A group of investigators at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently published the results of a new research, which sought to determine changes in church attendance patterns over the past 35 years. Their work used a new multi-level estimation method to determine both the number of people using places of worship, as well as the composition of this social group. Results revealed that, while numbers largely remained constant, the groups of individuals attending religious services changed considerably.
Previous investigation proposed that the rates at which people visited church were in decline as well. Researchers have been saying over the past years that people tend to go to fewer services per year, when compared to how many times they visited churches in other years. But the new data shows that Americans attend on average some 23 to 28 services per year, which is in tune with long-term trends. A moderate decline was recorded in the 1990s, but people then again began going to church more often, the UNL experts say.
“There is a small decline in church attendance over time, but not nearly as large as suggested in popular culture, or even by some social scientists,” explains UNL sociologist Philip Schwadel, the lead researcher of the new study. He notes that women, Catholics and southerners, population groups that are well-known for their high church attendance rates, are currently showing a drop in the number of times they attend religious services. The influence these people have on the overall, national attendance is therefore beginning to wobble, the scientist says.
“But as more women have gone to college, participated in the workforce and have begun to work outside the home, it can be said that they are becoming more like men in a number of ways. Few people have really thought about whether the traditional role of women in their church has changed. This may change that,” Schwadel adds. His study looked at data collected from no less than 41,000 American respondents, between 1972 and 2006. Detailed results of the investigation appear in the latest issue of the journal Sociology of Religion, e! Science News