December 29, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

In 2016, this blog followed several significant polls tracking Americans and religion. Though if there’s one thing we’ve learned this year it is to be skeptical of polls! But precise data counts aren’t the reason to follow religious polls. The US Census doesn’t track anything having to do with religion, so there is not a lot of data available. The importance of these religious polls is their indication of trends over time.

St Augustine DC Entry Door.jpg

Who attends church?  The main entry door of St. Augustine Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.

Now, just before the end of the year, the Gallup organization has released its annual poll tracking religious affiliation and its importance. The poll has been asking basic questions of religious affiliation and participation since 1938. As other polls have shown, a growing trend is towards the religious unaffiliated. Though the total number of Americans who consider themselves Christian is still just about 74%. That’s down from the 1940’s and 50’s when roughly 90% said they were affiliated with a Christian faith.

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Source:  Gallup Poll - Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S.

This year there was a slight uptick in the number of people who said they were members of a church, mosque, or synagogue, but that doesn’t mean Americans are flocking back to congregations. The overall trend for the past three decades has seen a precipitous drop in membership from 71% in 1986 to the low last year of only 54%.

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Source:  Gallup Poll - Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S.

And membership doesn’t necessarily translate to participation or attendance. Gallup has asked Americans since 1938 whether they have attended a church, synagogue, or mosque in the past seven days. The past three years, only 36% said “Yes.” These numbers rival the lows during World War II, but attendance soared in the 1950’s where several years almost half of the responders said they had been in a house of worship within the past week.

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Source:  Gallup Poll - Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S.

For 40 years, however, one number has remained rather steady. For all the changes and transitions a majority of Americans continue to say religion is very important in their lives. The chart shows a slightly curving arch that crests in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with peaks of 61%. Compared to other trends, however, this is a fairly steady number with a slight uptick to 53% in the current poll.