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June 30th, 2010
08:58 AM ET

More Americans say they attend church, mosque, synagogue

Church attendance crept up slightly in the United States this year, according to new Gallup research - but not everyone is buying the findings.

Slightly more than 43 percent of Americans told Gallup they attend church, synagogue or mosque weekly or almost every week, up from just under 43 percent in 2009, and about 42 percent in 2008.

The results are within the poll's margin of error, but still "statistically significant," Gallup said in announcing the results Monday.

A top expert on religion in America dismissed the numbers out of hand, but said there may be something to the trend.

"Those numbers are just wrong," Trinity College Professor Mark Silk said Tuesday.

He puts the percentage of Americans who actually attend weekly services somewhere in the mid-20s, pointing out that people tend to exaggerate when pollsters ask if they do something regarded as "good."

"The problem with (the) Gallup (poll) is that self-reported behavior that is good, you tend to overestimate your behavior. When people are asked how often they vote, they tend to be, let's say, optimistic," he said, pointing out that there are good independent measures of both voting and religious attendance.

But he also noted that a completely unrelated study found that Americans say they are spending more time on "spiritual and religious activities."

The Department of Labor's annual survey of how Americans spend their time reported last week that Americans said they engaged in spiritual activity for about nine minutes a day in 2009, up from 8.4 minutes in 2008.

That's a more reliable finding, Silk said, because people tend more honest when asked to account for their time than when they are asked about a specific "good activity."

Trinity College's American Religious Identification Survey found last year that the number of Americans calling themselves Christian had dropped to three out of four, while more than ever before were saying they had no

religion.

Silk said this week's Gallup findings don't necessarily contradict the Trinity survey.

"ARIS numbers don't necessarily tell you anything about changes in behavior," he said, only about how people define their identity.

Gallup polled more than 300,000 people in 2008 and 2009, and 117,156 people for the 2010 survey, giving a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point each year, it said.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Faith • Houses of worship

soundoff (270 Responses)
  1. Only Jesus Saves

    The answer to our problems will never be solved by politics, government, or education! We need a godly and moral foundation to bring our nation up out of the pit it is falling into! We need a revival! Everyone needs to be reborn by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

    July 12, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  2. Terry from West Texas

    A study was done in a small town. People were asked if they attended church last Sunday. About 50% said they had attended. The scholars also checked the attendance figures for every church in town. They discovered that half of that 50% were lying.

    July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Guest

      An atheist did the study, and they are very scientific findings. Are you quoting a ACLU clergyman?

      July 8, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  3. shawbrooke

    I think that the answers about church going might be a response to the way the question is heard, rather than the data type answer that the researcher wants. The data answer to the question "do you go to church almost every Sunday" might be "no" for the shift worker. The answer provided might be Yes, because the hearer of the question goes to church every Sunday that they are not working and thus able to go.

    While statistically the data is that on any given Sunday about 25% of the population is in church, data also shows that somewhere around 40% of the population are strong church supporters.

    July 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  4. Brad

    When I was an atheist, I established criteria for the existence of God. " If an all powerful, loving, God exists, there would be no violence in the world." Or, "If God exists, we will discover Him in a test tube, in the DNA chain, outer space, or shown methematically." Then I realized that everything my mind produces is inferior to my own mind and certainly not worthy of worship. Finally, it occured to me that I don't get to establish the criteria for the existence of a Supreme Intelligence. Such criteria can be found within God Himself. Now I've made an uneasy peace with God.

    July 6, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Michael Schulze

      You've made peace with ignorance.

      July 6, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Brad

      @ Michael Shultze: Greater minds that yours or mine have argued this issue and come to opposite conclusions.
      Was you response to me in a good spirit, or a mere smart crack? The more intelligent one is, the less susceptible he is to pettiness.

      July 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  5. Cassius

    As to the title of this article: Yeah.........RIGHT! and BS too.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  6. sadheart

    thank you Jacob

    July 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  7. sadheart

    @ bob the nob then you for sure understand what I was getting at only you had your saturdays, I worked for a lady who held her sabbath to heart , and she owned a retail shop. As a matter of fact , I learned alot from Helen Jacobs, and her husband Henry, they made my believes more visual. shalome

    July 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  8. bob the nob

    The nuts sure do come out for the articles on religion.

    July 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  9. sadheart

    back in the days when Sundays were the lords day, we all attended churches, it was family day.No physical labor, or other work was done. It was a peaceful day. Today , the attendance of church goers are neiled by Mall shoppers , and with those shoppers, employees need to be hired. So ,our young people take on those work hours. This means these young people miss out on church going. And a good old fashioned sunday familyl gathering . When will these young people get their learnings of the church ect. if it 's not taught at home then. So ,their busy parents might find the time during the week inbetween ,somewhere, the basketball practice, soccer games, and music lessons, or extra tudoring . Life today for most is crazy. I am grateful that I stood my old fashion standers with my children , who are now adults, and have family of their own, and yes , they all gather at my house for Sunday church, and a good old fashion family meal., A m e n

    July 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
    • bob the nob

      Interesting. For Jews Saturday is sabbath, and they were here first. That makes you wrong.

      July 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
    • Jacob

      Christian scholars (although not all rank and file believers I suspect) understand the difference between the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Lord's Day (Sunday). Paul understood the difference. When it was determined that it was not necessary for Christians who were not also Jews to follow Jewish law, it made sense to schedule the day of worship not on Saturday (which was a day of work in most of the Roman Empire) but on Sunday. This allowed Christians who were also Jewish to maintain their Sabbath rituals on Saturday and then come together - Jew and Gentile together - on Sunday to worship as Christians. It helps that the focus of the Jewish Sabbath is not worship, per se, but rest and renewal (since observant Jews pray at scheduled times every single day already, not just on the Sabbath). Having the worship service on Sunday kept anti-Jewish sentiment from affecting the early Christians and allowed them to meet on a day when much of the empire was having a day of rest in honor of the Roman gods. Also, since the resurrection took place on a Sunday, the day is a good choice to commemorate the most important event in Christianity.

