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-American Religion: Attendance and Affiliation Declines while Prayer Rises?

by Dr. D ~ March 11th, 2015


According to a 2014 General Social Survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, formal American religious practice is continuing to decline while personal prayer in on the rise. From an article in the Washington Post:

A record-low share of Americans attend church regularly, affiliate with a religious faith and see themselves as religious, according to a major survey released this week.

The findings from the 2014 General Social Survey mark a continuation of a decades-long departure from the pews along with a growing share who profess loyalty to no religion at all. But whatever Americans’ hang-ups with weekend services and denominational ties, they haven’t stopped praying on their own.  …

The resilience of prayer reflects a broader shift in Americans’ understanding of religion, according to Christian Smith, a professor of sociology who leads the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

“Religion is gradually becoming more personal, private, subjective in practice,” and “less public, institutional and shared,” Smith said. “People still believe religious things and practice religion ‘in their heads,’ as in prayer, but are less institutionally connected and engage in fewer public, institution-centered observations.”

<Read the whole article>

Response: This seems to support the anecdotal evidence I have observed over the last decade or so. This societal trend is characterized in this increasingly popular personal observation:

“I am not religious but I am spiritual”

Fact is, most Americans continue to profess a general belief in God or something greater than themselves while an increasing number decline to identify or make a commitment with a formal theological system or institution.

Some have observed that this research may show formal religion in the decline but since prayer in still constant and even slightly rising then Americans are still ‘religious’ even if they no longer attend services. Is this a ‘silver lining’ like some imply? No I do not believe so.

Americans may be praying but who or what are they praying to? Many if questioned can’t identify but few specific theological attributes of the entity they supposedly talk (pray) to or have some type of relationship with. It calls into question whether they are really talking to anybody but themselves.

From a Christian perspective one needs to know and identify with the God one is worshipping. It also really helps to gather with others with similar beliefs and commitments and for clarification, to study an instruction manual like the Bible. In fact, for Christians the Bible is essential for understanding and having a relationship with the One they are praying to. Prayer should not be the end of ones religious faith but the beginning.              *Top

Here’s another even more excellent response that I found to this same survey: “Americans Continue to Pray—And That’s a Problem” by Joe Carter

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