Church attendance

Church attendance is a central religious practice for many Christians; some Christian denominations, such as the Catholic Church require church attendance on the Lord's Day (Sunday); the Westminster Confession of Faith is held by the Reformed Churches and teaches first-day Sabbatarianism,[2] thus proclaiming the duty of public worship in keeping with the Ten Commandments.[3] Similarly, The General Rules of the Methodist Church also requires "attending upon all the ordinances of God" including "the public worship of God".[4] Until 1791, the government of the United Kingdom required attendance at church services of the Church of England (the mother Church of the Anglican Communion and a state Church) at least twice a year.[5] To this end, all major branches of Christianity, however, encourage church attendance, with one Christian author providing the following biblical imperatives:

Many Christians attend church services on Christmas Eve, the Christian vigil that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.[1]

The Bible tells us we need to meet with other Christians so we can worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth (Acts 2:42 ; Hebrews 10:25 ), but it does not specifically state we must meet in a particular structure. Church is the place where believers can love one another (1 John 4:12 ), encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13 ), "spur" one another (Hebrews 10:24 ), serve one another (Galatians 5:13 ), instruct one another (Romans 15:14 ), honor one another (Romans 12:10 ), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32 ).[6]

The Lutheran Christian theologian Balthasar Münter stated that church attendance is the "foundation for the Christian life" as "the Christian Bible and the sacraments provide the framework for the faith"; he also states that it is important for believers because it aids in the prevention of backsliding, as well as offers "the company of other believers".[7]

According to data from the European Social Survey in 2012 around a third of European Christians say they attend services once a month or more.[8] Conversely about two-thirds of Latin American Christians and according to the World Values Survey about 90% of African Christians (in Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe) said they attended church regularly.[8] The Gallup International, a self-reporting survey conducted via telephone, indicates that 37% of Americans report that they attend religious services weekly or near-weekly in 2013.[9] The Pew Research Center stated, however, that there is a "sharp increase in church attendance around the two most significant Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter."[10] As such, on Christmas (a Principal Feast in the Anglican Communion, a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church and a Festival in the Lutheran Churches), LifeWay Research found that "six out of 10 Americans typically attend church".[11] Countries that hold or have held a policy of state atheism have actively discouraged church attendance and church membership, often persecuting Christians who continued to worship.[12]



Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are two days within the Christian penitential season of Lent that are popular days for churchgoing. The image on the left depicts a Lutheran Divine Service on Ash Wednesday while the image on the right depicts a Roman Catholic Good Friday service.[13]

The Gallup International, a self-reporting survey conducted via telephone, indicates that 37% of Americans report that they attend religious services weekly or near-weekly in 2013.[9] Self-reporting surveys conducted online indicate substantially lower weekly attendance rates,[14] and methods of measurement that don't rely on self-reporting estimate even lower rates; for instance, a 2005 study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that just 22% of Americans attend services weekly.[15]). This compares to other countries claims such as 15% of French citizens, 10% of British citizens,[16] 8.8% of Australian citizens and 5.6% of Dutch citizens.[17] In the U.K., in 2011, an average once-a-week attendance in Anglican churches went down by 0.3% compared with 2012, thus exhibiting a stabilizing trend.[18] Previously, starting from 2000, an average rate of weekly church attendance in Britain was dropping down 1% annually. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis.[19] In its turn, Gallup estimated the once-a-week church attendance of the Americans in 2013 as 39%.[20]

Based on 1990-1991 data, it was estimated that the country with the highest rate of church attendance in the world was Nigeria (89%) and with the lowest - the Soviet Union (2%).[21] Nigeria's data was notable, as Nigeria is very religiously diverse - the population is 50.1% Muslim and 48.2% Christian. The state authorities in the USSR, which dissolved in 1991, discouraged church construction; they had a hostile relationship with traditional organized religions and instead promoted Marxist-Leninist ideology, which espoused state atheism.[22][23] A survey commissioned by the Época Magazine in 2005 showed that 29% of Brazilians attend church weekly, and indicated that it is lesser than in the United States but higher than in Western Europe and Japan, indeed showing that contrary to the local popular belief, Brazilians of the time could indeed be regarded as a religious people even in practice (though it is ponderable that the growth of the population declaring to be solely irreligious in nationwide censuses grew about 100% between 2000 and 2010, and 200% between 2000 and 2013, from 4% to 12%, and general secularization also grew among the portion of the population that remained religious).[24]

In a 2006, Financial Times (FT)/Harris Poll conducted online surveyed 12,507 adults over 16 years old in the United States (2,010 U.S. adults were surveyed) and five European countries (France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and Spain). The survey found that only 26% of those polled attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services. Harris Interactive stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due to sampling errors and non-response bias.[25] A previous nearly identical survey by Harris in 2003 found that only 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 11% went "once or twice a month" 19% went "a few times a year", 4% went "once a year", 16% went "less than once a year", and 25% never attend religious services.

