do not put guns to their members’ heads to tow the JW line; instead, they use a more powerful weapon- peer pressure by SHUNNING (e.g. JW’s are counseled to AVOID bad associations in the congregation from those who are considered spiritual weak- i.e. they don’t comment at the WT readings, they don’t go out in FS and they miss too many meetings).