Be informed. Be challenged. Be inspired.

US religious attendance is shrinking but those who remain are happy – poll

United States

For American religion, the story of decline just won’t let up.

A shrinking number of Americans – 16 per cent – say religion is the most important thing in their lives, down from 20 per cent in 2013. And nearly three in 10 – or 29 per cent – say religion is not important to them at all, up from 19 per cent 10 years ago. Those are among the findings in a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute on religion and congregations fielded in 2022 and published on Tuesday.

"Religious Attendance 2013-2022, by Religious Afiliation"

The survey of 5,872 American adults finds that 57 per cent seldom or never attend religious services (compared with 45 per cent in 2019). And some of those who do are restless. The survey finds that 24 per cent of Americans said they now belong to a religious congregation other than the one they grew up in; that’s up from 16 per cent in 2021.

But among those who remain churchgoers, there’s a happier story, too.

Most churchgoers across Christian traditions – 59 per cent – have attended their current church for more than 10 years, revealing remarkable stability.

An overwhelming number of regular attenders – 82 per cent – say they are optimistic about the future of their congregation. And a whopping 89 per cent say they are proud to be associated with their church.

“What struck me about the findings is the paradox,” said Melissa Deckman, CEO of PRRI. “We see continued declines in the role of religion. But for those who attend regularly they seem pretty happy and satisfied, even proud of their congregations.”

Americans who attend church at least a few times a year are slightly more likely than those who seldom or never attend church to be civically or politically active. The survey shows they are more likely to have contacted a government official (23 per cent vs 19 per cent), served on a committee (17 per cent vs 10 per cent), or volunteered for a political campaign (seven per cent vs four per cent).

Higher levels of civic engagement are particularly strong for Black and Hispanic churchgoers. White Americans tend to be more politically engaged than nonwhites, regardless of whether they attend church.

The survey also asked Americans what subjects they hear about from the pulpit. Most churchgoers reported poverty and inequality, followed by racism and abortion. Election fraud and Donald Trump were among the surveyed subjects least discussed. Only around one in 10 churchgoers said their church sometimes or often discusses the former President (eight per cent) or election and voter fraud (11 per cent).

In addition, 56 per cent of churchgoers surveyed don’t think their churches are more politically divided than five years ago (13 per cent say they are more divided).

Most churchgoers also give their congregations high marks for welcoming gays and lesbians – 75 per cent agreed or mostly agreed their church is welcoming of everyone, including LGBTQ people.

And while 71per cent of churchgoers identified in the survey said their congregations should provide perspectives on social issues, only 45 per cent agreed with the statement “Congregations should get involved in social issues”. (Black churchgoers were the exception – 63 per cent said churches should get involved.)

“There’s still a hunger to hear about social issues, as long as it’s not challenging conversation,” said Deckman. That may make some sense, she added, because “most people go to church for spiritual reasons,” not political reasons.

"Current Religious Afiliation, by Former Religious Afiliation"

The survey did find a growing number of people switching their religion – now about a quarter of all Americans. Catholics appeared to be the biggest losers in this game of musical chairs.

Among Americans who left their religious tradition, 37 per cent say they were formerly Catholic, more than any other group. The survey also found that among mainline Protestants, 46 per cent were previously Catholic, and among Black Hispanic and Asian Protestants, 42 per cent are formerly Catholic.

Catholics also scored poorly on the question of whether religion is important to them. White Catholics were twice as likely in 2022 as they were in 2013 to say religion is not important (16 per cent vs seven per cent), and this gap is larger among Hispanic Catholics (13 per cent vs two per cent).

Most religious switchers (56 per cent) said the reason they left their prior religion is that they stopped believing its teachings. Thirty per cent of switchers said their faith’s attitudes toward LGBTQ people led them to leave, and 27 per cent cited “scandals involving leaders”. Only 17 per cent said their congregation had become too political.

The survey was fielded in August, 2022. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.86 percentage points.



sight plus logo

Sight+ is a new benefits program we’ve launched to reward people who have supported us with annual donations of $26 or more. To find out more about Sight+ and how you can support the work of Sight, head to our Sight+ page.



We’re interested to find out more about you, our readers, as we improve and expand our coverage and so we’re asking all of our readers to take this survey (it’ll only take a couple of minutes).

To take part in the survey, simply follow this link…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.