Monday, April 30, 2007

Church Attendance among Evangelical Christians

One of the values in Christianity is having people fully engage their faith through the local church. Bringing people into the church is termed evangelism, bringing Christians more into their faith is termed discipleship. Reaching out to more nominal Christians fits somewhere between evangelism and discipleship, and so it's worth asking who, among Christians, is most likely to be nominal.

To answer this, I look at how many Evangelical Christians attend a church service on at least a weekly basis (as opposed to attending less often or not at all). I also stratify by age and gender. Here are the data, from the General Social Survey--1995-2004. I analyzed those respondents who identified themselves as attending evangelical churches. Then, I broke them up into six groups by age and gender. Finally, I computed how many of the respondents in each age-gender group attended church at least once a week.
As shown, there is a lot of disparity by both age and gender. Whereas over half (56%) of evangelical women over age 50 frequently attend church, only about one-third (34%) of the young men do. What are the implications of these findings?
* Churches might want to focus outreach efforts to the young and males.
* With age, people attend church more frequently, but this is more true for women, who go from 41% to 56% than men, who go from 34% to 44%.

What else?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

My favorite Disneyland ride is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride which is, well, about what it sounds like. My brother John went hang gliding recently and had a flight that fits the description of a Mr. Toad's. Below is the GPS map of the flight with the color of the track indicating speed of descent/ascent. Check out the solid red lines... at one point he was going *up* at 1,500 feet per minute. Wow!

Bring me a shubbery

I have been moving/ planting a bunch of shrubs in our front yard. (Why do people always plant shrubs much too close together?).

This can only mean one thing... I have spent the better part of the day telling anyone who will listen--family, neighbors, people walking by--- to "bring me a shubbery."


Friday, April 27, 2007

A kindergarten crack-up

All these years I have been looking for my "voice" as an intellectual, but now I realize I had it wrong. I already have my voice... I should have been looking for right audience for that voice.

Well... I've finally found it! My six-year-old son's kindergarten class. The teacher invites parents to drop in and read a story, which I did yesterday. I explained to the kids that I had a hard time reading sometimes, and perhaps they could help me by telling me when I got the words wrong. Then, I took standard kindergarten books, read them aloud, and then made preposterous interjections. (That's one of the few things in life that I'm really good at).

The kids loved it! I loved it! We laughed and goofed and read for 30 minutes, and that night my son brought home a giant thank you note from them. Also, I received a return invitation. Sweet. Now I just have to figure out how to put this on my vita.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why teach?

I was recently nominated for a teaching award (though I didn't get it, my colleague, the much more deserving Ralph McNeal, did). As part of the application for it, I had to describe my teaching philosophy. My first thought was "oops, am I suppose to have one?" Eventually, I cobbled together some things that I thought sounded professorial, but I have been mulling over since why I actually put more into teaching that I need to.

I started off thinking in terms of personal calling. Well, I feel called to research and creating knowledge, but I'm not so sure about teaching. Eventually, though, I stumbled upon my answer, and be ready to be underwhelmed:

It's my job, so I should do it well.


At first this sounds trite. What about the larger purposes of education? What about enlightenment and passing on understanding to the next generation? For whatever reason, these don't motivate me.

Instead, I'm keenly aware that I'm paid to teach (among other things), and so I should do my best every semester and constantly seek improvement.

For me the more important question is not why do people teach, but how effectively do they do so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another irresponsible father?

I seem to have competition in the irresponsible, immature fathering category that I have long dominated here in Mansfield, CT. My thirteen-year-old son, Gus, told me the story of a game of chicken. It turns out that one of Gus’ friends and his father played a game of chicken, in which the friend was riding a bicycle and the father a golf cart. At the last minute, the friend realized that the father was not going to swerve, so the friend swerved around the golf cart.

What did the father do? He swung open the door to the golf cart and knocked the kid off his bike… Wow!

Needless to say, I’m saving money for my own, even more powerful golf cart (see picture).

