June 08, 2005

How religious are people in the U.S.?

A recent AP/Ipsos poll showed that religion is more important in their lives than it is to people in nine other countries [Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, and Spain]. But what does that mean?

Well, it probably doesn't mean that people attend services regularly. While most polls in the US say that about 40 percent of Americans regularly go to religious services, the real number is probably much lower says Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds:

One of the problem comes in how the question is asked in a poll. Different questions yield different results. For example, in a survey you might ask, "What did you do last weekend?" listing for the person a number of possible activities, including church-going. This will yield a very different response than if you asked, "Did you attend church last Sunday?"

One factor is that people often answer according to what they think someone like them wants or ought to do. So people tend to overreport on the number of sexual partners they?ve had and how much money they give to charity, and tend to underreport on illegal drug use and the like. Hence, church attendance is often inflated.

In 1998 C. Kirk Hadaway and P.L. Marler published an article in the Christian Century entitled, Did You Really Go To Church This Week? Behind the Poll Data where they examine many of these factors. The authors focused on individual counties in the US and Canada, surveying actual church/synagogue attendance and comparing it with random surveys they were conducting. They found that actual church attendance was about half the rate indicated by national public opinion polls. Their estimate for US actual church attendance is around 20%.

Dave Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, surveying only Christian churches (i.e., evangelical, mainline, and Catholic) has come up with a similar number. The percentage of Americans regularly attending church is 18.7%.

So while the AP/Ipsos poll [like many similar polls before it] show people in the US saying that religion is very important in their lives, the apparent difference between what people say and do when asked about their religious observances makes us hesitant to guess how much religion actually informs peoples' actions and decisions.

Via Red State Rabble.

Posted by Magpie at June 8, 2005 12:01 PM | Faith | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

It seems like the question is also a bit narrow. Not all religions have a regular weekly service, or consider it important as part of religious practice. Some people may express their faith through prayer at home, study of scripture, or whatever, rather than by attending services. I'd like to see the question updated to recognize the diversity of religious experience in America today. :-)

Posted by: Al-Muhajabah at June 8, 2005 03:23 PM


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Posted by: ow at June 8, 2005 07:56 PM

If people really believed in God they would behave a lot differently. These polls do not reveal what people really believe.

Take a poll and ask people if they would risk injuring themselves and others to get to work on time. Then drive on the freeway and see how many of them do it.

Posted by: James E. Powell at June 9, 2005 11:18 AM