Easter Draws Americans Back to Church

by George Gallup Jr.

Americans Celebrate Easter, 1999

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

An estimated 100 million adults, or every other person 18 and older, spent part of Easter Sunday at church services. This finding is based on Gallup data showing that typical weekly attendance swells from 40% to 50% on Easter Day.

Past analysis also reveals that the biggest surge in attendance occurs among young adults who are under 30 years of age and Catholics.

Teen attendance, which Gallup Youth Surveys show to run about 10 points higher than adults' in a typical week (averaging 50%), can also be expected to climb considerably this Sunday.

Teen attendance, which Gallup Youth Surveys show to run about 10 points higher than adults' in a typical week (averaging 50%), also likely climbed considerably on Sunday.

Only a Cultural Event?
When people do finally show up at church on Easter, the clergy often has its work cut out for it, because some in attendance may not fully appreciate why they are there. An earlier (1991) Gallup survey found that just eight in ten Protestant and Catholic adults understand the religious significance of Easter Sunday, while two in ten either misunderstood it or readily admitted they could not even hazard a guess.

In addition, as many as three in ten teenagers do not know the religious significance of Easter.

These findings point to a "knowledge gap" in Americans' religious condition-the gap between Americans' state of faith and their lack of the most basic knowledge about that faith. Surveys show that many Americans do not know what they believe or why. Furthermore, despite the growing level of formal education in the U.S., biblical illiteracy remains.

There is also a gap between "believers" and "belongers." Millions of people of all faiths are believers, many devout, but they do not always participate in the congregational lives of their denominations. Americans tend to view their faith as a matter between them and God, to be aided, but not necessarily influenced, by religious institutions.

And finally, there is an ethics gap-the difference between the way we think of ourselves and the way we actually are. While religion is highly popular in this country, survey evidence suggests that it does not change people's lives to the degree one would expect from the level of professed faith.

Overlapping in Beliefs and Practices
Considerable overlapping is found in religious beliefs and practices. People tend to choose the items of belief that best suit them. Reginald Bibby, Canadian sociologist, calls this "religion a la carte." Substantial proportions of traditional Christians, for example, subscribe to non-Christian beliefs and practices, such as reincarnation, channeling, astrology, and fortune telling.

Religion in America: Underlying Themes
Religion in America has been studied by Gallup for two thirds of a century, because one cannot fully understand America if one does not have an appreciation of its spiritual and religious underpinnings. Gallup surveys have shown that the depth of religious commitment often has more to do with how Americans act and think than do other key background characteristics, such as level of education, age, and political affiliation.

The picture of religion in this country is a complex one, but certain underlying themes emerge:

  • The widespread and continuing appeal or popularity of religion
  • A high percentage of persons attest to orthodox Judeo-Christian beliefs and doctrines.
  • A glaring lack of knowledge about the Bible, basic doctrines, and the traditions of one's own church
  • The inconsistencies and overlapping of beliefs-for example, evangelical Christians expressing belief in New Age practices
  • The superficiality of faith, with many people not knowing what they believe, or why
  • At the same time, however, an eager searching for meaning in life; a hunger for God; a belief in prayer and present-day miracles
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