Many Americans Afraid to Admit They Don’t Go to Church

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
(Getty photo)

Name almost any group of Americans and the odds are they’re exaggerating about how often they attend church.


A survey (pdf) by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) decided to test Americans’ honesty when it comes to churchgoing by asking questions of respondents over the phone and by offering self-administered questions via the Internet. The two methodologies revealed noticeable gaps in responses.


The research revealed “that every subgroup of Americans inflates their levels of religious participation, with young adults, Catholics and white mainline Protestants particularly likely to inflate the frequency of their attendance at religious services,” according to PRRI.


For instance, 36% of Americans reported over the phone that they attended religious services weekly or more. But the online respondents produced a 31% result.

When asked if they rarely or never went to church, only 30% were willing to admit that by phone. But the online answers showed 43% responded in this way.

Gaps were still noticeable within particular religious groups.


Less than 29% of white mainline Protestants reported by phone that they seldom or never went to church, compared to 45% who took the online survey. With Catholics, the differential was 33% (phone) to 15% (online). With white evangelical Protestants, the separation was 9% (phone) versus 17% (online).


Even those unaffiliated with a religious tradition appear to fudge the numbers a bit. In the phone survey, 73% said they seldom or never attend religious services, but 91% of online respondents answered that way.


 “Even with the inflation, America still stands out as a very religious country, particularly as compared to Western Europe,” Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s executive director, told The New York Times. “If anything, it points to how strong this social norm is.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Study | “I Know What You Did Last Sunday” Finds Americans Significantly Inflate Religious Participation (Public Religion Research Institute)

I Know What You Did Last Sunday:            Measuring Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Behavior, Belief, and Identity (by Daniel Cox, Robert P. Jones and Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Public Religion Research Institute) (pdf)

Americans Claim to Attend Church Much More Than They Do (by Michael Paulson, New York Times)


Leave a comment