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Religious practices

U.S. poll results

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"There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions." George Barna. 38

Topics covered in this essay:

bulletFirmness and reliability of poll data
bulletPoll results:
bulletPersonal items
bulletGender differences
bulletChurch organization
bulletReligious behaviors that are:
bulletchanging/not changing over time
bulletDefinitions of terms
bulletRelated essays

Firmness and reliability of poll data:

bulletTruthfulness: Poll data on religious behavior and practice are notoriously unreliable. Individuals often describe their own behavior inaccurately; they answer questions according to what they think they should be doing. For example:

bullet17% of American adults say that they tithe (give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do. 16

bullet Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who regularly attend a religious service is about 40% in the U.S., 20% in Canada, and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half the stated figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.) The 50% error also appears to apply in the UK. Author Monica Furlong commented: "...people questioned about how much they go to church, give figures which, if true, would add up to twice those given by the churches." 40

bulletSelection of respondents: Reliability of public opinion data is also affected by the way in which the respondents are selected.
bulletThe Barna Research Group, Gallup Organization, USA Today, CNN and similar polls typically interview over 1000 randomly selected adults for each survey.
bulletMany polls appear on the Internet and are answered to by self-selected individuals. 18 Unfortunately, people who answer polls on the Internet may well well hold opinions that are different from Internet users generally. Internet users come form a variety of cultures, may cover a wide age range, and probably differ from the average American adult in other ways. More details.
bulletWording The precise makeup of the question can produce widely variable results, particularly in questions about religious belief.

Personal items

Item American Population Born-again Christians * Ref.

Read Bible in the previous week.

40% 65% 38
Prayed to God in previous week. 80%    
Religious belief has changed my behavior. 83% 92% 6
Aged 20 to 29 and attended church last week. 32%   9
Aged over 60 and attended church last week. 56%   9
Attend services at least once/month 55% (vs. 60% in 1981)   36
Not attended Christian church service in last 6 months (except for wedding, funeral, holiday service, etc.) 31%   14
Adults who claim that they tithe 17%   16
Adults who really do tithe 3%   16
Adults using the Internet for religious purposes 12%   10
% of church-goers who change their church in a typical year ** 20%   12
% of church-goers who attend more than one church on a rotating basis ** 15 to 20%   12
* Evaluated by interviewer on basis of the respondent's current personal commitment to Jesus, and a belief that they will go to Heaven because of having first been saved.

** Estimated by George Barna of Barna Research Group.

Gender differences:

A telephone poll was conducted by Barna Research during 1999 and the first two months of 2000 among 4,755 adults over the age of 18 who reside in the 48 contiguous U.S. states. The sampling error is within 2%. They have found a major difference in the practices of men and women. 37 Some of their findings are: 

Senior pastors in Protestant churches  > 90%
< 10%
Have set spiritual goals for next 2 years
Faith is critical to their life
Involved in a discipleship process
Participate in adult Sunday school
Have held a leadership role in church
Had a devotional or quite time, last 7 days
Had read the Bible, last 7 days 
Attended church in the last week
45% *
Prayed to God in the last 7 days
Had never visited a Christian church

* This is a reduction from 55% in 1991. Attendance data are grossly inflated. Independent studies that count actual participation have revealed that the actual attendance values are typically one half of those found by polls. People tend to respond to pollsters according to how the feel they should act, or according to how they feel society expects them to act, not according to how actually they do act.

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Church organization:

Item Value Reference
Protestant pastors who claim that their church is multi-cultural
51% 7
Congregations where at least 90% are from the same racial group
80% 7
Average number of attendees at Protestant Sunday services in 1992, 1997, 1998
102, 100, 91 7
Change in Protestant worship service attendance from 1997 to 1998:
9% decrease 12
% Protestant churches with small group ministries in 1987, 1992, 1997 & 1998
23, 48, 72, 85% 7, 12
% Protestant senior clergy with college degree
88% 8
Average experience in full time ministry
17 years 8
Average ministry at current church
5 years 8
Annual compensation for the senior clergy
$36,400 8
Annual church budgets: 1997, 1998 (in thousands)
$123, 105 13

How religious behaviors have changed in recent years:

bulletSome religious behaviors are relatively stable:
bulletNumbers of American adults who do volunteer work at church over the past week (24%). 15
bulletOther religious behaviors are changing:
bulletThere were major shifts in home religious study. The percentage of adults who read the Bible dropped from 40% to 37% between 2000 and 2001. Similarly the percentage of adults who had a private time to pray and read the Bible and devotional literature dropped from 53% to 49%. 39
bulletAverage attendees at Protestant Sunday services dropped by 11% from 1992 to 1998 7,12
bulletAnnual church budgets declined 15% from 1997 to 1998 13
bulletChurch attendance over the previous week dropped from 49% in 1991 to 41% in 1999 15

Religious behaviors that surprised us: 16

bulletA larger percentage of born-again adults have been divorced at sometime during their lifetime than have non-Christians (27% vs. 23%)
bulletThe King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is 5 times more likely to be read during the week than is the New International Version (NIV).
bullet58% of adults believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches. We would have expected this to be about 40%.

