Congregational survey profiles US worshipers

May 14, 2002

The results of a survey of 300,000 worshipers in over 2,000 congregations in the United States show that two out of every 100 people sitting in worship services are attending that congregation for the first time.

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey, released in April, showed that 10% of U.S. congregations draw 50% of all worshipers each week, while another 40% of congregations have 39% of worshipers attending services each week. The remaining 50% of all congregations have only 11% of the total number of worshipers in any given week. The average Roman Catholic parish has 375 attending Mass each week; other denominations and faith traditions average only 84 in worship each week.

The typical worshiper is female, 50 years old, employed, well educated, and married. Average worshipers are well educated, tend to be 'good neighbors' and 'good citizens.' About 83% of those in the pews attend almost every week, and most worshipers connect with their congregation primarily during worship services. Fewer men attend worship than women. Large percentages of worshipers are not currently living in a traditional 2-parent household and most (53%) do not have children living at home. Married couples with children are the 'minority profile' in congregations, as they are in the general U.S. population.

The majority of worshipers (63%) spend at least a few times a week in private devotional activities things like reading the Bible or other devotional materials, praying, or meditating. Half of all worshipers (55%) say they have experienced much growth in their faith in the last year, and the number one reason worshipers give for their growth in faith is their participation in the congregation.

The turnover rate in the average congregation is fairly high: 7% of all new people are participating in a congregation for the first time; 18% formerly participated and are returning to worship attendance. Another 18% switched their religious affiliation from one denomination or faith group to another, and 57% of move membership from one congregation to another of the same faith group. Transfers and switchers together make up 75% of new people and 21% of all worshipers. This means that 21% of worshipers changed congregations in the last five years.

Newcomers are less likely to be involved in small groups, serving in a leadership role, or taking part in outreach, evangelism, community service, or advocacy activities. They are just as likely as long-term participants to give 10% or more, but more likely to give small amounts of money whenever they attend. They are younger than the average worshiper by eight years, and working full- or part-time is more common. About 40% hold college degrees or more advanced degrees. They are more likely than long-time worshipers to have never married or to be remarried after divorce.

U.S. participants completed the U.S. Congregational Life Survey during worship services in April 2001. The survey was conducted by U.S. Congregations, a religious research group housed in the offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Kentucky. Participating congregations came from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Roman Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventist, and Church of the Nazarene.

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