(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
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:
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.