Calculating the church's average weekend attendance is important since it determines the size of a given church. For example, in the U.S., an average weekend attendance of more than 2,000 people separates a mega church from a large church, and an average weekend attendance between 51 and 300 people defines the large church; while a small church is the church with an attendance lower than 50 people.[26] (Alternative definitions, such as house church, simple church, intentional community, were proposed by the Barna Group, an American private consulting firm.[27]) A narrow definition of a regular church attendee can be viewed as a synonym for a Sunday service visitation, while a broad definition, names as a regular attendee a person who comes to church during three out of eight weekends.[28]

Attendance by country

The frequency at which Christians attend church services varies greatly around the world. In some countries weekly attendance at religious services is common among Christians, while in others weekly attendance is rare. The following attendance statistics are mostly based on self-reporting surveys and may not accurately reflect real attendance figures.

Percentage of Christians who attend church at least once a week
Country Percentage
Nigeria Nigeria (2009)[29]
Zambia Zambia (2009)[29]
Haiti Haiti (2008-2009)[29]
Tanzania Tanzania (2008-2009)[29]
Central African Republic Central African Republic (2009)[29]
Chad Chad (2009)[29]
Liberia Liberia (2009)[29]
Mozambique Mozambique (2009)[29]
Uganda Uganda (2009)[29]
Kenya Kenya (2008)[29]
Ethiopia Ethiopia (2009)[29]
Cameroon Cameroon (2009)[29]
Guatemala Guatemala (2013-2014)[30]
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo (2009)[29]
Rwanda Rwanda (2008)[29]
Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau (2009)[29]
Jamaica Jamaica (2009)[29]
Honduras Honduras (2014)[30]
Botswana Botswana (2008-2009)[29]
El Salvador El Salvador (2013)[30]
South Africa South Africa (2008)[29]
Philippines Philippines (2013)[note 1][31]
Nicaragua Nicaragua (2013)[30]
Costa Rica Costa Rica (2013)[30]
Colombia Colombia (2013-2014)[30]
Japan Japan (2017)[32]
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic (2013-2014)[30]
Panama Panama (2013-2014)[30]
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico (2013-2014)[30]
Brazil Brazil (2013-2014)[30]
Mexico Mexico (2013-2014)[30]
Bolivia Bolivia (2013-2014)[30]
Poland Poland (2017)[33]
United States United States (2018)[34]
Venezuela Venezuela (2017)[33]
Ecuador Ecuador (2013-2014)[30]
Israel Israel (2014-2015)[35]
Lebanon Lebanon (2013)[note 1][31]
Italy Italy (2019) [36]
Malta Malta (2017)[37]
Peru Peru (2013)[30]
Republic of Ireland Ireland (2017)[33][38]
Armenia Armenia (2020)[39]
Paraguay Paraguay (2013-2014)[30]
Czech Republic Czech Republic (2013)[note 1][31]
Slovakia Slovakia (2013)[note 1][31]
Slovenia Slovenia (2009)[41]
Australia Australia (2013)[note 1][31]
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina (2017)[33]
Croatia Croatia (2017)[42]
Romania Romania (2017)[33]
Cyprus Cyprus (2013)[30]
Spain Spain (2019)[43]
Portugal Portugal (2011)[44]
Ukraine Ukraine (2017)[33]
Chile Chile (2014) [30]
Argentina Argentina (2019)[45]
Greece Greece (2017)[33]
Netherlands Netherlands (2013)[46]
Canada Canada (2013-2014)[47]
Germany Germany (2011)[note 1][48]
Uruguay Uruguay (2014) [30]
Lithuania Lithuania (2011)[note 1][48]
Belgium Belgium (2005)[note 2][50]
France France (2011)[note 1][48]
United Kingdom United Kingdom (2019)[51]
Iceland Iceland (2017)[33]
Hungary Hungary (2017)[33]
Bulgaria Bulgaria (2017)[33]
Russia Russia (2013)[52]
Latvia Latvia (2017)[33]
Austria Austria (2017)[33]
Sweden Sweden (2016)[53]
Norway Norway (2011)[54]
Cuba Cuba (2012)[55]
Denmark Denmark (2015)[56]
Estonia Estonia (2017)[33]

The following attendance statistics are taken from the 2004 Gallup report, based on self-reporting telephone surveys. However, it is unclear whether the survey was solely of Christians in the respective country or the entire population (including non-Christians).

