- Three in four worshippers say sermons a major factor in why they go
- Youth programs, outreach and volunteer opportunities also important
- Preferring to worship solo is main reason non-attenders eschew services
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Easter and Passover help fill churches and synagogues this week, a new Gallup poll suggests the content of the sermons could be the most important factor in how soon worshippers return. Gallup measured a total of seven different reasons why those who attend a place of worship at least monthly say they go. Three in four worshippers noted sermons or talks that either teach about scripture or help people connect religion to their own lives as major factors spurring their attendance.
|Major factor||Minor factor||Not a factor|
|Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture||76||16||8|
|Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life||75||16||8|
|Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers||64||21||15|
|Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities||59||27||13|
|Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring||54||28||17|
|Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community||49||36||14|
|A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music||38||36||25|
|Based on adults who attend church, synagogue or mosque monthly or more often. % No opinion not shown|
|Gallup, March 9-29, 2017|
Religious programs for children and teenagers are a major draw for just under two in three worshippers. Providing opportunities for community outreach or volunteering, as well as having dynamic religious leaders are highly important to majorities as well.
About half of regular worshippers say that getting to know people in their community is a major factor in why they attend, while 38% cite having good music, such as a choir or praise band.
These results are based on a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults interviewed from March 9-29, who attend a church, synagogue or mosque at least monthly. In line with the religious composition of the country, the vast majority of these respondents indicate they are Christian, allowing for a comparison of Catholics' and Protestants' answers.
Sermons and Music Matter More to Protestants Than Catholics
While the rank order of priorities is similar between members of the two Christian branches, Protestants (including those who identify as simply "Christian") attach much more importance than Catholics to the content of sermons, as well as to the quality of music.
Catholics and Protestants attach nearly the same levels of importance to the more social or pragmatic aspects of church, including access to youth programs, community outreach opportunities and social activities. However, Protestants are not significantly more likely than Catholics to care about the style of their religious leaders, saying the presence of dynamic leaders who are interesting or inspiring is a major factor.
|Sermons that teach about scripture||83||62|
|Sermons that help connect religion to own life||80||67|
|Spiritual programs for children/teens||68||63|
|Community outreach and volunteer opportunities||61||56|
|Dynamic religious leaders||53||47|
|Choir or other spiritual music||44||29|
|Based on those who attend church monthly or more often|
|Gallup, March 9-29, 2017|
Overall, Catholics rate none of the factors as more important reasons for attending than do Protestants, suggesting that the latter group -- with dozens of denominations and branches of Protestantism to choose from -- may be more attuned to specific dynamics of what they prefer in their church experience than Catholics.
Why Some Choose to Not Attend Church
The poll also asked the 35% of Americans who are lapsed worshippers -- those who attended a church, synagogue or mosque at least monthly growing up but who seldom or never attend today -- to rate the importance of nine different factors explaining their absence.
There is no overarching reason why former churchgoers no longer attend. Preferring to worship on one's own tops the list at 44%, and just over a third say not liking organized religion is a major factor. These suggest not an antipathy to religion per se so much as a dislike of the group format.
More mid-level explanations -- those mentioned as major reasons by 16% to 22% -- include not finding the right church or other place of worship, not having enough time, not being sure which religion is right for them and not liking being asked for money when they attend.
The least-mentioned important factors include being prevented from going due to poor health and not feeling welcome when they attend.
|Major factor||Minor factor||Not a factor||No opinion|
|You prefer to worship on your own||44||21||34||*|
|You don't like organized religion||36||25||37||1|
|You aren't very religious||33||32||33||2|
|You haven't found a church or other place of worship that you like||22||24||53||1|
|You don't have the time||19||28||52||1|
|You aren't sure what religion is right for you||17||23||59||1|
|You don't like being asked for money when you attend||16||29||55||*|
|Poor health or other problems prevent you from going||10||19||71||*|
|You don't feel welcome when you do attend||9||25||65||1|
|Gallup, March 9-29, 2017|
Belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque provides people with important social benefits that Gallup research shows improve personal well-being. While social benefits are clearly important to majorities of those who worship regularly, what most motivates them to attend is learning more about the tenets of their faith, as well as connecting that faith to their lives. Protestants, who have more control over their church leadership and flexibility in where they worship, place even greater emphasis on the quality of sermons than do Catholics, although both groups rate sermons highly.
Fulfilling these expectations could be critical in order for religious organizations to survive. But to expand their ranks, reigniting the interest of lapsed members should be a priority. Converting those who say they aren't very religious or who don't like organized religion may be futile. But churches and others may find some success with the message that worshipping in communion with others has benefits that can't be achieved worshipping alone -- addressing the No. 1 reason non-attendees give for not attending.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 9-29, 2017, with a random sample of 1,526 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of 745 adults who attend church or other house of worship at least monthly, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 532 adults who seldom or never attend church, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.
Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Survey works.