Thursday, October 25, 2012

What We Say, and How We Actually Practice Our Faith

Yesterday, NPR ran a great story on what we say about our religious practices and what we actually do.  Below, I've quoted from the story, but it's worth hearing the whole thing.

People in the U.S. report significantly more church attendance than people in other countries:  "You know, by any measure, as you point out, the United States is a significant outlier when it comes to how religious people say they are. You know, virtually alone in the developed world, large numbers of Americans report that they are indentified with a religious faith. Nearly half of all Americans report that they attend church every week - that's every single week, compared to Western Europe, for example, where maybe about 20 percent of people say they attend church."

If you're like me, you go to a church where every attendee can have a whole pew.  And maybe you attend a church where there are many pews left empty.  If all these people go to church, where are they on Sunday morning?

Yes, maybe they go to churches that are more popular than my Lutheran church.

Or maybe the flaw is that these studies are based on people's self-reporting.  And we all know how wrong we can be when we rely on people to tell us honestly what they do.

Yesterday's story posits that maybe people are actually answering a different question:  "The question that asks how often do you attend becomes a question like: Are the sort of person who attends? The respondent hears the question how often do you attend and interprets the question to be: Are you the sort of person who attends?"

You can approach the question of attendance from a different angle and have people keep an activity log or have them take you through their week.  And when you look at activity logs, only 24% of Americans actually attended a religious service last week, according to the researchers in the NPR story.

So, should we be happy about the fact that people think that they want to be people who go to church?  Should we be happy that people still see church activity as something worthy of time?

For me, though, the more important question soon emerges:  how could we make our churches into a place where people actually want to go, not just a place where people think they should want to go?

I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life pondering this question.

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