Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What does church Have to do with it?

We've been struggling to find the model for spiritual communities. And here are the stats.

Mark Gray over at CARA (on 1964, one of my favorite blogs ever) tackles the available information on church attendance. Today they used data from a "life diary" study that asked participants to record their days, and pulled statistics relevant to church attendance on Sundays.

This is important because other studies of religious participation always risk polluting the results with bias. People might not be 100% honest when taking surveys about their religion. But the diary study (conducted by Philip Brenner) does not prime participants to respond in any particular way.

What do we learn? 

1) Church attendance in the 2010s has not dropped since the 1980s, but down 12 points from the 1960s (39% to 27% reported attending church on Sunday). Millennials mirror this overall trend.

2) Millennials are NOT significantly less likely to attend church than Gen X, and only slightly less likely than their parents.

3) Millennials who self-identify as Catholics have some unexpected habits, and are more likely to carry a cross than be on twitter.

4) But even self-identified Millennial Catholics are only about 35% likely to attend Mass once a month or more.

Therefore, I conclude that Church attendance simply is not a central part of the Catholic experience. Mark Gray points out that, for most of church history, the average "member" did not attend weekly services. Are we returning to that model?

I myself have struggled to find a church community where I fit in. Sure, I'm harder to please than most, but I know many others (of various denominations) who have active spiritual lives, pray, believe, study, and have spiritual communities entirely outside of Sunday services. Maybe it's something the pastor said, or a regular scheduling conflict. Frankly, a community where you regularly feel nourished along with a hundred other families is a rare gem.

Several participants on PolicyMic commented that church participation was no measure of religious participation, and even less a measure of spiritual activities. I agree.

So what makes a spiritual community that is not stuck in the nostalgia of 1960?

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