Two thirds of U.S. adults (67%) attended a religious service weekly or almost every week as children but only 31% do so as adults, according to a Gallup report published in late-December 2022.
Nearly one quarter (23%) seldom / never attended religious services as a child, while 58% seldom / never attend as adults.
Those who regularly attended services as children are more likely to attend as an adult, but even this group saw a sharp decline in religious service attendance as adults.
Among respondents who attended weekly / almost weekly as children, 38% still do so as an adult, while 26% never and 24% seldom attend religious services.
Weekly or almost weekly church attendance is much lower among the adults who attended once or twice a month as children (23%) and among those who seldom or never attended as children (16%). Most who attended twice a month or less as children never (56%) or seldom (24%) attend services as adults.
The report did not provide attendance data based on respondents’ religious affiliation, but it did share attendance trends based on respondents’ age.
“Young adults are less likely than older adults to have a religious affiliation and, likewise, to attend church. They are also less likely to report they attended church as children,” the report said. “Fifty-eight percent of adults under age 35 say they went to church every week or almost every week growing up, compared with 70% of adults aged 35 and older.”
This data tracks with two Gallup reports from 2021. In March 2021, Gallup reported that church affiliation dropped below 50% for the first time in polling history, and in December 2021 Gallup reported that 21% of adults do not affiliate with any religious tradition, an all-time high.
Gallup’s latest report included responses from a question posed to non-religious adults about their interest, or lack thereof, in exploring religion in the future. Most (75%) are “not interested at all,” while 13% are “a little interested,” 9% are “moderately interested” and 3% are “very interested.”
“Young adults with no religious affiliation are more inclined to want to explore religion than older adults without a religious affiliation,” the report said. “Specifically, 18% of 18- to 34-year-olds with no religion are at least moderately interested in exploring religion, compared with 9% of nonreligious 35- to 54-year-olds and 6% of those 55 and older who are not religious.”
The full report, which noted a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, is available here.
Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response. Here is what they shared.
“The decline in regular worship attendance is no surprise to all but a minority religious leaders, and most of them serve institutions that have embraced the cultural norms of passive spectatorship in place of spiritual intimacy,” said Jack Moline, president emeritus of Interfaith Alliance, a Conservative rabbi, and a member of Good Faith Media’s strategic advisory board.
“As a member of the clergy, I struggled over 40 years’ time to impress the value of regular worship on reluctant congregants, but I found that the social aspects of gathering outweighed the ‘traditional’ messages of daily or weekly prayer services,” he said.
“I can’t help but mourn this decline, but I understand it, and my sympathies go out to my sister and brother clergy who struggle with their personal faith mandate to preserve tradition and their practical need to keep the doors open when the infrequent need to attend strikes their parishioners,” Moline said. “Believers will always search for a way to be in relationship with the divine. Non-believers, whose numbers are increasing, will find other ways to add meaning to their lives.”
“As it happens, the recent Gallup survey underscores the premise for my next book, Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice,” said Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College and a Good Faith Media contributing correspondent. “With an allocation of only a few sentences, I won’t presume to speak about traditions other than my own, and the reasons for the decline in religious adherence are many, ranging from sociological (the challenges of generational transmission of faith and aging congregants) to quotidian (working parents and Sunday morning soccer practice).”
“The biggest reason, I believe, is that the three major constituencies of Christianity in America — mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics and white evangelicals — have lost their prophetic voice,” he said. “Mainline Protestant denominations are locked in silly brawls over sexual identity (how I wish some denomination would quarrel about which faction better enacted Jesus’ injunction to care for ‘the least of these’; that would be a fight worth having). Roman Catholics are still reeling from the pedophilia scandals and a hierarchy that celebrates Donald Trump while seeking to deny Joseph Biden access to Holy Communion. And white evangelicalism has become a wholly owned subsidiary of an increasingly corrupt Republican Party.”
“If Christianity has any hope of regaining a toehold in American society, it must reclaim the prophetic witness that animated earlier generations of Christians in America, people like Charles Grandison Finney, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Walter Rauschenbusch, Dorothy Day, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis and Mark Hatfield,” Balmer said.
“While the Gallup poll points to alarming trends in the decline in church attendance, the numbers also suggest opportunities for churches to strengthen programming for children, youth and young adults in ways that make me hopeful for the future,” said Leslie Copeland Tune, chief operating officer of the National Council of Churches.
“Pastors and church leaders can use this data as a basis to launch more courageous, thoughtful and timely Christian education and discipleship experiences that meet the needs and expectations of a new generation,” she said. “Churches will have to think and work creatively to revitalize their ministries, but the Gallup poll is encouraging in the sense that there are people who are open to listening, learning, and engaging in communities of faith.”
“The trend of our mosque attendance like everyone else suffered during the pandemic,” said Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, chair of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University and author of Cloud Miles (Nurturing Faith Books, 2020).
“We’ve noticed, however, after the pandemic, a drop of attendance, especially amongst the elderly. While our Friday prayers is building up week by week, it’s obvious that many of our members are choosing to watch our regular classes online. It’s noteworthy that Islamic faith mandates mosque attendance on Fridays,” he said.