Blogging on nice days

Is it just me, or is really hard to make time to blog--inside, at a computer--on the first nice days of spring? Spending all winter mostly cooped up inside, and know I begrudge any minutes inside. "Honey, I'm putting some grass in, can you bring dinner outside."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life's dreams as ova

I am in my mid-forties (though I look like I’m in my fifties and act like I’m in my early teens), so, like others my age, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to accomplish in life. You see, I think that I have enough time to accomplish dreams, but it’s getting late enough in the game that I should probably get going.

In thinking about all this, I am struck by how long I've had the same dreams or goals. For example, as a kid I always wanted to fly--dreamed of it even. In college I did a little skydiving and then forgot about. A year ago, I realized that I still very much want to, so I got into hang gliding (and love it).

Maybe our life dreams are like ova. Women are born with all the ova (eggs) that they will ever have, and it's just a question of which, if any, get fertilized. Likewise, maybe we're given our dreams and life goals at a young age, and much of life’s journey is simply remembering, prioritizing, and enacting them.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Church attendance rates by age

(Part 7 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)
Okay, back to a series I started several weeks ago on church attendance. Here are some data about church attendance rates by age among those who define themselves as Christian. The first graph shows current attendance by age, and it turns out that older people, aged 50+, are more decided in their church going habits. They are both more likely to always go (i.e., weekly) or never go. Overall, the younger the Christian, the less frequently they attend church.

How has this changed over time? As shown in the graph below, weekly attendance rates have remained steady for people aged 50+, dropped for 30-49 year olds, and may be rising for younger people. If, in fact, these patterns hold for the population as a whole, I'm not sure how to explain them. Thoughts?

Data from the General Social Survey.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's my brother

My brother, John, who lives in SoCal called me over the weekend to tell me that he had gone hang gliding. He jumped off a mountain, caught a bunch of thermals, and flew for one hour and twenty minutes. Freakin amazing!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reflections on several months of television

Well, we unplugged our television a couple of weeks ago, as per our watch-it-during-winter strategy of television management, and now that I am detoxed from it, here are some observations.

1) Two negatives do not equal a positive
. Why in the world is Dancing with the Starts popular? I, like most sensible people, have no desire to watch ballroom dancing; furthermore, I'm not really interested in the B- and C-list stars used on the shows. Why would putting the two together make a difference?
What other things that I don't like can be put together into sure-fire hits?
- Public television fund-raisers and soap operas?
- Television news-pundits and home decoration?

2) MTV?
Why does MTV prominently feature a car repair show? (Pimp my ride). Okay, it long ago gave up music videos, I know, but this isn't even close to things that are close to music. What's next? Cooking shows? Organic farming?

3) Common themes.
In flicking through the channels, I noticed several themes in what makes a good TV show today.
A) Fixing something, e.g., somebody's face or their house.
B) Helping someone, e.g., some show gave surprise cars to people.
C) Models, e.g., some game show with Howie Mandel has dozens of female models standing in stadium-style seating.
So, here's an ideal show... Victoria's Secret models supervise complete life makeovers for needy people--style, financial management, home remodeling, etc.... "Honey, Giselle is here to get us out of debt, so we can afford the medications that Johnny needs."

4) TV as a habit.
The first month or so I, and the family, only watched shows we had wanted to see. By the end, we would just plop down on the couch and start surfing, in hopes of finding something.

5) Peaceful
. The first day that we unplugged, several members of my family wondered around the house in a stupor. Now we don't even miss it, and the house feels much more peaceful--at least until December.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Embracing uncertainty

Among my various personal faults, I strongly dislike uncertainty. Part of me wants things completely predictable, and, if not that, at least knowable. I tend to dislike interruptions and other unexpected surprises. (Maybe that's why I chose a career that looks for causal certainty amidst randomness).

