A new survey on motives of U.S. church goers and non-churchgoers reveals that a significant percentage of Catholics who don’t go to church claim to practice their faith “in other ways,” a report from the Pew Research Center says.
Among those who attend religious services a few times a year or less, 37 percent said, one very important reason why they don’t go is because “I practice my faith in other ways.” Another 28 percent said they are not religious believers, while 23 percent have said they haven’t found a church or house of worship they like.
Among Catholic respondents who rarely attend religious services, 47 percent said they practice their faith in other ways. Under 20 percent said they rarely attended because they haven’t found a church they like, they don’t like the sermons, or they don’t feel welcome. Similarly, under 20 percent said they lacked time, had poor health or problems with mobility, or lacked a church in their area.
About 12 percent of self-described Catholics who rarely attend religious services said they didn’t attend because they aren’t believers.
Among all respondents who rarely attend religious services, 18 percent cited dislike of sermons, around 14 percent said they didn’t feel welcome, 12 percent cited a lack of time, nine percent cited poor health or mobility problems, and seven percent cited a lack of a place of worship in their area.
“Demographically, more than half of those who do not attend church or another house of worship for reasons other than nonbelief are women, and they tend to be older, less highly educated and less Democratic compared with those who do not go because of a lack of faith,” the Pew Research Center said Aug. 7. “Meanwhile, those who refrain from attending religious services because they are non-believers are more highly educated and largely male, young and Democratic.”
The Pew survey also considered those who attend religious services more often.
Among those who attend religious services at least monthly, 91 percent identify as Christian. Of those who rarely or never attend other than non-belief, 60 percent self-identify as Christian. Among those who say they rarely or never attend because they are not believers, about 18 percent self-identify as Christian.
Of those respondents who attend religious services at least once or twice a month, several factors are a “very important” reason they attend. About 81 percent said that “to become closer to God” is one such reason. Another 69 percent said ensuring children’s moral formation is another reason. Similar percentages cited “to make me a better person” or “for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow” as very important reasons why they attend religious services.
Another 59 percent attend church because they find the sermons valuable. About 31 percent cited a religious obligation to go. Under 20 percent cited meeting new people or socializing, or to please family, spouse or partner as a very important reason to attend religious services.
Catholic churchgoers were somewhat more likely than other Christian churchgoers to say it was important to attend church to continue the family’s religious traditions; to please family, a spouse or partner; or to fulfill a religious obligation. They were less likely than other Christian churchgoers to attend to become closer to God, to become a better person, to find comfort in times of sorrow, or to be a part of a community of faith.
About 78 percent of Catholics who attend church at least monthly said they always or often experience “a sense of God’s presence.”
Pew said that Catholics who attend Mass regularly are “significantly less likely” than other Christian churchgoers to say that the sermons they hear are what keeps them coming back. Among regular churchgoers, Protestants are about twice as likely as Catholics to say valuable sermons are a very important reason they attend services.
The survey was conducted via phone Dec. 4-18, 2017 among 4,729 respondents. It claims an overall sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points, and plus or minus 7.8 percentage points for Catholic respondents.