Skip to comments.The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Are Not Going To Church
Posted on 08/28/2016 2:41:41 PM PDT by Salvation
The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Are Not Going To Church
The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinkingnot just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.
Of course, this tale is not just reductiveits arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religions demise. A significant number of people who dont identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.
If most people havent just logicked their way out of believing in God, whats behind this shift in public religious practice, and what does the shift look like in detail? Thats a big question, one less in search of a straightforward answer than a series of data points and arguments constellated over time. Heres one: Pew has a new survey out about the way people choose their congregations and attend services. While Americans on the whole are still going to church and other worship services less than they used to, many people are actually going moreand those who are skipping out arent necessarily doing it for reasons of belief.
There were at least three fascinating tidbits tucked into the results of the survey. First, people who report going to worship services less frequently now than they used to overwhelmingly say the logistics of getting there are the biggest obstacle.Second, a significant number of people who said theyre not part of any particular religion expressed mistrust of religious institutions, suggesting these organizations reputations have something to do with why people are dropping out of public religious participation.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the country seems to be split in half in terms of how often people get to services. Roughly 51 percent of Americans say they go to church or another worship service somewhere between once a month and multiple times per week, while 49 percent said they go rarely or never. But within that 51 percent, more than half of people said they go more often than they used toin other words, about quarter of Americans have gotten more active in their religious communities in recent years, not less.
On the other hand, fewer than half of the people who rarely or never go to church said this has been a new decline in the last few years; a greater portion of that group said theyve always stayed home on Sundays. All of this is a way of saying that, comparatively speaking, theres more activity happening on the devout side of the spectrum than the drop-out side; this study suggests that even in a time of religions public decline, some people are experiencing religious revival.
According to the survey, about one-fifth of Americans now go to religious services a few times a year, but say they used to go a lot more. Roughly half of this group stopped going as often because of what the researchers called practical issues: They are too busy, have a crazy work schedule, or describe themselves as too lazy to go. Others said they just dont care about attending services as much as doing other things.
While its easy to empathize with the hassle of trying to wake up and rally kids to go sit still for several hours every Sunday morning, this explanation is interesting for a slightly different reason: It suggests that many people view religious services as optional in a way they might not have in the past. Fifty or 60 years ago, churches, in particular, were a center of social and cultural life in America. For many people, thats still the case, but the survey suggests that many people may be creating their social lives outside of a religious contextor perhaps forgoing that kind of social connection altogether.
The experience of those who are losing their religion shouldnt obscure those who are finding it.
The sidelining of services may connect to another factor indicated in the survey: Among people who were raised religiously and who fell away from religion in adult life, roughly one-fifth said their dislike of organized religion was the reason. Another 50 percent said they stopped believing in the particular tenets of the faith they were raised in. Insofar as the decline in U.S. religious affiliation is an intellectual or philosophical story, it seems to be this: Fewer people are willing to sign on with the rules and reputations of institutions that promote faith. That doesnt mean people dont care about religious ideas or questionsmany of those who are unaffiliated with a particular group still consider themselves religious or seekingbut they might not be as sold on the religious institutions themselves.
The experience of those who are losing their religion shouldnt obscure the experience of those who are finding it, though. Twenty-seven percent of people in the survey say theyre attending services more often than they did in the past, cutting against the countrys overall decline in religious practice. This was most common among evangelical Protestants, three-quarters of whom say they go to church at least once or twice a month. Half of the people who said theyre going to services more often explained the change in terms of their beliefs: Theyve become more religious; they found that they need God in their life; theyve gotten more mature as theyve aged. By contrast, relatively few said they started going to church more often for practical reasons. Belief brings people to worship, it seems, while logistics keep people way.
The survey offers evidence that at least some Americans find worship services less relevant than other things they could be doing with their time, or perhaps theyre too hard to make time for. But the biggest takeaway is the variety of religious experience in America. Just as some people are drifting away from religion, others are moving toward itand no matter what they might do on Sunday mornings, many people seem to find religious thinking still relevant to their lives.
Somewhere I read the lack of desire for dressing to attend church was the most often expressed reason for not going. I cite that as right up there with people not eating cereal for breakfast anymore, because then they have to wash the dishes. REALLY!
Loss of belief in a Creator God.
They like the “God the Redeemer” part, but struggle to recognize God’s role as the Creator of all things.
I would bet there are questions some Christians (Catholic in my case) here would love to ask on FR to strengthen their faith, but the question would come off as sounding doubtful or non Christian and we would be destroyed.
Would be nice if we could ask them openly. The answer would likely reinforce our faith.
There is no center in most people’s lives.
Middle class and upper class families have the schools for a while. but they then age out.
We are truly disconnected.
Something as personal as Faith needs no public gathering.
No wifi ?
Going to church doesn’t make you religious and not going to church doesn’t mean you’re not religious.
I am churchgoing because I am a paid professional singer for an Episcopal church, which for all its faults still is most likely to have traditional hymns and anthems from the Western music tradition. I almost never listen to sermons or go to coffee hour. I like the music, that’s it.
People realize they don’t need the building or formal organization to believe and follow the Word.
The most powerful thing in the universe, which can hardly be put into words without shouting and jumping about, gets translated into sleepy rituals, repetitive songs, and beautiful but unmoving recitations.
I once prayed that God might reveal Himself to me even more than He has and the answer I got was that if He did so "you will be even crazier than you already are."
That seems to be a major problem.
We worship and love the Creator of the Universe--the Source of our Salvation--but we can't comprehend him without going mad with ecstasy.
I get it.
But it makes church dull as dishwater.
Addendum: I pray religiously from the comfort of my home.
As an aside, cereal will make you fat.;-) Empty carbs.
I am happy the Savior did not get up in the morning the week of Passover and say, “I am lazy and don’t know what to wear.” Our Lord gave His all for us, and He deserves no less from us. Get up, get dressed and go to church. You are number 3 int he equation. It is for God first, others second and lastly us.
I stopped going when the ELCA decided to embrace gays. Haven’t really found (nor looked for all that hard) an alternative. Not to sure about accepting someone else’s interpretation of God. All mankind is flawed, why accept someone else’s flawed interpretation? I dunno, still working some things out...
God built us to be social creatures and share and spread our faith. Not sit alone in a room and pray :)
Jesus Christ is God and He founded a church. The Faith is not just “personal” -— if by that you individual, interior and solitary.
It is INTER-Personal. In every sense, every step of the way.