December 1, 2016

If the U.S. had 100 people: Charting Americans’ religious beliefs and practices

About 218 million of the United States’ roughly 245 million adults say they believe in God. Such deeply personal views might seem abstract or distant when expressed as large numbers, but this is not the only way to look at religious belief in the U.S. What if we looked at our data about people’s religious beliefs and practices through a slightly different lens – that of small community, rather than a huge country?

Recently, we did just that, showing the religious affiliations of Americans by creating an imaginary 100-person town and using it as a model to show our data in a simple way. Here, we do the same to show Americans’ religious beliefs and practices.

The following six charts use data from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study to create a profile of American religious beliefs and practices if the country were made up of exactly 100 adults.

If the U.S. were a town of just 100 adults, 36 would attend religious services at least once a week, while 33 would go to religious services no more than monthly. Another 30 would seldom or never attend a house of worship. (Surveys that ask directly about religious attendance typically obtain higher estimates of weekly attendance than other, more indirect methods of data collection. For more discussion of this phenomenon, see “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious.“)

In a U.S. with just 100 people, 89 would believe in God. This would include 63 people who would be absolutely certain of their belief, 20 who would be fairly certain and six who would be not too or not at all certain. Just nine people would not believe in God or a universal spirit.

In a U.S. comprised of 100 people, 55 would believe in heaven and hell, while 17 would believe in heaven but not hell. Three people would believe in hell but not heaven, and 25 would not believe in either.

If the U.S. had 100 people, 53 would say their religion is very important to them, 24 would say it was somewhat important and 11 people each would say religion is not too or not at all important to them.

In a U.S. with 100 people, 55 would pray on a daily basis, 21 would pray at least monthly, and 23 would seldom or never pray.

If the U.S. had 100 adults, 58 would still identify with the religion in which they were raised, but 42 would no longer identify with their childhood faith. Among those who have switched religions, 21 were Protestants who either left Protestantism altogether or switched from one Protestant tradition to another. For instance, someone who left a mainline Protestant church and joined an evangelical Protestant church would be included in this group. In addition, 13 are former Catholics and four were raised religiously unaffiliated.

Topics: Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Aleksandra Sandstrom

    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.


  1. Stella Lark9 months ago

    Ms Alper,

    The analysis is revealing and what interested me as an unaffiliated church attender the numbers show this non-affiliation by not becoming a member of a specific religious group. The big question that most do not address with the religious groups is why? As one attending a local Lutheran church and not participating in selections being made but do give time and finance in doing things. Does anyone ever get input from these bureaucratic structured denominations get the picture that the traditional methods of allowing participation in the faith community by membership is an impediment to sustaining?

    Over the last 30 years of participating in two different faith communities by membership which resulted in the usual fallacy as attendance dropped to take action of bringing in the “Consultants” to improve their ministry. The process of such becomes a distraction, and the outcome brings forth changes that usually result in a drop of participation either immediately or after a short period of experimentation the same outcome drop off.

    In 2012 left a membership and at this point stay not affiliated via membership. Support and doing yes but the followers of Parkinson’s Law seem to prevail as in any organization based on membership and being an affiliate vs. a community attender. In this context my view at this time is being not affiliated by a bogus membership. Consider the current church has 2000 members and on average in a week only has 600 to 800 attending and participating in the church. Also, no numbers of those non-affiliated and attending. Aha, keep the truth hidden. Is this the purpose of a church and illuminating God’s Word to all?

  2. Anonymous9 months ago

    I’m intrigued by believing in Hell, but not Heaven. Are they thinking like “Sheol”, an abode for the dead, or something? I’ve never heard of a real belief in universal damnation.

  3. Martha Carey9 months ago

    I appreciate and learn much from your Pew Research findings. The one glaring question that was NOT asked in this study is this: whether one is formally educated and/or self-educated, and mostly, how many of these folks in these religious groups rarely or even READ? Read for: knowledge, wisdom, information, self-improvement and self-examination, current global news and events, read for exposure, experience, enlightenment…to read to know…that we are not alone? Currently stated example of this un-asked and un-equated question stated right here on Pew Research. That as a race and a culture, Hispanics and Latino’s have the lowest reading rates of most all groups. Yet, they are the most predominately “Catholic” (stated in their religious affiliations).

    If one doesn’t read or examine anything, then add these into the mix of non-reading, un-educated and poorly informed Catholics. Now, this is NOT to say that any-most-all of these Latino’s/Hispanics are, in reality, traditionally-believing, fundamentalist or conservative, status-quo goose-stepping Roman Catholics. Whether it is with Latino’s or Jew’s or Hindu’s or Evangelicals or Agnostics, or any other groups, this IS to say that without a personal religious search and reading, without digging deeper with self-education and examination, this group will remain like most perfunctory non-examined Catholics, which is the same as paying lip-service to someone else’s creedal expectations, following robotic rites and rituals, keeping the habit of the church for the sake of the habit itself, and mostly, because it is familiar (family) and it is what their ancestors always did. “We’ve always done it this way before.” I emphasize the word, “before.” What about NOW, and the future? Finally, for your worthy survey here and all those who were involved in it, I say: “An un-examined life (or religion) or anything, is not worth living.” (Socrates) If one is not exploring and reading, then one is probably not even questioning, which presumes that they don’t know even know their espoused religion, or faith, for that matter. For Pew Research, before you even conduct a survey with anything, first ask what your respondents READ! It’s replies will shock and alarm you…disintegrating into self-chosen ignorance for 40 years now!

    1. Anonymous8 months ago

      and how many read and study the holy book(s) of their own religion? Let’s ask that one too.

  4. Anonymous9 months ago

    Which “god” are we talking about here. Even in America there seem to be many different “gods”. keith campbell, denver

    1. Anonymous9 months ago

      The god of whatever their religion is. Its not specific to a certain one, this is just in general.

    2. Anonymous9 months ago

      This study is about religion, why would a particular god alter the results?