As such, I have been enjoying Mark Batterson’s book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snow Day,” recommended by my self-help-book pusher, Ben Dubow. It's Batterson's meditations on risk, opportunity, and uncertainty. In the chapter on uncertainty, he elaborates on two ideas: 1) uncertainty is sure to happen, so we might as well accept and even embrace it and 2) much of life’s good things come from uncertainty, so we might as well revel in it.

So basically, it’s how to stop worrying and learn to love what can not be expected. Something I very much want/need to learn.

As Batterson writes:
Embrace relational uncertainty; it’s called romance.
Embrace spiritual uncertainty; it’s called mystery.
Embrace occupational uncertainty; it’s called destiny.
Embrace emotional uncertainty; it’s called joy.
Embrace intellectual uncertainty; it’s called revelation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Finally, a financial plan that works

Here is a video from Saturday Night Live with the *best* financial advice I've ever heard. Seriously. It's also hilarious.

Unfortunately, I most resemble the Steve Martin character in this type of discussion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The irrelevance of biology in judging Christian morality

This is an issue I have been mulling over since my my blogalogue with Dan Myers on One Punk, Under God...

In theological discussions of being gay, a common issue is whether being gay is biological in origin. If yes, the thinking goes, then being gay is a) from God, the Creator and b) should be accepted as an unchangeable part of the person.

My goal here is not to address whether being gay has biological origins, I will leave that to biologists, or even if being gay is moral, that is for theologians, and brave ones at that. Instead, I make the case that any biological aspect of being gay (or just about any other human characteristic) probably does not matter for discussions of morality.

To start with, it's my observation that many gay people experience their uality as occurring very early in their lives. "I've always been this way" or something like this is a commonly heard refrain. Okay, I accept that as real. Other gay people frame it as a lifestyle choice. I accept that too. Around 2-3% of the population is gay, which translates into 4-5 million people. It makes sense, then, that there are multiple experiences, and probably origins, of being gay.

Furthermore, being gay, if it has biological causes, is not solely biologically determined. There are examples of identical twins having different ualities. Likewise, if it was solely biological, or at least a simple biological mechanism, principles of natural selection suggest that being gay should fade out of the population rather soon, as gay people have relatively low birth rates.

Nonetheless, it's not unreasonable to assume that for some individuals being gay has some aspect of biological influence. Even this is not clear-cut, for plenty of studies have found that early social experiences can alter individuals' biological and even genetic make-up.

What, then, are the theological implications of this assumption? I would argue none. Various behaviors deemed moral in Christianity have a biological aspect, e.g., a parent's love for a child or helping a stranger in need. However, so do various behaviors deemed immoral. Behavioral geneticists have linked biology to just about every human vice, including criminal behavior, alcohol abuse, racism, and sexual assault. Perhaps the best example is promiscuity--what could be more biological advantageous than having more children with as many mates as possible? Yet, Christian scripture defines it as immoral.

Another way to approach this issue is to consider animals. Periodically researchers will come out, so to speak, with studies of animals enacting same-sexual behavior. For example, sometimes male buffalo mount each other, male penguins couple-up, and rams prefer with other rams. This is used as evidence for the biological origins, and hence normality, of being gay.

If animals are acting out biological impulses, does this matter for theology? Are we going to endorse all animal behaviors as biological, and therefore ultimately moral? Let's see, male bottlenose dolphins hold females in captivity and corner them for . Likewise, mallard ducks will use violent assault as part of . (Once I saw this happening near the Terrace at the U. of Wisconsin, and several students became very upset watching this assault and chased off the male ducks to protect the female). Spiders will eat their mates. Cats and lions will kill the offspring of other males. In fact, watch the Animal Channel for more than five minutes, and you'll quickly see that maybe we should not uncritically accept animals as moral guides.

So, where does this leave us? If we accept that humans are inherently flawed, prone to doing wrong, as per the doctrine of original sin, then whether or not a specific behavior has biological origins simply does not matter for discussions of its morality.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Family ages on a survey

I have been working this semester on a survey for the church that I attend--who attends, what they think, etc....