Definitions of terms:

Many of the above data come from the Barna Research Group. For the purpose of its studies, Barna does not ask its subjects to identify themselves as "born again" or "Evangelical." Barna has adopted certain definitions:

A "born again Christian" is a subject who said that:

 "they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior."

"Evangelicals" are subjects who met the "born again" criteria, and who also state that:

"their faith is very important in their life today;...they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; ...Satan exists [as a living entity]; ...eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; ... Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; ...God [is]...the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today." 

Related essays:

bulletMore practices:
bulletReligious practices menu
bulletPolls of religious beliefs of American adults

bulletDivisions among Protestant denominations There are at least two Protestant Christendoms.

bulletDifferences between Roman Catholicism and conservative Protestantism There are major gaps; and they are growing.

bulletBeliefs in the US compared with other Christian nations

bulletHow Christians interpret the Bible  Their beliefs differ because of how they view the Bible.


  1. George Barna, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators", Word Publishing, Dallas, TX (1996)
  2. MetroVoice of Central New York, newspaper, Jamesville NY, 1996-MAY
  3. Maranatha Christian Journal, 1997-APR-22
  4. Fax Service, Pastor's Weekly Briefing, Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs CO, 1996-APR-12.
  5. Barna Research Group has a home page at:
  6. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  7. "An inside look at today's churches," results of a survey conducted in 1997-AUG. Accuracy: within 5% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  8. "Protestant pastor profiles," at:
  9. "Christianity showing no visible signs of a nationwide revival," results of a survey conducted in 1998-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  10. "The Cyber church is coming," See: http://www.barna/org/PressCyberChurch.htm
  11. "How Americans See Themselves," results of a survey conducted in 1998-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  12.  "Profile of American churches," results of two surveys conducted in 1998-JUN/JUL. Accuracy: within 3-5% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  13. "Pastors and laity hold divergent views about spiritual revival," results of two surveys conducted in 1998-JUN/JUL. Accuracy: within 3-5% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  14.  "One out of three adults is now unchurched," results of two surveys conducted in 1998-JUL. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See:
  15. "Annual survey of America's faith shows no significant changes in past year."  See:
  16. "Answers to frequently asked questions," at:
  17. Thomas C. Reeves, "The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore?" Simon & Schuster: New York, NY (1998), Page. 64." Cited in under the topic "religious - modestly"  
  18. "Religion", Misterpoll web site, at:
  19. "Is there a God," Misterpoll web site, at:
  20. Emerging Trends, 1999-SEP, Princeton Religion Research Center, at:
  21. Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at:
  22. A poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN.
  23. "Study of worldwide rates of religiosity, church attendance," 1997-DEC-10 at:
  24. "Church Attendance 1970 - 1996," National Election Studies at: 
  25. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  26. International Social survey Program (ISSP), 1991 & 1993. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  27. George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  28. pissedOff religion poll at:  Data was captured on 1999-AUG-27 when 333 Internet surfers had voted.
  29. 1999 Poll by the Survey Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley CA. Reported in the Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON) newspaper on 1999-OCT-9.
  30. T. Hargrove & G.H. Stempel III, "Poll indicates a haunted nation." Nando Times, 1999-OCT-27. Describes a poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University during 1999-SEP/OCT. Margin of error: 4%
  31. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: Church attendance data at: This is an Acrobat PDF file. You can obtain a free software to read these files from Adobe.
  32. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  33. "Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are non-Christians," Barna Research Group, 1999-DEC-21, at:
  34. "Survey says Irish church attendance at lowest level,", 1999-DEC-18
  35. AANews, #699, issued by American Atheists on 2000-JAN-2.
  36. 1998 study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
  37. "Women are the backbone of the Christian congregations in America," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: 
  38. "The state of the church, 2000," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at:
  39. "Annual study reveals America is spiritually stagnant," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at:
  40. Monica Furlong, "C of E: The State It's in," Hodder & Stroughton, (2002), Page 216. Order this book safely from online book store.

Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2007-AUG-10
Author: B.A. Robinson 

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