Among the key findings of the latest National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS), conducted by Pew Research Center from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2021, fewer than half of U.S. adults (45%) say they pray on a daily basis. By contrast, nearly six-in-ten (58%) reported praying daily in the 2007 Religious Landscape Study, as did 55% in the 2014 Landscape Study. Roughly one-third of U.S. adults (32%) now say they seldom or never pray, up from 18% who said this in 2007.
Fact is that we in Europe get the impression that a lot of Americans want to be moved to pray by the presence of lots of people in animated church services. In the past those services presented by lots of evangelical pastors looked more like an event or entertainment happening. Lots of americans seem to look more for such events instead of a serious worship service. The last few months with so many lockdowns people could not enjoy themselves at such entertaining gatherings where they could pray en mass.
Naturally we understand events can be great and they are more attractive in real life than online. Such digital encounters, so many churches had to provide to reach their members, could often not be considered an “event.” Sadly enough, in the United States as well as in the Netherlands, we could see Protestant communities who defied the corona rules and insisted on meeting to worship anyway. From certain evangelical quarters, church members were asked not to be vaccinated and not to wear mouth masks during the meetings which, according to their church leaders, should continue as usual.
The long-term trend in the share of U.S. adults who say religion is an important part of their lives is a bit more difficult to measure precisely. Whereas indicators of religious identity and frequency of prayer produced by self-administered surveys (like the NPORS) can be directly compared with estimates produced by interviewer-administered surveys (like the Center’s earlier telephone surveys), self-administered surveys may produce slightly lower estimates of religion’s importance compared with interviewer-administered surveys. (For additional discussion of whether and how religious measures from telephone surveys can be compared with those from self-administered surveys, see “Measuring Religion in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.”)
Still, the available data indicates that Americans are growing less religious by this measure, too. Random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone surveys conducted in 2017 and 2019 found fewer U.S. adults saying religion is “very important” in their lives compared with previous telephone polls. And the 2021 NPORS finds that 41% of U.S. adults now say religion is “very important” in their lives, 4 points lower than the 2020 NPORS and substantially lower than all of the Center’s earlier RDD readings on this question.
The last two years probably the attendance of church services should be taken with a grain of salt, because normally the churches should have been closed for public service, though in the states this was not so, like it was in the Benelux.
We also must take into account that our society has changed a lot. People have shifted their priorities, with church or religious activities, for most, falling by the wayside or even disappearing altogether. The pace of life, even when there have been some lockdowns, has continued to increase and so people had to make choices about what they will and won’t attend. Whichever way you look at it, people need to set priorities now more than ever.
Strangely enough, when online meetings made it so much easier to gather and not to lose time, in the States it seems that solutions to overrule the corona infection possibility were not so much taken. Others in this period which is limiting people a lot, felt that time is precious and rationed so they came to ration church time. For others having the comfort and knowledge that in present days we can use our computer to be connected with others and that it is there and available for when they want or need it, there is the danger they become less and less likely to access it. Those churches that instead of doing a live-stream via Zoom, Jitsi or another media chose to present their service in a video screening, are creating the danger of postponement going into forgetting to watch. From procrastination or with delay comes cancellation.
Those meetings on the net should naturally not be the only occasion that people pray, but we see that for many Americans praying on their own seems to be a difficult matter. Though it does not seem too bad, when the survey brings to light that eight-in-ten self-described born-again/evangelical Protestants (79%) say they pray every day, including 76% of White evangelicals and 81% of Black evangelicals. Similarly, large shares of born-again/evangelical Protestants say religion is “very important” in their lives. By comparison, far fewer Protestants who are not born-again/evangelical and Catholics say they pray daily and that religion is very important in their lives. Most religious “nones” say they seldom or never pray (71%) and that religion is not too or not at all important in their lives (78%).
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