Country Year Attendance (%)
 Austria 2004 18% [57]
 Cyprus 2004 22% [57]
 Denmark 2004 3% [57]
 Czech Republic 2004 11% [57]
 Estonia 2004 4% [57]
 Finland 2004 5% [57]
 Greece 2004 27% [57]
 Hungary 2004 12% [57]
 Ireland 2004 54%[57]
 Italy 2004 31% [57]
 Latvia 2004 7% [57]
 Lithuania 2004 14% [57]
 Malta 2004 74%[57]
 Norway 2002 3% [58]
 Poland 2004 63%[57]
 Portugal 2004 29% [57]
 Slovakia 2004 33% [57]
 Slovenia 2004 18% [57]
 Spain 2004 21% [57]
 Sweden 2004 5% [57]

A study by the European Social Survey conducted in 2008 found these rates of respondents never attending religious service (excluding special occasions):[59]

Respondents never attending religious services
Percentage Countries
<10%  Cyprus,  Greece,  Poland,  Bosnia-Herzegovina
10-20%  Croatia,  Italy,  Ukraine
20-30%  Turkey,  Portugal,  Russia
30-40%  Estonia,  Germany,  Sweden
40-50%  Israel,  Spain,  Netherlands
50-60%  Belgium,  United Kingdom,  France
>60%  Czech Republic

Attendance by U.S. state

The frequency by which adults attend church services also vary on a state-by-state basis in the United States of America.

Percentage of adults who attend church at least once a week (2014):[60]
State Percentage
 South Carolina
 Puerto Rico
 West Virginia
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia
 North Carolina
 Washington, D.C.
 Rhode Island
 South Dakota
 New Mexico
 New Jersey
 North Dakota
 New York
 New Hampshire


A Swedish Christian girl leads a church procession on Saint Lucy's Day

Church attendance remains stronger among older demographics, and more common for women.[61][62][63] There is evidence that links church attendance with health benefits. The Pew Research Center, which conducts the extensive research and information program Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, has linked regular church attendance with happiness.[64] Several studies associated church attendance with decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease.[65] Research by Rita W. Law and David A. Sbarra demonstrated that "church attendance was found to have a protective effect against the emergence of mood problems among older adults."[66] Graham et al. discovered that "consistent pattern of lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures among frequent church attenders was found compared to that of infrequent attenders which was not due to the effects of age, obesity, cigarette smoking, or socioeconomic status."[67] Oman D et al. found that "infrequent (never or less than weekly) attenders had significantly higher rates of circulatory, cancer, digestive, and respiratory mortality (p < 0.05), but not mortality due to external causes."[68] With respect to students, Glanville et al. found "that religious attendance promotes higher intergenerational closure, friendship networks with higher educational resources and norms, and extracurricular participation."[69] Research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found "that regularly attending church services together reduces a couple’s risk of divorce by a remarkable 47 percent".[70]

A 2018 sociological survey found that in the United States, "Donald Trump voters who attend church regularly are more likely than nonreligious Trump voters to have warmer feelings toward racial and religious minorities, to be more supportive of immigration and trade, and to be more concerned about poverty."[71][72] A 2005 European Union survey found that religious belief increased with age and was higher among women, those who were leaning towards right-wing politics, and those reflecting more upon philosophical and ethical issues.[73] In particular, the Iona Institute documented increasing church attendance in Ireland, despite sex-abuse scandals that plagued the Catholic Church.[74] Some suggest[who?] the rise is due to the effects of the economic recession.

Research shows that there is a correlation between church attendance and the level of education. For instance, in a Pew Research study from 1996, approximately 34% of high school dropouts went to church on a typical Sunday, while 44% of those with a college degree or higher did.[75] 48% of married individuals attended church on a typical Sunday, compared with 29% of divorced and 31% of never-married individuals. While it is likely that the well-educated and married might over-report their church attendance more often, these findings nevertheless demonstrate that they have maintained a stronger church-going identity than other Americans. In the United Kingdom, research in 2018 demonstrated that "Students at Oxford, Cambridge and Durham are twice as likely to worship on a Sunday as the general population"—colleges at these universities maintain approximately fifty-six chapels for worship.[76]

Influence of parents

Several research studies in the USA and Europe found that church attendance practices of parents, especially fathers, can be highly influential in forming the future church attendance practices of their children.

