Church attendance crept up slightly in the United States this year, according to new Gallup research – but not everyone is buying the findings.
Slightly more than 43 percent of Americans told Gallup they attend church, synagogue or mosque weekly or almost every week, up from just under 43 percent in 2009, and about 42 percent in 2008.
The results are within the poll’s margin of error, but still “statistically significant,” Gallup said in announcing the results Monday.
A top expert on religion in America dismissed the numbers out of hand, but said there may be something to the trend.
“Those numbers are just wrong,” Trinity College Professor Mark Silk said Tuesday.
He puts the percentage of Americans who actually attend weekly services somewhere in the mid-20s, pointing out that people tend to exaggerate when pollsters ask if they do something regarded as “good.”
“The problem with (the) Gallup (poll) is that self-reported behavior that is good, you tend to overestimate your behavior. When people are asked how often they vote, they tend to be, let’s say, optimistic,” he said, pointing out that there are good independent measures of both voting and religious attendance.
But he also noted that a completely unrelated study found that Americans say they are spending more time on “spiritual and religious activities.”
The Department of Labor’s annual survey of how Americans spend their time reported last week that Americans said they engaged in spiritual activity for about nine minutes a day in 2009, up from 8.4 minutes in 2008.
That’s a more reliable finding, Silk said, because people tend more honest when asked to account for their time than when they are asked about a specific “good activity.”
Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey found last year that the number of Americans calling themselves Christian had dropped to three out of four, while more than ever before were saying they had no
Silk said this week’s Gallup findings don’t necessarily contradict the Trinity survey.
“ARIS numbers don’t necessarily tell you anything about changes in behavior,” he said, only about how people define their identity.
Gallup polled more than 300,000 people in 2008 and 2009, and 117,156 people for the 2010 survey, giving a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point each year, it said.