Mormons, Evangelical Protestants, Baptists Top Church Attendance List

by Frank Newport

Jews and Episcopalians least likely to attend on regular basis

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- America's churches will be much fuller than usual this weekend as Christians celebrate Easter, one of the two times a year when church attendance in the United States is traditionally the highest. In addition to these spurts in attendance in relation to specific holy days, research has shown that church attendance on a more normal, year-round basis varies as the result of a number of specific characteristics of individuals and their religions.

In a broad sense, church attendance is strongly related to certain demographic characteristics. Older Americans are much more likely than younger Americans to attend church; women of any age are more likely than men to attend church; Americans living in the South, and to a lesser degree the Midwest, are more likely to attend church than those living in the East or the West; and black Americans are much more likely to attend church than whites.

But in addition to the effect these personal characteristics have on church attendance, a special Gallup Poll analysis shows that average church service attendance is significantly related to religious identification. Americans who identify with certain religions and denominations attend church more often than those who associate with other religions or denominations or who have no particular religious identification. In business terminology, religious bodies and denominations have widely different "yields" from their customer base.

This analysis is based on an aggregate of more than 11,000 Gallup Poll interviews conducted between 2002 and 2005, in which respondents were asked about both their religious identification and their church attendance.

The basic measure of church attendance used in the analysis is the following: "How often do you attend church or synagogue -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?"

The basic pattern of responses is as follows:

How often do you attend church or synagogue -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?
Based on 11,050 interviews conducted 2002-2005

%

Once a week

33

Almost every week

12

Once a month

15

Seldom

28

Never

13

For the purposes of this analysis, these responses have been collapsed into a two-category variable:

1) Those who report attending church services once a week or almost every week.

2) Those who report attending church services once a month, seldom, or never.

The table displays the average church attendance measures for each religious grouping for which there were more than 100 interviews. The table displays the relationship between identification with a variety of religious groups (including those who say their religious identification is "none") and self-reported church attendance.

These data suggest several interesting insights:

  • There is a wide variation in regular church attendance across the groups of Americans who identify with each of these religions or denominations, ranging from a high of 68% among those who identify with the Church of Christ, 67% of Mormons, and 65% of Pentecostals, to just 15% of Jews.

  • Roman Catholics used to be significantly above average in terms of church attendance, but today are just at the average level. (An analysis of Gallup Poll data from 1971, using a different measure of attendance "within the last seven days," showed that 57% of Catholics said they had gone to church in the past week, compared with just 37% of Protestants.)

  • Certain Protestant denominations are much more effective than others in generating worship participation from their adherents. In general, those denominations traditionally identified as more conservative and evangelical have higher reported attendance than the more traditionally mainline denominations. These data may help explain why evangelical denominations have been growing while mainline denominations have not: High interest and participation can be signs of engaged parishioners who are less likely to out-migrate, and suggest that the religious group is more attractive to outsiders considering a change in religious preference.

  • Mormons, one of the fastest-growing religious groups in America, report high levels of church service attendance.

  • Although none of the mainline denominations does particularly well in terms of church attendance, these data suggest that Episcopalians are particularly challenged, with only about a third of them reporting regular church attendance.

  • Jews in America today are very unlikely to report regular worship service participation.

  • Americans who claim to have no religious identification whatsoever, not surprisingly, are very unlikely to attend worship services.

The precise dynamics that lie beneath the relationship between religious identification and attendance are difficult to determine. On the one hand, it is likely that the doctrines, practices, and traditions of each of these denominations have a direct impact on church attendance. Mormons place a strong emphasis on high levels of regular and systematic participation in church life and rituals, while Jews put more emphasis on participation on specific holy days during the year, rather than regular, week-in, week-out group worship. Many evangelical denominations have a strong emphasis on highly involving, if not entertaining, church services, while the religious services of mainline Protestant denominations are typically more low key and therefore perhaps less involving.

It is also likely that each of these religious groups attracts members who have certain levels of pre-existing religious proclivities. Americans who are deeply religious and who like the idea of group ritual participation may self-select into certain denominations and groups. This in turn would raise the average church attendance in these denominations. In other words, Americans who are attracted to more intense, evangelical denominations for doctrinal reasons may personally be habituated to routine church attendance.

Survey Methods

Results are based on an aggregate of Gallup Poll interviews conducted between 2002 and 2005. The total sample consists of 11,050 interviews; sample sizes for specific subgroups are outlined in the tables. All results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is less than ±1 percentage point. Margins of sampling error for individual subgroups are larger and depend on the precise sample sizes involved. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How often do you attend church or synagogue -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?
Based on interviews conducted 2002-2005

Weekly/
Almost weekly

Once a Month/
Seldom
/Never

Sample
size

%

%

Prot: Church of Christ

68

32

123

Mormon

67

33

174

Prot: Pentecostal

65

35

166

Prot: Other

61

37

306

Prot: Southern Baptist

60

40

625

Prot: Other Baptist

56

44

1,005

Prot: Non-denominational

54

46

336

Other Christian

51

48

729

Other

47

53

161

Catholic

45

54

2,446

SAMPLE AVERAGE

44

55

11,050

Prot: Methodist

44

55

821

Prot: Presbyterian

44

56

381

Prot: Lutheran

43

56

493

Prot: None

37

63

161

Prot: Episcopal

32

68

186

Prot: DK

19

80

101

Jewish

15

84

204

NONE

5

95

800

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