Church attendance refers to the reception of Christian religious services offered by a particular denomination, or more generally, by any Christian religious organization. Religious attendance plays an important role in generating social capital in a church community and thus contributes to the process of formation of social capital in the larger society. In addition, church attendance sheds light on the state of organized religion and allows for quantitative measurements of the collective expressions of religious life.
Rate of attendance
The Gallup International indicates that close to 40% of Americans report they regularly attend religious services. Non-self reporting methods of meaurement estimate substantially lower rates of attendance, however (just 22% weekly attend, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, for instance). This compares to other countries claims such as 15% of French citizens, 10% of UK citizens, and 7.5% of Australian citizens. In the U.K., in 2011, an average once-a-week attendance in Anglican churches went down by 0.3% compared with 2012, thus exhibiting a stabilizing trend. Previously, starting from 2000, an average rate of weekly church attendance in Britain was dropping down 1% annually. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. In its turn, Gallup estimated the once-a-week church attendance of the Americans in 2013 as 39%.
Based on 1990-1991 data, it was estimated that the country with the highest rate of church attendance in the world was Nigeria (89%) and with the lowest - the Soviet Union (2%). Nigeria's data was notable, as Nigeria is very religiously diverse - the population is 50.1% Muslim and 48.2% Christian. The state authorities in the USSR, which dissolved in 1991, did not encourage church construction; they had an uneasy relationship with traditional organized religions and relied instead on communist ideology which developed features of a civil religion. Approximations of the current church attendance in the Russian Federation vary from 3-4% to 7% attending on weekly basis.
A survey commissioned by the Época Magazine in 2005 showed that 29% of Brazilians attend church weekly, and indicated that it is lesser than in the United States but higher than in Western Europe and Japan, indeed showing that contrary to the local popular belief, Brazilians of the time could indeed be regarded as a religious people even in practice (though it is ponderable that the growth of the population declaring to be solely irreligious in nationwide censuses grew about 100% between 2000 and 2010, and 200% between 2000 and 2013, from 4% to 12%, and general secularization also grew among the portion of the population that remained religious).
In a 2006, Financial Times (FT)/Harris Poll conducted online surveyed 12,507 adults over 16 years old in the United States (2,010 U.S. adults were surveyed) and five European countries (France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and Spain). The survey found that only 26% of those polled attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services. Harris Interactive stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due to sampling errors and non-response bias. A previous nearly identical survey by Harris in 2003 found that only 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 11% went "once or twice a month" 19% went "a few times a year", 4% went "once a year", 16% went "less than once a year", and 25% never attend religious services.
Calculating the church's average weekend attendance is important since it determines the size of a given church. For example, in the U.S., an average weekend attendance of more than 2,000 people separates a mega church from a large church, and an average weekend attendance between 51 and 300 people defines the large church; while a small church is the church with an attendance lower than 50 people. (Alternative definitions, such as house church, simple church, intentional community, were proposed by the Barna Group, an American private consulting firm.) A narrow definition of a regular church attendee can be viewed as a synonym for a Sunday service visitation, while a broad definition, names as a regular attendee a person who comes to church during three out of eight weekends.
Following attendance statistics are mainly taken from the 2004 Gallup report and may not represent current attendance figures.
A study by the European Social Survey conducted in 2008 found these rates of respondents never attending religious service (excluding special occasions):
|<10%||Cyprus, Greece, Poland|
|10-20%||Croatia, Italy, Ukraine|
|30-40%||Estonia, Russia, Germany, Sweden|
|40-50%||Israel, Spain, Netherlands|
|50-60%||Belgium, United Kingdom, France|
Church attendance remains stronger among older demographics, and more common for women. There is evidence that links church attendance with health benefits. The Pew Research Center, which conducts the extensive research and information program Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, has linked regular church attendance with happiness. Several studies associated church attendance with decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
A 2005 European Union survey found that religious belief increased with age and was higher among women, those who were leaning towards right-wing politics, and those reflecting more upon philosophical and ethical issues. In particular, the Iona Institute documented increasing church attendance in Ireland, despite sex-abuse scandals that plagued the Catholic Church. Some suggest the rise is due to the effects of the economic recession.
