Article Aug 3, 2018

Why Americans go—or don’t go—to religious services

About a third of Americans (36 percent) say they attend religious services at least once a week, and nearly the same percentage (30 percent) say they seldom or never attend religious services. A recent survey by Pew Research asked the reasons why people choose to attend such events—and why they avoid them.

The survey asked U.S. adults who say they attend religious services at least once or twice per month about 10 possible reasons they may do so. The vast majority of regular attenders say becoming “closer to God” is a very important (81 percent) or somewhat important (13 percent) reason for attending services.

The next most common reasons they attend religious services are to give their children a moral foundation (69 percent say it is very important, and 21 percent say it’s somewhat important), because it makes them a better person (68 percent say it is very important, and 24 percent say it’s somewhat important), or for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow (66 percent say it is very important, and 28 percent say it’s somewhat important).

Smaller majorities say they go because they find the sermons valuable (59 percent say it is very important, and 34 percent say it’s somewhat important) or to be part of a community of faith (57 percent say it is very important, and 33 percent say it’s somewhat important).

Fewer Americans say they attend for other reasons such as to socialize and meet new people (19 percent say it is very important, and 47 percent say it’s somewhat important) or because they want to please their spouse or family (16 percent say it is very important, and 25 percent say it’s somewhat important).

In a follow-up question, regular worship attenders were asked to choose the most important reason they attend religious services. The vast majority of evangelicals (90 percent) said they go primarily to become closer to God. About two-thirds also say they find the sermons valuable (76 percent) or because it makes them a better person (70 percent).

Eight-in-ten evangelicals (86 percent) also say they “always” or “often” experience a sense of God’s presence when they attend worship services, and more than three-quarters (77 percent) say they “always” or “often” feel a sense of community with people who share their faith when they attend church.

The survey also asked Americans who attend religious services a few times a year or less often (including those who never attend) why they don’t go. The single most common reason given for not attending religious services is “I practice my faith in other ways” (37 percent). About a fourth (23 percent) say they haven't found a house of worship they like. Others say they don’t like the sermon (18 percent), don’t feel welcome (14 percent), or don’t have the time (12 percent). Only 9 percent do not go because of health or mobility reasons, and only 7 percent say there isn’t a church for their religion in the region.

ERLC2018