Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? American Christians Lie About Their Church Attendance

Here's another interesting tidbit in the ongoing saga of Christianity's decline in America. It turns out that American Christians stretch the truth rather badly when reporting how often they go to church. In fact, "stretching" the truth may be too kind ... I'd call it lying. American Christians exaggerate their church attendance by almost sixty percent.

And even stranger, European Christians don't. The "attendance gap" is nearly zero in Europe. Their claimed attendance matches their actual attendance.

According to a new University of Michigan study, American church attendance runs around 35% to 45% if you simply ask people. But if you actually check on their church attendance, the truth is that only 26% of Americans attend church regularly. That's a HUGE difference.

Surprisingly, the actual rate of church attendance in America is almost identical to Europe. It's just that Americans lie – or at least fool themselves pretty badly – about how often they attend church.

So why do Americans exaggerate so much? And why don't their European brethren do the same? What is different in American culture? Do Americans want to go to church more and just don't have time? Do they feel they'll be ostracized unless they claim to attend church?

What uniquely American cultural force pushes Americans to exaggerate so wildly, and why doesn't that same force operate in Europe? I'm genuinely curious. I usually try to offer my sage opinion on just about anything, but this one has me baffled. Any opinions?

Other posts in this series:


  1. Most Americans don't really buy into religion any more than most Europeans. The problem comes that Americans see Christianity as a social outlet, they have to claim to be religious in order to fit in with their neighbors and community, whether they actually believe or not. So they mark "Christian" on polls and give it lip service, but they don't read the Bible, they don't go to church and they don't really have any idea what it is that they're supposed to believe as "Christians". If we limited Christianity on polls only to those who actually understood the basics of the religion, I'm sure that less than 25% of Americans would be considered Christians.

  2. Its also possible that the study is flawed,or the sample was to small.just saying.

  3. In the US, "Christian" is a mark of status. The culture has deified the term such that its meaning is no longer "follower of the Christian religion." It means, colloquially, "good person, community-minded, pays their taxes, etc., etc." In many contexts, it has nothing to do with religion at all. So, logically, when you ask people how often they go to church, they will inflate the answer, as that concept is confused with how good of a person they are. It is part of the larger trouble in America where what you say is more important than what you do.

    In Europe, on the other hand, people tend to be more closely judged by their actions. Lying about attending church makes no sense there. There is no social currency to be gained.

  4. @ 48red42: Nope, the sample is large enough (click my name for details).

  5. The main difference is that in Europe, religion is part of your private life, and not an appropriate topic for public discussion/display.
    In the US, religion is VERY MUCH part of the public life. People are going to want to know if you go to church. It's expected of you.

  6. It's definitely societal. Whereas in Europe you've got a community that was abused and broke from the church in a big way, in America much of our identity is still tied to religion. We still demand religion from our most famous politicians and expect others to be more or less Christian, and while we preach tolerance and free religion, we still act defensive as other religiosn take hold.


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