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How worship attendance shifts over time

Posted August 31

Half of Americans attend church regularly, but the composition of this group is unstable, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

Only 23 percent of U.S. adults say they have always attended worship services regularly, while nearly 3 in 10 (27 percent) say they attend more often now than they did in the past, Pew reported.

"Many people tend to think there are regular attenders and non-attenders, but (attendance) varies a great deal" throughout any person's life, John Green, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron, told us this week.

A cross-country move, a new baby and other life changes affect religious habits, inspiring someone to attend church more or leading them to feel too busy for a faith community.

"Those who attend religious services more often now than in the past offer mostly religious reasons as the motivation for their return to church. For example, many say they felt a need for God or that their increase attendance reflects an overall increase in their personal religiosity," Pew's researchers noted. "Among those who attend less often now than in the past, the most commonly offered reasons for their falloff in attendance are practical in nature, such as being too busy to attend regularly."

As Green noted, Pew's data on church attendance corrects some flawed assumptions about religious involvement. "People's religious activity responds, in part, to what's happening in their lives," he said.

At a time when commentators regularly reflect on Americans' declining spiritual sensibilities, the idea that 27 percent of U.S. adults are attending church more often than they used to is striking, The Atlantic reported.

"The biggest takeaway is the variety of religious experience in America. Just as some people are drifting away from religion, others are moving toward it — and no matter what they might do on Sunday mornings, many people seem to find religious thinking still relevant to their lives," the article noted.

Read more about Pew's new study, which also explored Americans' church-hunting habits, here.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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