A national research study reveals some groups avoiding religious services that church leaders may not have expected.
By Aaron Earls
When pastors look out across the congregation during worship service, who’s missing?
For several years, church leaders have believed those who never attend church are more likely to be white, male, and young. Lifeway Research’s study of the unchurched supports many of those assumptions.
New data from the General Social Survey also supports that picture of the 25 percent of Americans who say they never attend church. But it also reveals some groups avoiding religious services that church leaders may not have expected.
Less educated — While many assume that increased education leads to decreased church attendance, the statistics tell a different story.
Among Americans with less than a high school diploma, almost 3 in 10 (29 percent) say they never attend church. High school graduates (25 percent) and those with at least some college (23 percent) are less likely to report they never attend.
It’s not a matter of belief but strictly one of religious attendance. While those with the least education are most likely to say they never attend religious services, they are also the most likely to say they know God exists and have no doubts, to say they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and to say they pray at least once a day.
Poor — Self-identified “lower-class” Americans are the most likely to say they never attend church. More than 3 in 10 (31 percent) say that’s the case for them. Working-class Americans (26 percent) are the next most likely church skippers.
Middle-class (22 percent) and upper-class (21 percent) Americans are even less likely to completely avoid religious services.
That may be related to the steady increase in likelihood an unemployed person stays away from church. Since 2008, the share of the unemployed who say they never attend religious services has increased every year, from 25 percent to 41 percent.
Meanwhile, the share of employed Americans who say they are completely unchurched has plateaued around 25 percent.
Unmarried — People who never get married are more likely to never attend church. Thirty-four percent of never-married Americans and 28 percent of divorced Americans say they never attend.
In contrast, only 19 percent of married Americans say they never go to a religious service.
Politically independent — Political independents and others from outside the two major parties are the most likely to say they never attend church. Almost a third of independents (32 percent) report they are completely unchurched.
By comparison, 23 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans say they never attend a religious service.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.