In Switzerland, the Fertility and Family Survey was commissioned by the Federal Statistical Office (Switzerland) to enable Switzerland to take part in this international project launched by the UNECE Population Activities Unit. The survey was conducted between October 1994 and May 1995, with the results being published in 2000 by the Council of Europe. The results are representative of Switzerland's permanent resident population aged 20–49 and presented in the table below.[77]

Practice of religion according to practice of parents (%)

Practice of parents Practice of children
Father Mother Regular Irregular Non-practicing
Regular Regular 32.8 41.4 25.8
Regular Irregular 37.7 37.6 24.7
Regular Non-practicing 44.2 22.4 33.4
Irregular Regular 3.4 58.6 38.0
Irregular Irregular 7.8 60.8 31.4
Irregular Non-practicing 25.4 22.8 51.8
Non-practicing Regular 1.5 37.4 61.1
Non-practicing Irregular 2.3 37.8 59.9
Non-practicing Non-practicing 4.6 14.7 80.7

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children not attending church. If his wife is similarly irregular that figure rises to 80 percent.[78][79]

An American study found similar results on the impact of fathers:[80]

  • When both parents attend Sunday school, 72% of the children attend Sunday school when grown.
  • When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
  • When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
  • When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.


Research on individuals residing in the United States and Canada concluded that "Ninety-six percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited."[81] In July 2018, LifeWay Research found that "Nearly two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers say they’ve invited at least one person to visit their church in the past six months".[82]


The Christian season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, most notably by the public imposition of ashes. In this photograph, a woman receives a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday at an Episcopal Christian church.

Church attendance in advanced industrial societies is in gradual general decline with people shifting from weekly to monthly or holiday attendance. Sociologists have attributed this trend to a number of reasons, starting from a simple boredom during services and lack of motivation, to generational incompatibility of belief systems and social changes attributed to modernity.[83] Research across 65 different nations showed that out of 20 advanced industrial countries - 16 demonstrated a declining rate of monthly church attendance.[84]

An article published in the Christianity Today Magazine in 2007 suggested that in America, church attendance since the 1990s had remained stable.[85] According to the Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, 50% of Americans replied that God is very important in their lives, comparing with 40% of Irish, 28% of Canadians, 26% of Spaniards, 21% of Australians, and 10% of the French.[86]

The percent of Americans who regularly attend religious services has fluctuated over time, but presently is at a low point.[87] In Gallup Poll surveys, the yearly aggregate of those who answer "yes" to the question "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?" was 36% in 2014, 2015, and 2016.[88] This is a very long-running Gallup question: "In 1939, when Gallup first asked this question, 41% said 'yes.' That percentage dropped to 37% in 1940 and rose to 39% in 1950. It continued to climb, reaching as high as 49% at multiple points in the 1950s. Attendance then settled down to figures around 40% for decades, before dropping to 36%" beginning in 2014.[87]

The decline in church attendance is more pronounced in developed European countries, where it is suggested that the secular culture overrides interest in religion. In Poland Church attendance has declined from more than 50% in 1979 to 40% in 2012.[89]

Disparity between self reported and actual attendance

In the early 1990s, American sociologists Kirk Hadaway, Penny Marler, and Mark Chaves found that weekly attendance at Protestant and Catholic churches in one rural county in Ohio was only about 20%, whereas self-reported church attendance was 36%.[90] The following studies confirmed a long-suspected gap between actual and self-reporting church attendance.[91][92] The researchers have been wary of accusing over-reporters of dishonesty, as they found in the study that those who over-report do so mainly to maintain perceptions of themselves as "churched" Americans, not because they are afraid to reveal to the interviewer that they are "bad Christians."[93] The findings point to a bigger issue as many people in the world may be over-reporting church attendance because of their self-perception and identity as churchgoing people, indicating a certain psychological aspect to the over-reporting of church attendance. Although surveys of church attendance are aimed to study religious behavior, many respondents view them as questions about their identity. This is especially true among Americans who consider themselves "regular churchgoers."[94][95]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Original survey for this country included non-Christians. To determine value solely for Christians, attendance value was divided by the percentage of Christians in the country using Pew Research's 2010 religious composition table.[40][31]
  2. ^ Original source was of raw weekly attendance. To determine percentage, attendance value was divided by the amount Christians in Belgium using most recent data.[49]