Research shows that there is a correlation between church attendance and the level of education. For instance, in a Pew Research study from 1996, approximately 34% of high school dropouts went to church on a typical Sunday, while 44% of those with a college degree or higher did. 48% of married individuals attended church on a typical Sunday, compared with 29% of divorced and 31% of never-married individuals. While it is likely that the well-educated and married might over-report their church attendance more often, nevertheless these findings demonstrate that they have maintained a stronger church-going identity than other Americans. A number of studies have been undertaken to examine the topic of religiosity and intelligence and religiosity and education. Studies also indicate that there is a higher rate of church attendance among married couples.
Influence of parents
Several research studies in the USA and Europe found that church attendance practices of parents, especially fathers, can be highly influential in forming the future church attendance practices of their children.
In Switzerland, the Fertility and Family Survey was commissioned by the Federal Statistical Office (Switzerland) to enable Switzerland to take part in this international project launched by the UNECE Population Activities Unit. The survey was conducted between October 1994 and May 1995, with the results being published in 2000 by the Council of Europe. The results are representative of Switzerland's permanent resident population aged 20–49 and presented in the table below.
Practice of religion according to practice of parents (%)
|Practice of parents||Practice of parents||Practice of children||Practice of children||Practice of children||Practice of children|
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between half and two-thirds of their offspring will attend church regularly or occasionally.
A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children not attending church. If his wife is similarly irregular that figure rises to 80 percent.
An American study found similar results on the impact of fathers:
- When both parents attend Sunday school, 72% of the children attend Sunday school when grown.
- When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
- When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
- When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.
An unrelated survey in the USA also found fathers to be highly influential in church attendance. It found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow.
Church attendance in advanced industrial societies is in gradual general decline with people shifting from weekly to monthly or holiday attendance. Sociologists have attributed this trend to a number of reasons, starting from a simple boredom during services and lack of motivation, to generational incompatibility of belief systems and social changes attributed to modernity. Research across 65 different nations showed that out of 20 advanced industrial countries - 16 demonstrated a declining rate of monthly church attendance.
An article published in the Christianity Today Magazine emphasized that at least in America church attendance since the 1990s has remained stable. Indeed, 50% of Americans replied that God is very important in their lives, comparing with 40% of Irish, 28% of Canadians, 26% of Spaniards, 21% of Australians, and 10% of the French.
A Gallup poll found that church attendance among American Protestants has remained stable at roughly 45% since 1955, while church attendance among American Catholics has dropped from 75% to 45%, although it has remained stable since 1995 despite all the negative press related to abuse scandals. Another Gallup poll found a slight increase in church attendance in the U.S. in 2008-2010, associating this with an aging of the population. The decline in church attendance is more pronounced in developed European countries, where it is suggested that the secular culture overrides interest in religion. The church attendance in Asia and Africa remains strong and exhibits tendency of growth.
Criticism of conventional surveys
In the early 1990s, American sociologists Kirk Hadaway, Penny Marler, and Mark Chaves found that weekly attendance at Protestant and Catholic churches in one rural county in Ohio was only about 20%, whereas self-reported church attendance was 36%. The following studies confirmed a long-suspected gap between actual and self-reporting church attendance. The researchers have been wary of accusing over-reporters of dishonesty, as they found in the study that those who over-report do so mainly to maintain perceptions of themselves as "churched" Americans, not because they are afraid to reveal to the interviewer that they are "bad Christians." The findings point to a bigger issue as many people in the world may be over-reporting church attendance because of their self-perception and identity as churchgoing people, indicating a certain psychological aspect to the over-reporting of church attendance. Although surveys of church attendance are aimed to study religious behavior, many respondents view them as questions about their identity. This is especially true among Americans who consider themselves "regular churchgoers."
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