WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The vast majority of Americans have a religious preference -- predominantly a Christian one -- though that percentage is declining. At the same time, much smaller proportions of Americans say that religion is "very important" to them, that they belong to a church or that they regularly attend religious services.
Most Americans Identify With a Religion
According to an average of all 2021 Gallup polling, about three in four Americans said they identify with a specific religious faith. By far the largest proportion, 69%, identify with a Christian religion, including 35% who are Protestant, 22% Catholic and 12% who identify with another Christian religion or simply as a "Christian."
Seven percent identify with a non-Christian religion, including 2% who are Jewish, 1% Muslim and 1% Buddhist, among others.
Twenty-one percent of Americans said they have no religious preference, and 3% did not answer the question.
Line graph. Religious preferences of U.S. adults, 1948 through 2021. In the 1940s through the early 1970s more than 90% of Americans said identified with a Christian religion. That steadily declined to 69% in 2021. Meanwhile, there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans with no religion, which was less than 5% from through the early 1970s, rose to 10% by 2002 and was 21% in 2021.
Fifty years ago, in 1971, 90% of U.S. adults identified with a Christian religion, 6% were non-Christian or another religion, and 4% did not have a religious preference. Thus, much of the change in the U.S. has been a shift away from Christian religions to no religion at all.
Religion 'Very Important' to About Half of Americans
Forty-nine percent of Americans say religion is "very important" in their life, with another 27% saying it is "fairly important" and 25% saying it's "not very important."
When Gallup first asked this question in 1965, 70% said religion was very important. That fell to 52% in a 1978 survey -- though the percentage ticked up to near 60% between 1990 and 2005, before declining in the past 15 years.
Line graph. Importance of religion to U.S. adults, 1965 through 2021. In the 1965, 70% of Americans said religion was very important to their lives. After falling to 52% in 1978, the figure rose slightly and stayed around 60% until 2005. Currently, 49% say religion is very important, among the lowest readings in the trend. Over time there has been a steady increase in the percentage who say religion is not very important to them.
Church Attendance Is Declining
Even though most Americans have a religious preference and say religion is at least fairly important to them, much smaller proportions regularly attend religious services.
Asked whether they personally had attended church, synagogue, mosque or temple in the past seven days, an average of 29% of U.S. adults in 2021 reported they had done so, either in person or virtually. In 2000, 44% had gone to church in the past seven days, and in 1958, 49% had.
Line graph. Self-reported church attendance in past seven days, 1939 through 2021. At its peak in the mid-to-late 1950s, 49% of U.S. adults said they had attended church in the past seven days. The percentage generally stayed above 40% until 2012, and has been below that level since, including a new low of 29% in 2021. The 2021 question, which asks about attending church, synagogue, mosque or temple, also accounts for virtual attendance as well as in-person attendance.
The long-term decline in church attendance is linked to a drop in religious identification in general -- particularly for Protestant religions -- but also to decreasing weekly attendance among U.S. Catholics.
When describing their behavior more generally, 22% of Americans report they attend religious services "every week," with another 9% saying they do so "almost every week" and 11% saying they attend about once a month. That leaves the majority saying they "seldom" (25%) or "never" (31%) attend religious services.
Gallup trends on this measure of church attendance date back only to 1992, at which time 34% of U.S. adults said they attended church every week.
Steep Decline in U.S. Church Membership
Additionally, less than half of Americans, 47%, belong to a formal house of worship. Church membership has been below the majority level each of the past two years. When Gallup first asked the question in 1937, 73% were members of a church, and as recently as 1999, 70% were.
Line graph. U.S. Church Membership. When Gallup first asked about church membership in 1937, 73% of Americans said they were a member of a church. The percentage stayed near 70% for much of the next few decades, and was 70% as recently as 1999. By 2011 the figure had dropped below 60%, and has continued to decline to 47% in each of the past two years.
The decline in formal church membership has largely been driven by younger generations of Americans. About one in three U.S. young adults have no religious affiliation. Further, many young adults who do identify with a religion nevertheless do not belong to a church. But even older adults who have a religious preference are less likely to belong to a church today than in the past.
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Gallup measures religious attitudes and behaviors each year as part of its Gallup Poll Social Series.
Explore Gallup questions and trends about religion on Gallup's Topics A-Z: Religion page.
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