      July 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  10. nsn1946

    There is not one shred of evidence, not one, from the scholars and historians of the day that confirm the existence of Jesus or the events of his life.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Tina

      Agreed! People are just so brainwashed with religion now a days. It's insane.

      July 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  11. Azezel

    Well, I am alittle sour on religion at the moment. I am however deeply spiritual. The reason I am sour is because clergy are the first to take and the last to give. The doors of theirs are only unlocked maybe 4 hours a week. Even the catholic priests give people they encounter in the street the brush off. Although one did invite me to a conference in omaha going on this week. The muslims are overly clannish and racially biased, same with the jews. The best faith I have encountered so far are the LDS and they are mainly interested in feeding their cult not really your personal needs and development. Which is where the most opportunity for social growth and change lies. They act kinda like the service, take you in as they wait on the full background check only to kick you out on the street after they find something they don't like. Doesn't matter if you change. There are somethings that are forever. God help the fools that abolish mortality even though it is comming within the next 20 years. To have a real economic, political and military recovery we need to start forgiving people who are willing to make the effort. Otherwise we will continue to degenerate.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  12. Brian

    Without Christ we wouldnt have Easter...I am amazed someone can die and come back 3 days later as a Chocolate Bearing Rabbit. I think I am a Pantheist Agnostic Christian...Who Cares really? This is all great debate and something we all think about and search in our minds. The Established church is Scam, but spirituality is unique. I have no issue with folks coming together for a cause if it helps them deal with Crisis, but you can use your deity to explain why you suck as a person or why things happen. I like the idea of Transcendentism as it seems to make a bit more sense – of course there are Kooks there too as we are just Humans (or Animals that can talk and think), but not perfect and damn sure not of divinity. I have read so many Religious texts that talk about "the proof of Christ," blah, blah, blah...all simple propaganda that points to the Bible as proof of existence. What? You cant use the object in question as proof for your book that Christ exists – How does this crap get published? If you believe and it makes you feel better – then religion works for you. If you are like many of us who just search for truth and would be Ok with God existing, but believe we owe it to ourselves to find our own answers that make sense for us..then I aplaude you too. We dont know the pan is hot just because our parents tell us so...You have to get burned once before you understand. We didnt think our parents were lying to us about the pan and therefore False; we simply needed our own conclusion about the experience. Religion and Spirituality and whatever it is we seek all fall into the same category...And whatever it is that makes you stop searching and to have the answers you need..then Rock On.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • Guest

      Why do you need to defend nothing? Is it the need to defend the belief in yourself? What do owe yourself.....If you don't care about us, then why say anything? Yours is a religion, face it, the days of worshiping yourself are coming to an end.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  13. Tony FL

    Of course, believing in mythical supernatural whimsikal stories a-la Harry Potter is way easier that learning hard sciences or using your gawd given brain to analyze why we are in such bad shape. Sheeple...Baaaaahhhh baaaaahhhh

    July 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  14. Lloyd

    Church in america has become nothing but a money begging extension of the republican party, what a hoop

    July 5, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Guest

      ACLU church in america has become nothing but a money begging extension of the Democratic party, what a hoop,
      American Civil Liberties Union Foundation reported revenues totaling $85,559,887. Of that total, 87% was from donations and dues from the public.

      July 5, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      Yup. And imbecilic yammering about the ACLU is a distraction and change of topic (typical tactics of the religious right).

      July 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • Guest

      GodIsForImbeciles-

      Why are you afraid of the Truth?

      July 8, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  15. GodIsForImbeciles

    Self-reported behavior is ludicrous. There very well may be more people attending services, but a poll based on what people tell you is laughable.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:58 am |
  16. saved10965

    Why do non-believers feel it is their duty to point out and tear up Christianity? Is it the fact that Christianity teaches self-reflection?

    July 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      First question: I can't speak for all non-believers, but as one of their numbers, I am fed up with christianity tearing up non-believers. Seriously fed up with it!
      Second question: Self-reflection is taught by almost all religions, certainly Judaism, christianity, Islam and Buddhism. An atheist can be self-reflective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is self-reflective. Meditation is self-reflective. And if you glue a mirror onto your face, YOU will be self-reflective. So do you have a point to make, or do you use the top of your head in lieu of an argument?

      July 5, 2010 at 3:02 am |
  17. Ted Linguini

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the ONE true God. Prove me wrong.

    July 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Guest

      Worshiping yourself is your one true God.

      July 5, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      The Ravioli Prophet is the one true god, and I eat him up with marinara sauce every week. It isn't "Atkins-friendly," but it's my religion and I'll defend it to the death (yours, not mine).

      July 6, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  18. Ted Linguini

    This only means that there are more supersticious/stupid Americans than ever before. Europe and most of the rest of the enlightened world is laughing at us.

    July 4, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      YES!!!

      July 5, 2010 at 3:03 am |
    • Guest

      Linguini man, you are no God; When they pasta out the brains you gotsa lotsa noodles instead.

      July 5, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  19. Joe

    Its for the networking duh!

    There's two kinds of people involved in church... The brainless sheep... And the people who are smart enough to use the church community to benefit their business and social success.

    July 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.