One question asks the individual to list all members in their family who attend this church as well as their ages, and the responses from one family were hilarious.

- The father gave the ages but left blank the space for the mother's age

-The teenage son listed his parents' as 85 years old (they are in their 40s/50s)

-The mother just listed the ages

Monday, April 16, 2007

Is biased against Christianity?

One of my favorite websites is It has user-driven content, meaning that readers select and vote for the stories that they find most interesting. The more votes (or “diggs”, the greater prominence given the story. In reading for several months now, I’ve noticed that the most popular stories involving Christianity often portray it in a negative light.

This leads me to ask if is biased against Christianity? Well, since the company itself doesn’t select the content, its religious preferences, if it has any, don’t really come through. So, the question is really asking if readers and participants of participants biased against Christianity?

If we assume that’s readers have religious preferences similar to the country as a whole, then probably a majority of them define themselves as Christians. If so, we would expect to see similar levels of interest in stories that portray Christianity in a positive light as well as those in a negative light. This doesn’t appear to be the case, however, for several reasons.

1) A natural experiment. Last week a popular story was entitled “Atheist Divorce Rate Lower than Christian.” That same day, I posted a story with the reverse title: “Christian Divorce Rates are Lower than Atheist.” I did so because my story had the virtue of being more accurate, and I was curious about the relative interest in stories positive and negative toward Christianity. The final tally: 3587 diggs for the story negatively portraying Christian divorce rates as high, 9 diggs for the story positively portraying Christian divorce rates as low. Same day, virtually identical titles, dramatically different levels of support from participants.

2) Top stories. To see which Christian-related stories were most popular on, I searched for those stories with keywords Christianity, Christian, Christ, and Jesus, and the results were interesting. Here are the titles of top ten stories—all received over 2,000 diggs and all portray Christianity in a negative light. Interestingly, several do so by emphasizing atheists as victims.
- Atheist divorce rate is Lower than Christian
- High school student tapes teacher preaching God in class
- James Cameron to announce Jesus tomb discovery
- Did the US forefathers want a Christian nation? Ask the Treaty of Tripoli.
- Atheist Richard Dawkins Owns Evangelical Christian Ted Haggard
- CNN Anti-Atheist Hit Piece - write them to protest unanswered hate-speech
- Murdered for being an atheist.
- Atheist in Massachusetts? Enjoy your prison time
- Jesus spotted on dog’s ass (pic)
- Star Wars - "The Last Supper"

Now, I’m not necessarily bothered by these stories--the Star Wars Last Supper is hilarious, the dog’s butt really does, and I don’t get into the U.S. being a Christian nation. Still, there is nothing here positive, or even neutral (except for may the Star Wars), toward Christianity.

Given this apparently negative portrayal of Christianity, we might ask why. One reason would probably be the bane of all news coverage—looking for the unexpected. As such, newspapers report car accidents but not people arriving safely. Likewise, negative stories about a conventional social institution such as the Christian church might be deemed more newsworthy. Also, those who participate in are self-selected, so those who feel antagonism toward Christianity might be more active. Finally, these observations are in line with a more general observation of the widespread acceptance of negative stereotypes of Christians as immoral, hypocritical, and overall stupid.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scholar's Prayer

This is a prayer for scholars by Thomas Aquinas. It was translated and given to me by Davy Carozza, father of my brother-in-law Paolo. I prayed it most days during graduate school, and, in looking it over, I think that it's time that I start again.

Ineffable Creator,

You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.

Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.

Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.

You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever.


Thomas Aquinas (published in the Raccolta #764, Pius XI Studiorum Ducem, 1923).


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Technology as an indicator of aging

Two ways technology makes me feel old...

1) When I adjust controls on VCR/DVD player, I bend over, get my face about 12 inches from it, push a few buttons, and then see if it works. My sons, on the other hand, walk by and do the same thing without breaking stride on their way to the couch.