  1. ^ Jespersen, Knud J. V. (21 June 2011). A History of Denmark. Macmillan International Higher Education. p. 91. ISBN 9780230344174. It is quite normal to go to church on Christmas Eve, and many people like to celebrate a christening or wedding in church. The Church is especially important at the end of a life; by far the majority of funerals are still conducted in a church by a minister.
  2. ^ Wigley, John (1980). The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Sunday . Manchester University Press. p. 800. ISBN 9780719007941. Following the formulation of the Westminster Confession, fully fledged Sabbatarianism quickly took root too, being embodied in an Act of 1661, then spreading northwards and westwards as the Highlands were opened up after the '46, during which time the doctrine lost its original force and vigour in the Lowlands.
  3. ^ McKim, Donald K. (2011). More Presbyterian Questions, More Presbyterian Answers: Exploring Christian Faith. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780664503086. The Westminster Confession urges a strict observance of the Lord's Day as a day of rest and worship, away from "works, words, and thoughts" about "worldly employments and recreations." The whole time is to be devoted to "public and private exercises of [God's) worship, and in duties of necessity and mercy" (BC 6.119). In the United States, many "blue laws" relating to Sunday originated from this general prescription observed by American Puritans of the Reformed tradition.
  4. ^ Abraham, William J.; Kirby, James E. (24 September 2009). The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies. OUP Oxford. p. 253. ISBN 9780191607431.
  5. ^ Day, Cathy (26 September 2014). Wiltshire Marriage Patterns 1754-1914: Geographical Mobility, Cousin Marriage and Illegitimacy. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 198. ISBN 9781443867924. Attendance at an Anglican church service at least twice a year was a legal requirement for all people until 1791 and some parishioners endured the minimum church attendance requirement in order to avoid a fine.
  6. ^ Michael Houdmann, S. (24 April 2014). Got Questions?: Bible Questions Answered. p. 180. ISBN 9781490832739.
  7. ^ Roos, Merethe (2013-03-08). Enlightened Preaching: Balthasar Münter's Authorship 1772-1793. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 99. ISBN 9789004249899.
  8. ^ a b Christianity and church attendance
  9. ^ a b "Religion: Gallup Historical Trends" . Gallup, Inc. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  10. ^ Kuriakose, Noble (18 April 2014). "When Easter and Christmas near, more Americans search online for "church"" . Pew Research Center. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  11. ^ Stetzer, Ed (14 December 2015). "What Is Church Attendance Like During Christmastime? New Data From LifeWay Research" . Christianity Today. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  12. ^ Athena Magazine, Issues 41-55. International Studies Association. 1991. p. 86. It has also shrunk through the trial, 'as by fire', of decades of totalitarian state atheism, in which simply to profess the Christian Faith automatically ranked one as a dissident and church attendance was not infrequently the first step towards martyrdom.
  13. ^ The Living Church, Volume 138. Morehouse-Gorham Company. 1959. p. 221. Case after case was noted where parish church attendance had doubled, tripled, and in some cases, quadrupled at all services on Ash Wednesday. As the weeks of Lent rolled along, reports continued to come in mentioning that attendance at all services during Lent was far greater than at any other period during many of the churches' histories.
  14. ^ Grossman, Cathy Lynn (2014-05-17). "Poll: Americans stretch the truth on attending church" . Religion News Service. Religion News LLC. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  15. ^ Hadaway, C. Kirk; Marler, Penny Long (2005). "How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 44 (3): 307–22. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2005.00288.x . JSTOR 3590599 .
  16. ^ One in 10 attends church weekly BBC News.
  17. ^ NCLS releases latest estimates of church attendance . National Church Life Survey, Media release.
  18. ^ Baker, David. New church attendance figures – do the numbers add up? Comment, 16 May 2013.
  19. ^ Lipka, Michael. What surveys say about worship attendance – and why some stay home ., September 13, 2013.
  20. ^ Church Attendance Today Similar to 1940s Archived 2014-01-22 at the Wayback Machine. Gallup, January 19, 2014.
  21. ^ How many people outside of North America go regularly to religious services?
  22. ^ Bourdeaux, Michael (2002). Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia 2003. Taylor & Francis. p. 46. ISBN 9781857431377. The experiment forcibly to impose gosateizm (state atheism) in the USSR lasted just 70 years. Until Lenin--Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov's first Decree on the Separation of Church and State of January 1918, no government in history had sought to enforce a system that rejected all forms of religion.
  23. ^ Brugger, Winfried (2007). "On the Relationship between Structural Norms and Constitutional Rights in Church-State-Relations". In Brugger, Winfried; Karayanni, Michael (eds.). Religion in the Public Sphere: A Comparative Analysis of German, Israeli, American and International Law. Beiträge zum ausländischen öffentlichen Recht und Völkerrecht. 190. pp. 21–86. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-73357-7_2 . ISBN 978-3-540-73355-3.
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  31. ^ a b c d e f Pew Research Global Attitudes Project Spring 2013 Topline, p. 130
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