Key findings: Who worships in the U.S.?

1. One in three worshipers are new people who've been attending their current congregation for five years or less. This means the turnover rate in the average congregation is fairly high. Congregations need intentional strategies to readily involve new people. (Learn more about new people.)

2. The average worshiper is well educated: 47% of worshipers have at least a college degree compared to 27% for the U.S. population. This finding appears to be fairly universal because worshipers' educational attainment exceeds that of the average population in the three countries where comparable surveys were conducted -- Australia, England, and New Zealand. (Learn more about this and other congregational strengths.)

3. Worshipers are "good neighbors." In the 12 months prior to the survey:

  • Almost three-quarters (73%) donated money to a charitable organization (other than their congregation)
  • Half (50%) prepared or gave food to someone outside their family or congregation
  • More than one in four (28%) loaned money to someone outside their family
  • More than one in five (23%) helped someone outside their family find a job
  • More than one in five (22%) cared for someone outside their family who was very sick

4. Worshipers are "good citizens."

  • They are more likely to vote than the average American (82% of worshipers voted in the November 2008 presidential election compared to 62% of the U.S. population)
  • In the last year, 20% worked with others to try to solve a community problem
  • 18% contacted an elected official about a public issue in the last year

5. Overall, 76% of those in the pews regularly attend worship services -- that is, they attend almost every week. (Learn more about these frequent attenders.)

6. Despite the fact that most worshipers attend frequently, less than half of all worshipers (45%) are involved in any kind of small group associated with the congregation (such as church school, Sunday school, or other religious education class; prayer groups or Bible study; or discussion or social groups) beyond attending worship services. This means that most worshipers connect with their congregation primarily during worship services. Thus, congregations should do all they can to make their services meaningful and helpful to those who attend. (Learn more about this and other challenges that congregations face.)

7. Two out of 100 people sitting in America's worship services are attending that congregation for the first time. (Learn more about these first-time visitors.)

8. Fewer men attend worship than women. While the U.S. population is split fairly evenly between men and women, there are more women (61%) than men (39%) in the pews. This difference is found in every age category, so the fact that women live longer than men does not explain the gender difference in religious participation.

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What Did We Learn About Congregations in the U.S.?

Characteristics of U.S. Congregations

74% of congregations overall use the internet or e-mail to communicate with members; but 83% of mainline Protestant congregations do so. On average (median), U.S. congregations offer two worship services each week, but the typical Catholic parish offers nine. These Characteristics of Congregations provide a unique view of the programs, services, and facilities of the national random sample of congregations that participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in 2008 and 2009. Results are also presented for five major faith groups: Catholic parishes, mainline Protestant churches, and conservative Protestant churches.

Worship Services in U.S. Congregations

Almost all congregations include a sermon in their worship service. Most also have a collection of money, singing by the congregation, and singing by a choir or soloist. Learn how worship services are similar -- and different -- in congregations of different faith groups. Then, see how the length of the service and the length of the sermon compare among these groups.