2) A weekly ritual for me is looking at the Sunday Best Buy flyer and gaping at the cool electronics. Well... I've noticed that with each year, I recognize a smaller percentage of what they are selling, or, at least know what's special about it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spam and bloggers' self-esteem

Recently I was reading a blog about a rather interesting topic. In one post, the blogger expressed great pleasure that, although only 6 months old, the blog was attracting 20,000+ hits a month! Judging from this sites page ranking, topic, and number of comments, I found it very difficult to believe such a big number. Likewise the documentary One Punk, Under God informed viewers that some crazy number of people regularly go to the Revolution website/ podcasts.

This reminds me of statistics about the Super Bowl. Growing up, I took as fact claims that a billion+ people watched the Super Bowl. Heck, I did, why wouldn't everyone else? It turns out that the billion number is how many people the Super Bowl is broadcast to... regardless of whether they watch it. In actually, the number of viewers is a much more modest 100 million or so. Still, the big viewing number made us feel good about being American and playing football.

Likewise, bloggers and other web-people are willing to believe absurd numbers for their sites. Even if it is spammers running up our hit counters, a lot of hits are just people looking for something else.

We'd all like to believe that we secretly influence tens of thousands of people, and we seem to believe whatever indications that suggest that we do--regardless of how far-fetched.

So, here's to spam... making us feel good.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Digging Christian divorce rates

On, one of my favorite websites, a lead story today is that atheists have lower divorce rates than Christians--a story based on George Barna's work.

I posted on this extensively last year, and, basically, Barna made a rather elementary methodological error--comparing Christians against Christians. (Here's my digg post today). Other sociologists have likewise found that Christians have low divorce rates. Still, Barna's statistics on divorce rates have a long shelf-life because, I suppose, there being a large audience who want to believe the worst about Christians.

Sometimes I wonder if people put their personal lifeview before good data. You think?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Church attendance by gender and denomination

(Part 6 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

The previous post examined gender differences in attendance rates for all Christians. Here, again using GSS data, I analyze how these gender differences vary by denomination, dividing Christians into three groupings: Catholic, Evangelical, and Mainline Protestant.

As shown, the most frequent church attenders among Christians today are evangelical women followed by evangelical men. This suggests that denominational effects are even stronger than gender effects.

Also, the gender gap appears to be narrowing among Catholics and Evangelicals, but not among Mainline Protestants, for attendance rates for Catholic and Evangelical men are trending upward, relative to women. Aside from this difference, the distance between the male and female lines is similar across all three denominations, suggesting that overall the gender effect in attendance does not vary by denomination.

Next: Attendance rates by age.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Still the same?

A dear friend from college stumbled across my blog and wrote me that "You still seem, in many ways, like the old Brad I remember--slightly irreverent, always pushing the edge, always analytical."

My first reaction was: great--twenty years without any personal growth or change. My second reaction was to be thankful for the various negative qualities that she didn't say... the emotional IQ of a cucumber, the attention span of a chipmunk, and various other shortcomings.

Mostly, though, I was interested in her description. I see myself as constantly changing, either in interests or personal issues or whatever, but I suppose at the core I have some stable personality that, for better or worse, defines me. I don't know why this surprises me given my familiarity with personality stability in the social psychology literature, but it still does.

Church attendance by gender

(Part 5 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

In previous posts, I examined rates of church attendance among Christians over time and by denomination. Here I look at gender differences. In the plot below, I present the percentage of Christian men and Christian women who attend church on a weekly basis. Usiing GSS data, I plot this for the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s to describe how attendance rates have changed.

As a reminder, this analysis does *not* measure how many people attend church, rather, among Christians, how often do they attend. As such, it's best understood as a measure of involvement and commitment rather than church growth.

As shown, weekly attendance rates are consistently 7-10% higher for women than men, indicating that women Christians are more likely to attend church frequently than men. It's generally assummed that women are more likely to be Christians than men, and this analysis shows that once Christians, they tend to be more involved in church services than men.

