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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Oh come, all ye faithful

The church is here somewhere. Iremember
“The church is here somewhere. Iremember it from last Christmas.”
If you remember the way.

Research about church attendance that only the Grinch could love challenges the statistic that puts 42 percent of Americans in a pew during a typical week.

The real figure is half that—just 21 percent—claim C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler in their article, “How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement” (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, September).

The researchers’ findings dispute the higher number, which is often reported by Gallup and other pollsters who question people on whether or not they worshiped in the past week. Rather than relying on individuals’ answers, Hadaway and Marler tallied from the top down—beginning with their estimate of 331,000 congregations distributed across the U.S. and proceeding to query a sampling of these on average attendance.

The results? Mainline Protestants, 19.4 percent; conservative/Evangelicals, 25.4 percent; Roman Catholics, 25.4 percent. Also included in the study were Orthodox and other Catholics, 35.9 percent; “other” Christians, 25.2 percent; and non-Christians, 18.2 percent.

And just how many more of the sometimes-faithful find their way to church on Christmas Eve?

That’s a holiday that doesn’t “count” in the research, but Hadaway noted that the Sundays in Advent see no bump in attendance. Twice as many worshipers come to services at Easter.


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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