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In U.S., Childhood Churchgoing Habits Fade in Adulthood

In U.S., Childhood Churchgoing Habits Fade in Adulthood

Story Highlights

  • 31% attend services weekly or nearly weekly; 67% did as a child
  • 38% who attended regularly as a child attend regularly now
  • Most nonreligious Americans are uninterested in exploring religion

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than a third of Americans have fallen away from attending religious services regularly in their lifetime, as 31% report attending a church, synagogue, mosque or temple weekly or nearly weekly today, whereas 67% say they attended that frequently when growing up. Two-thirds also report that, to the best of their knowledge, their parents attended weekly or nearly weekly in their youth, suggesting the changes in church attendance have occurred within the current generation of parents and children.


About one in five U.S. adults attend church, synagogue, mosque or temple weekly, with another 9% saying they attend nearly every week. The majority of American adults say they seldom (25%) or never (33%) attend.

Asked about their religious service attendance while they were growing up, 67% of U.S. adults say they attended weekly or almost every week, more than double the percentage who currently do.

And when asked how often their parents attended services when their parents were growing up, 67% report their parents attended every week or almost every week as children.

The results are based on combined data for Gallup polls conducted in July and August with more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older. The results suggest adults’ experience as children was similar to that of their parents, but today’s adults have very different religious habits. Among adults who have children under 18, 31% regularly attend, providing an indication of the frequency with which today’s children attend -- far less than children from the prior two generations.

These findings are consistent with prior Gallup research documenting steep declines in U.S. religiosity in recent decades.

The declines come at a time when increasing proportions of Americans do not identify with any religious faith. Across all of Gallup’s polling in 2022, an average of 21% of U.S. adults, up from 8% in 2000, say they have no religious preference. But Gallup has also found that religious Americans today are less likely than those in the past to belong to a church or to regularly attend services.

Childhood Church Attendance Related to Current Attendance

As would be expected, those who regularly attended church or another place of worship as children are more likely to go to religious services now, as adults, than are those who did not attend. However, even those who report that they went to church regularly when they were growing up are not highly likely to do so now.

Specifically, 38% of U.S. adults who say they attended every week or almost every week as children say they attend weekly or nearly weekly now. Many more in this group -- half -- say they seldom (24%) or never (26%) attend religious services today.

But the 38% current weekly attendance among former frequent churchgoers is significantly higher than the 23% current regular attendance of those who attended church once or twice a month as children, and the 16% for those who seldom or never attended as children.

The vast majority of those who seldom or never attended as children say they seldom (24%) or never (56%) attend religious services today, indicating a stronger relationship between infrequent attendance in earlier and later life than between regular attendance in childhood and adulthood.


Age, Childhood Habits Both Related to Current Church Attendance

Young adults are less likely than older adults to have a religious affiliation and, likewise, to attend church. They are also less likely to report they attended church as children. Fifty-eight percent of adults under age 35 say they went to church every week or almost every week growing up, compared with 70% of adults aged 35 and older.

Young adults who went to religious services regularly as children are somewhat less likely than older adults who attended regularly to attend every week now -- 34% versus 39%. Notably, the 34% of young adults who regularly attended church as children and do so now is nearly the same percentage as the 33% of young adults who were regular churchgoers in their youth but who never attend services now.

But young adults who went to church on a weekly or near-weekly basis when they were growing up are still much more inclined to attend regularly today than are young adults who attended less often as children (11%).

Few Nonreligious Americans Are Curious About Exploring Religion

Gallup also asked U.S. adults who do not have a religious preference whether they are interested in exploring religion in the future. The vast majority -- 75% -- say they are “not interested at all,” while 13% indicate they are “a little interested,” 9% “moderately interested” and 3% “very interested.”


Young adults with no religious affiliation are more inclined to want to explore religion than older adults without a religious affiliation. Specifically, 18% of 18- to 34-year-olds with no religion are at least moderately interested in exploring religion, compared with 9% of nonreligious 35- to 54-year-olds and 6% of those 55 and older who are not religious. This may indicate that younger people are less set in their ways than older people and are open to the possibility their situation may change, even if that is unlikely.

College graduates who have no religious affiliation are less inclined than the religiously unaffiliated without a college degree to want to explore religion. Four percent of nonreligious college graduates are very or moderately interested, compared with 17% of college nongraduates who do not have a religious faith.

Also, nonreligious Americans’ interest in exploring religion is similar among those who attended religious services regularly and those who attended infrequently as children -- 13% of nonreligious Americans who attended weekly or nearly weekly as children are interested in exploring religion, compared with 12% who attended monthly or less often. This finding suggests exposure to faith lessons early in life has little to no impact for unaffiliated Americans in their future orientation to religion.

Bottom Line

This Christmas, the U.S. remains a religious nation, with about 80% having a religious affiliation, including about seven in 10 who affiliate with a Christian faith. However, the U.S. is clearly a less religious nation than it has been in the past, given steep declines over the past two decades in religious identification, church membership and church attendance.

And while a religious upbringing is associated with regular church attendance in adulthood, the majority of those who say they went to church frequently as children attend infrequently, if at all, as adults.

Although it is possible that those who were once religious, or who never were, will be inspired to find religion in the future, relatively few nonreligious Americans say there is a possibility of their doing so. Still, finding faith later in life that didn’t exist before is possible, as 16% of U.S. adults today who say they seldom or never attended church as children attend every week or almost every week now.

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