Over time, however, the gender gap appears to be closing. Attendance rates are dropping slightly for women, but they have recently increased somewhat for men, such that 2000 rates for men are of approaching a similar magnitude as 1970 rates.

Next: Church attendance by gender by denomination

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Should we take control of our lives?

Yesterday, over breakfast, I was reading the back a cereal box promoting a fitness book which, if I buy it, will allow me "to take control of my life." This is a common refrain of the self-help literature, and it raises an interesting question. As Christians, should we seek to control our lives or to give control away?

As a spiritual exercise, I'm going through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I love the this program because it presents spiritual truths using different language that I hear in Christianity, so they get me thinking in new ways. I would recommend it to anyone.

I'm currently on step #3: "Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him." In short, we are to give up control of our lives and give it to someone else. Sort of like a small-business person selling the business to a larger concern and running the same business, but now as an employee rather than a boss.

Why in the world would anyone willingly give control of our lives to someone else? Autonomy is so highly valued in our society (and it is epitomized by tenured professors) that this is a psychologically-revolutionary concept for Americans.

(P.S., I think that I'm going to be on this step for awhile.)

Holy week with a six year old

Holy week takes on a whole different meaning with a six-year in the house. At church on Palm Sunday, he spent the service "shooting" at people with a Palm branch. Fortunately, those who noticed just smiled rather than actually dying.

Today during Easter Service, we started hearing a roaring sound at the start of the service. Of course, Floyd had snuck in a Darth Maul action figure which was imitating Godzilla--what else.

BTW, it's generally accepted that Floyd gets this kind of behavior from his mother.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Church attendance rates by denomination, over time

(Part 4 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

Just as the analyses in Part 3 looked at changes in attendance over time for all Christians, we can also do so separately for each of these three denominational groups.

As shown in the tables above, there has been a slight upswing in attendance rates among Evangelicals, fairly stable attendance among Mainline Protestants, and a fair decrease among Catholics. That is, members of Evangelical Churches are more likely to attend church services on a weekly basis now than 30 years ago. Not so for Catholics.

Next: Church attendance by gender

Dairy Queen = Spring

Forget the robins or daffodils, for me it's spring when Dairy Queen opens. It did last week, so we made a trip (pilgramige?) to get a blizzard. I went chocolate-chip-cookie-dough, and it was good, but peanut-butter-cup and Butterfinger are still my favorites.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Church attendance rates by denomination

(Part 3 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

There is no particular reason to assume that attendance rates are the same across denominations of Christianity in the United States. To examine that, I divided the Christians in the GSS into three categories: Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic. (A fourth group, Black Protestant, did not have enough members to analyze here). Here are the attendance rates by denomination, in both tabular and graphical form.

Evangelical Mainline Catholic

Weekly 47.1 28.2 35.3
Monthly 18.4 18.6 16.7
Yearly 25.3 40.2 36.5
Never 9.1 12.9 11.4

As shown, there is a lot of variation in church attendance by the type of Christian. Nearly half of all Evangelical Protestants attend church weekly while only about a quarter of Mainline Protestants do. Over a third of the Catholics attend weekly.

Next: Attendance rates by denomination over time

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I survived, maybe

Today was my 75 minute spin-yoga class, and I'm still here, mostly. I walked in I saw a dozen women from 30-50 years old, with water bottles, towels, and some with special bicycling shoes and heart-rate monitors. My first thought:"I'm screwed." Sure enough, they pedaled me into the ground. After about ten minutes, the instructor looked at me, got out her cell phone, and punched "911" into the speed dial--just in case. Okay, not quite that bad, but she did look concerned for the token male. I tried to explain that profuse sweating and shaking legs was normal for me, but I don't know if they bought it.

Pizza during lecture

Last night, in my 2.5 hour, 300 student criminology class, several students ordered pizza delivered during the middle of lecture. I thought it was pretty funny. When the class realized what was going on, these guys had several hundred pairs of jealous, hungry eyes looking at them.

