A new survey shows that “unchurched” Americans may be worshipping more, and “churched” Americans worshipping less, than many people might think.
Numerous surveys track trends among “unchurched” Americans, but what does “unchurched” really mean? Does it mean never attending religious services, not attending regularly, or to simply be unaffiliated with a particular congregation?
Phoenix, Ariz.-based Ellison Research said the most common definitions “often don’t tell a complete story about how Americans attend religious worship services.”
The Ellison survey, released July 14, showed that 40 percent of the “unchurched” do not entirely stay away from worship services, and 37 percent of “churched” Americans do not make it to religious services every week, even though they consider themselves regular attenders.
“There’s often an assumption that people either do attend worship services or they don’t,” said Ellison President Ron Sellers. “But what we find in this study is that one out of every five Americans is attending worship services at least occasionally during the year, even
though they are not regularly involved.”
Definitions of “unchurched” used by leading researchers are typically based on yes/no questions of membership at a house of worship, service attendance in the last month, or attendance in the last six months apart from holidays, weddings and funerals.
The Ellison study, however, prides itself in more nuanced questions about frequency of worship attendance for churches, mosques, and synagogues.
In a survey of more than 1,000 adults, 29 percent of Americans do not attend religious services at all; 10 percent attend only on religious holidays; 9 percent attend occasionally; 19 percent attend between one and three times a month; and 33 percent attend once a week
“It is not our intent to say that anything in the research world is wrong, but the ‘unchurched’ is a huge mass of people,” Sellers said. “Some people out there may not regularly attend services, but they do regularly attend every Easter and every Christmas.”
The study also analyzed family history of attendance and parental religious involvement.
The study estimates that 43 million adults typically categorized as “unchurched” will visit a church or place of worship at some point during the year, and suggested that this should be
the focus of outreach for congregations.