GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
The National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 6, and Gallup poll data suggest that many Americans do not just pray on special days like this, but on a regular basis. Overall, 9 in 10 Americans claim to engage in prayer, a proportion that has not changed over the last half-century of Gallup polling, and 3 out of 4 Americans say that they pray on a daily basis. An additional 15% of adults say they pray at least weekly. Less frequent praying is reported by only 6%.
Why do people pray? The survey results indicate that people pray for a range of reasons -- from asking for their family's wellbeing, to adoration of God, to winning the lottery. However, many reject the idea of using prayers to petition for material things. Nearly all Americans who pray believe that their prayers are heard and that their prayers have been answered. But, 20% have been angered on at least one occasion because they believe their prayers have not been answered.
Pray to a Supreme Being
Americans who are most likely to report praying at least once daily are women, non-whites, and residents of the South. Even among young adults under 30 years of age, 62% report daily prayers.
Prayer is primarily a solitary event: more people (87%) say they more often pray silently and alone than aloud and with others (11%).
Most adults say they pray to a supreme being, such as God, the Lord, Jehovah, or Jesus Christ. Only 1% each report that their prayers are in a "new age" mode to a transcendent or cosmic force, to the "inner self," or to the "god within."
Prayers are Conversational
A majority of Americans who pray -- 56% -- says that their prayers are conversational in nature. Fewer people say their prayers usually are either meditative or reflective (15%), or more formal, such as reciting the Lord's Prayer (13%). Fourteen percent report they use a combination of all three approaches.
Reflecting the nature of their particular religious practices, Protestants are twice as likely as Roman Catholics to say they most often engage in conversational prayer (65% to 31%). Catholics, perhaps not surprisingly given the more formal nature of their religious ceremonies, are more likely than Protestants to report their prayers are more formal expressions, such as the Lord's Prayer.
Giving thanks to God before meals is fairly common in American homes, with 29% of those interviewed stating they always say grace, and 22% reporting it is a frequent occurrence. An additional 34% say it is an occasional practice; 14% report that saying grace before meals is never done.
Protestants are more likely than Catholics to report they always or frequently say grace, by a margin of 56% to 43%. Non-whites are most likely to report that they say grace "always" or "frequently" (65%).
The Effectiveness of Prayer
In vast numbers and through a variety of prayer modes, Americans seek to relate to a power outside themselves. Respondents report that the effects are often profound, in terms of life satisfaction, finding purpose and meaning in life, involvement in social and political causes, and the ability to forgive others who have hurt them. Prayer not only comforts; it challenges the person praying to move toward a greater spiritual maturity.
A high proportion of the 9 in 10 people who say that they pray report experiencing a deep sense of peace and the strong presence of God through prayer. Survey respondents frequently report that they have received an answer to specific prayer requests. Still others say they have gained a deeper insight into some biblical truth, and that they have been inspired or led by God to perform some specific action.
Of those who pray, the vast majority report that they thank God for his blessings, talk to God in their own words, ask God to forgive their sins, and seek guidance for decisions.
The above findings are based on Gallup studies conducted for LIFE Magazine, 1994, the Mind/Body Institute of the Harvard Medical School, 1995, and in a special survey conducted in preparation for the book, Varieties of Prayer, by Margaret M. Poloma and George Gallup, Jr., published in 1991 by Trinity Press International.