A new study shows that Americans aren’t being 100 percent truthful when it comes to answering questions about their weekly church attendance.
(More details here.)
Fewer than one in four Americans actually attend church regularly, but 35-45 percent of the population claims to attend church regularly.
I have long suspected that weekly attendance is greatly exaggerated. Why? Roughly 1/3 of Episcopalians attend church on a typical weekend. The numbers are roughly comparable for Presbyterians and Methodists. Most Southern Baptists stay home on Sundays, too, church estimates show.
If only 35-40 percent of all church members are attending church on a typical weekend, it’s hard to imagine how 35-45 percent of all Americans could be worshipping on a weekly basis.
The reality — the gap between church attendance in the United States and Europe isn’t nearly as wide as we’ve been led to believe. Most Americans (like most Europeans) steer clear of churches on Sundays.
It’s ironic that so many Americans are willing to “lie” about their rate of church attendance. But my theory (and it’s similar to one of the researcher’s theories) is this. Pollsters ask the following question:
1.) Do you attend church every Sunday?
But the question people hear and answer is this one:
2.) Should you attend church every Sunday?
My theory: In the U.S., in 2010, perhaps 45 percent of Americans believe people should attend church, but only 50-67 percent of these people actually attend every week themselves. As a result, true weekly attendance rates are somewhere between 22.5 and 30 percent.
If my theory is correct, look for the following:
Church attendance will continue to slowly decline. But the percentage of Americans who are willing to admit they skip church could change far more rapidly. The result — it will look like church attendance is plummeting, even though actual church attendance is only decreasing slightly. This appearance of a sharp decline will have repercussions for the American church and for the wider culture.