The United States has long been unusually religious for an affluent, industrialized Western nation ”” in survey after survey, Americans report relatively high levels of belief in God, affiliation with religious institutions and participation in worship services.
But counting churchgoers has always been a bit tricky. Some congregations tend to over-report attendance, seeking to demonstrate vitality. Others are more scrupulous, especially in denominations where churches pay assessments based on size. And it’s been evident for years that Americans tend to overstate their own religiosity: There is a persistent gap between the number of people who claim to go to worship services and the number who can actually be counted in pews.
The gap grows more striking as America becomes more secular. In recent years, poll after poll has found more Americans who do not identify with a religious tradition, and many denominations show evidence of decline. And yet, Americans continue to report high levels of belief and participation