(Outreach Magazine) 7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America

1. Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church””half of what the pollsters report.

While Gallup polls and other statisticians have turned in the same percentage””about 40% of the population””of average weekend church attendees for the past 70 years, a different sort of research paints quite a disparate picture of how many Americans attend a local church on any given Sunday.

Initially prompted to discover how church plants in America were really doing, Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church (covchurch.org), began collecting data in the late ’80s, gradually expanding his research to encompass overall attendance trends in the Church. In his study, he tracked the annual attendance of more than 200,000 individual Orthodox Christian churches (the accepted U.S. church universe is 330,000). To determine attendance at the remaining 100,000-plus Orthodox Christian churches, he used statistical models, which included multiplying a church’s membership number by the denomination’s membership-to-attendance ratio.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

2 comments on “(Outreach Magazine) 7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America

  1. Nikolaus says:

    I’m quite certain that the Ecumenical Partiarch will be “startled” to learn that there are 220,000 “Orthodox Christian” churches in the US or that 20% of our population in 1990 attended an “Orthodox Christian” church!

  2. New Reformation Advocate says:

    This is a valuable and reliable study of how Americans actually behave, as opposed to how they claim in polls to behave. For many church leaders, lay and ordained, this objective study should function as an overdue wake-up call.

    Yes, Nikolaus (#1), I wish the article used a lower-case o in reference to orthodox Christian churches, although the term is never clearly defined, nor the standard of what counts as orthodoxy.

    But two numbers stood out for me.

    1. [b]Only about 17%[/b] of Americans can be found at a church worship service on any given Sunday. That seems very credible to me. The typical pollster figure of about 40% is clearly way too high.

    2. But more striging still is that only 6% of churches nationwide are growing faster than their surrounding area. Conversely, [b]a whopping 94%[/b] of churches are either barely keeping up with the general population growth or declining in relation to it. 94%! That’s devastating.

    I think the proper deduction to draw from the above figures and the long-term declining trends is that there are vast opportunities out there for innovative church leaders who are willing to try new ways of reaching an ever-growing proportion of the population that claims no religious affiliation or identity. That is, there are tremendous possibilities for churches that operate with a missionary mindset rather than falling into the common trap of remaining stuck in a a defensive, maintenance mode.

    But for churches that ignore the stern challenges of living in a skeptical, relativistic, and post-Christendom culture, churches that seem content with Business As Usual, the future is bleak indeed. Such congrregations, and they are legion, deserve to wither away and die. And TEC is filled with such dying churches that have little to offer people.

    I wish we could somehow get a lot more pastors and church boards to take seriously this kind of solid congregational research.

    David Handy+