Sunday Fibbers


For nearly all my adult life I have been told that about 45 percent of Americans attend religious services (primarily Christian or Jewish) each weekend.

The Wall Street Journal of 8/2/08 had an interesting article (“When Voters Lie”) that showed, perhaps, we’ve been overestimating that number. And the way we’re polled may explain why.

When asked if they attend religious services most weeks, 56 percent of those asked by a human interviewer said they did. However, when people responded to that same question posed by an online computer survey, with no human interviewer involved, only 25 percent responded positively.

Something in us still wants to hold up religiosity as a positive trait when we interact with others, but the second it’s an impersonal connection, the truth comes out.

What’s your take on this phenomenon?

16 thoughts on “Sunday Fibbers

  1. DC

    “You can twist perception, reality won’t budge.” – N. Peart

    Perhaps we have this need to have people think better of us than we actually are? Nobody (as far as I can tell) wants to be thought of as a creep. So we say what is necessary to be held in high esteem or to save face. I think the whole “Green” fad has that element in it as well. If you’re not ‘green’ then there’s something wrong with you. So people will do whatever they have to to be perceived of as ‘green’. Likewise, people want to be thought of as ‘good’, so they will say whatever is necessary.

    Reality will eventually rear its ugly head though.

  2. A few years ago when we were living in a different Midwestern small town, the new minister was attempting to introduce the Purpose Driven approach. When comparing Census data with the average attendance reported by churches in the county, he determined that our area was 75% unchurched. But for some reason, we _rarely_ found that 75%. Everyone we talked with seemed to already have a church affiliation.

    In retrospect, I think many of the 75% actually did have a place they considered their church home–but they were doing something else on most Sunday mornings. Interestingly, that percentage corresponds with the study you cite.

    And as we flounder to find a church home, we are now part of the 75% as well.

    • Naomi,

      The Midwest still clings to that idea that if you are not attending church or do not have a church affiliation that there is something wrong with you. When we lived in California back in the late ’90s, I did not get that same impression from people, though.

  3. David Riggins

    Once again, people who consider themselves non-believers are often more honest than those who would consider themselves “Christian”.

    “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

    It makes one wonder just how narrow that gate is, and how few is “few”?

    Salvation may be simple. But it isn’t easy.

  4. bob pinto

    My present small town Methodist church averages two dozen or so weekly with a big ,no longer used set of Sunday school rooms.

    In my hometown Methodist church which once had a Sunday school room for EACH grade in my youth, now has those rooms go unused. The same town’s once flourishing and historic Presbyterian church has a part time lay preacher and is in danger of closing. The same town’s historic and beautiful Episcopal church has closed.

    Oh, there are some mega churches doing fine. But as for the “poll” somebody is either lying or don’t know what a Christian is.(Well, I was christened as a baby.”)

    I can sort of surmise why people won’t go to church today but why did they go 40 or more years ago?

    • Bob,

      I used to work for the Methodist Church. During that time, I could not understand their philosophy of moving pastors every three years. It takes three years just to get something going, then to burn most of it down and start over? How does a congregation keep any momentum they may have had?

      Oh well, that’s my little pet peeve with the Methodists. Otherwise, the year I worked for them was great.

      I think a lot of people who went to church 40 years ago were of the American Civil Religion persuasion. They went because it was the thing to do if you were an American. Even with that consideration, they were still a more religiously intent people than we are. We’ve let practicality dictate our every move. The “what’s in it for me?” attitude in a lot of places amplifies the death of community-based culture that absolutely plagues the American Church (and society as a whole) today.

      • The three-year philosophy is based on “circuit riding” of John Wesley’s days. At least I was taught that when I was a United Methodist. Wesley and others rode circuits to many different churches, some of which had no presiding minister without circuit riders. Plus Methodism hails from Anglicanism, which comes from Catholicism. Some clerical orders in the Catholic Church, such as Dominicans, are itinerant.

        Not all United Methodist ministers move every three years. I live near a UMC whose minister has served there since I was a teen, much to the consternation of my mother, who is a dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist, despite all the times I have told her the United Methodist Church is turning into a gay denomination and that she would be happier in a Bible-preaching Baptist church.

        Southern Baptists, though, also practice this, I learned. Their so-called “journeymen” missionaries, who are mostly college grads, typically serve two and no more than three years in the field. Even permanent missionaries, I heard, are required to return to the United States every three years. Why? To prevent burn out? To prevent cults of personality? To prevent Baptists from becoming “superspiritual” in a hostile work environment? Probably some of all of that, and other reasons.

  5. Everytime we’ve done a focus group on any given product, we’ve had an interesting phenomenon happen: (1) the group influences the decision of any given individual and (2) individuals will lie or overshoot if the person asking the question gives the right visual cues.

    Kinda wack.

    Basically this is short hand for saying, most of us tell the truth when we’re alone.

  6. That church services are dull, irrelevant, cash-hungry, gossipy fashion circles that want professionals to get out of bed on the one day of the week they can sleep in.

      • On further thought, I think human vs. computer interviews may be skewed, too. Human interviewers are more likely to hear from older interviewees, who are more likely to go to church. Computer interviews are more likely to be taken by younger people, who are less likely to go to church.

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