Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators

by George H. Gallup Jr.
Senior Staff Writer

Last week's Religion & Values section introduced Gallup's newest societal indicator, the Congregational Engagement Index, which is designed to gauge the degree to which churchgoing Americans are actively involved in their faith communities. But Gallup has also maintained a more macro-level assessment of religiosity among Americans for more than six decades.

The Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators was recently updated with 2001 data. The overall number for last year, based on surveys conducted in 2001*, stands at 671, virtually the same figure as recorded in 2000 (673) and 1999 (also 673). A perfect score would be 1,000.

The Index of Leading Religious Indicators is an annual measurement based on eight questions dealing with religious beliefs and practices (covered in one or more surveys in a given year). While this Index can be considered a reliable barometer of the general health of organized religion in America, it tells us less about the depth of religious faith.

Here are the findings for each item for the year 2001:

1. Believe in God 95.0%
2. State religious preference 91.7
3. Member of a church 65.6
4. Attended church last 7 days 41.1
5. Religion very important in life 57.7
6. Religion answers problems 61.7
7. High confidence in organized religion 59.7
8. Give high ratings to ethical standards of clergy 63.9
Total 536.4
Divided by 8 = 671 (Index figure for 2001)

The overall Index score bottomed out in 1988 at 650 after a slow downward trend over the course of the decade, stayed at a relatively low level for the next two years, increased in the late 1990s and subsequently leveled out.

The highest point in this Index was attained during the 1950s when it t peaked with a score of 746, before the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s took their toll on most institutions, including the church and organized religion.

About the Index

The Index combines religion factors that have been remarkably constant over the years with those that can quickly change and react to events in both the religious and secular worlds.

The Constants

  • Belief in God
  • Religious preference
  • Membership in faith communities
  • Worship attendance
  • Importance of religion

The Variable

  • Ability of religion to answer today's problems
  • Confidence in the Church
  • Confidence in the clergy

*The 2001 Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators was compiled from two surveys of a total of 2,035 national adults, age 18 and over, conducted Feb. 19-21, 2001, and Dec. 14-16, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points.

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