How often do you attend religious services?
41% Every week (183 responses)
7% Semi-regularly (29 responses)
16% Rarely (70 responses)
36% Never (160 responses)
442 total responses (Results not scientific)
That was the quick unscientific poll the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper readers. What provoked the poll was a story about a research paper delivered at the American Sociological Association entitled “No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class,” by Professor W. Bradford Wilcox, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and his colleagues.
The study used data drawn from the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth. The study focused narrowly on changes in patterns of church attendance between the 1970’s and the 2000’s for white people 25 to 44 years old in three categories to assess their propensity to attend church. This study focused on whites only because the professors said their research found black and Latino churchgoing is less affected by income and education in those groups.
The bottom line of the study results is that attendance has fallen for all white Americans over the last generation, but it has fallen twice as fast for the less-educated.
Here are findings:
- 46% vs 51%: college educated white Americans attended church in the 2000s but vs 1970’s
- 37% vs 50%: moderately educated people surveyed attending church regularly 2000s vs 1970s.
- 23% vs 38%: church attendance drops for the least educated in 2000s vs 1970s.
The research authors say economics and a feeling of social marginalization among the least educated may be the factors explaining the survey results. Lower-income and less-educated people are also less likely to embrace the work ethics and “familial values” such as marriage promoted by churches, the study says.
The links to related stories and resources below provide different perspectives on this presentation and study findings. Click on the link in my post above to reach the full report yourself.
If the church is to grow by attracting the unchurched and disaffected we must better understand the factors that bring people to attend or not attend. Some factors we may be able to influence. Some changes might be warranted at church to make attendance more welcoming, friendly and helpful for those seeking renewal and spiritual growth in their lives. We’re also learning that there is no one reason or answer to the question of why people go to church. So it follows that one solution or one strategy also is not likely to be effective for all.
Intuitively we understand that individual choices are driven by individual reasons and factors but it is good to see research results that offer clues to how church can be more effective, more receptive, more hopeful.
- Who the unchurched actually are (geneveith.com)
- Church Attendance Dropping Among Less-Educated White Americans (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Who the unchurched really are” via Gene Veith (heidelberg26.wordpress.com)
- Working-Class Americans Retreating from Church (livescience.com)
- Who is going to church? Not who you think (msnbc.msn.com)
- Americans Have Lost Faith In Religious Leaders And Church Attendance, New Book Says (huffingtonpost.com)
- Flotsam and jetsam (8/25) (westernthm.wordpress.com)