New Data on Church Attendance
Roger Dudley and Monte Sahlin are the Adventist representatives to the interfaith Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP). This is the organization of researchers who study local churches and includes more than 40 major denominations and faith groups, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.
At the annual CCSP meeting earlier this month, new data on church attendance were discussed. The most carefully done study to date reveals that no more than 22% of Americans are actually in attendance at church, mass, synagogue or mosque each weekend. This new study uses the many surveys and official statistics that yield the average worship attendance figure for most of the denominations and faith groups as well as the known number of congregations from such sources as Yellow Pages, government records of land ownership, etc. This makes it possible to calculate actual attendance very accurately. The study will be published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR) in September. It is authored by Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler.
In view of these facts, why do Gallup Poll and other regular, yearly surveys consistently have about 45% of Americans who tell interviewers that they attended worship somewhere last weekend? The explanation goes like this: That is about the same percentage as the Americans who are members of some local religious group. They believe in attending worship and they do so regularly--just not weekly--so when they are interviewed by pollsters, they don't want the survey to show that people are not going to church, and answer affirmatively. They don't see it as lying, but as standing up for spiritual values.
Bottom line, about 53.6 million people are present on a typical weekend in the 331,000 religious congregations across the U.S. Average attendance is 162 per congregation, including those with multiple services.
Roger is director of the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University and an emeritus professor at the seminary. Monte is vice president of the Columbia Union Conference and chairman of the board for the Center for Creative Ministry. They were appointed by the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as the Adventist delegates to this ongoing project that began with the FACT 2000 "census of churches" and intends to conduct a census of churches every 10 years with supplementary studies in between (three times in the intervening decade). Unlike other nations, after 1950 the US Census quit asking about religion because of the First Amendment. Now CCSP is the only source of detailed information about congregations. A related enterprise, the Religious Congregations and Membership Study (RCMS), provides the raw number totals on congregations and members broken down by counties, metro areas and states.
INNOVATIONewsletter, August 19, 2009 Center for Creative Ministry