They even were so kind as to order me a personal-sized pepperoni pizza. Given that it's hard to eat & lecture (goodness knows that I've tried), I waited till break. Then, as I sat down to eat a slice (and it was really good!), I noticed that one of the students had written his student id on the side of the box.... By sheer coindence, that's the exact same number I use to keep track of extra credit assignments. Now that was funny.

I'm not yet at the point where I give extra credit, but I did end up letting class out a little early because I got very thirsty.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Christian church attendance rates over time

(Part 2 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

How have church attendance rates changed over time? Are Christians attending church less regularly over time? Since the GSS has been collected for several decades now, we can use it to examine these trends. Using the recoded, four-part attendance variable, here are attendance rates among all Christians by decade:

1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Weekly 40.7% 39.2% 37.7% 38.1%
Monthly 17.2% 18.9% 19.2% 19%
Yearly 33.6% 33.2% 33.7% 32.5%
Never 9.5% 8.7% 9.4% 10.4%

Since I have no idea how to create a proper table in blogger, and I like pictures, here is a graph of these data:

Overall it looks like there is a small drop in weekly attendance and a slight increase in monthly- and never-attendance, but overall attendance rates among Christians have remained mostly stable since the 1970s. So, are Christians becoming more nominal over time? Doesn't appear so.

Next: Attendance rates by denomination

Religion, gender, and risk aversion

Here's an interesting post by Kieran Healy about religion, gender, and risk aversion. (Thanks Jay!)

Monday, April 02, 2007

How often do Christians attend church?

(Part 1 in an 8 post series on Christian church attendance)

Jay Egenes, a reader of this blog, has asked me if I knew of any data regarding how many Christians are nominal Christians, and if the number of nominal Christians is increasing over time. I don’t know if there is a standard definition of being “nominal,” but it seems that church attendance would be one way of measuring it. Church attendance is commonly measured in social surveys, so I pulled out some data from the General Social Survey, GSS, which has interviewed a couple of thousand people every few years since the 1970s.

The GSS asks: “How often do you attend religious services?” (Q 105).

Current Attendance Rates
I dropped all respondents who did not self-identify as Christians. This included agnostics, atheists, and members of other religions. Among Christians, here are the frequency rates of attending church in the GSS surveys conducted in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

Frequency of Christian Church Attendance, 2000-2004
Never, 10.4%
Less than once a year, 6.4%
About once or twice a year, 12.4%
Several times a year, 13.7%
About once a month, 8.2%
2-3 times a month, 10.9%
Nearly every week, 7.1%
Every week, 21.9%
Several times a week, 9.1%

So, for example, 1309, or 21.9%, of Christians in the last three waves of the GSS attended church on a weekly basis.

To simplify matters, I recoded the attendance variable to four categories, which produced the following frequencies:
Never, 10.4%
Yearly, 32.5%
Monthly, 19.1%
Weekly, 38.1%

So then, back to the initial question of how many nominal Christians? It depends on how we define being nominal. Suppose we define being nominal as going to church less than once a month, then 42.9% of the Christians in the sample are nominal. I'm not sure that there is a clearly-defined threshold between nominal and active, so perhaps the most interesting way to use attendance data is to compare across time and types of Christian.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Powerless over sin

I've been working my way through the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. Thankfully I don't drink much, but this book is of interest to me because of experiences with AA through friends and family, plus I have plenty of my own things that merit self-examination.

I am struck by the first step of AA: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable." Suppose we substitute "sin" for "alcohol" and apply it to Christians? Is this accurate/ helpful?

Some of the readers of this blog are much better at theology than I, so I'm asking it as a question, but this substitution seems like a good idea to me. On one hand, we should work to sin less ("go and sin no more"), but on the other hand, we are born, live, and die sinners and our only hope is grace. It's probably a truism, but a prerequisite for receiving grace can be acknowledging a need for it; hence, the value of step 1.

Maybe I should spend less time committing to sin less and spend more time acknowleding my inability to do so.