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(UNDATED) When the economy heads downward, pastors sometimes expect the pews to get a little more crowded.
But an analysis of polling data by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicates that, in general, worshippers are not reporting a corresponding increase in attendance as the stock market has fallen.
While the stock market has dropped precipitously over the last two years, the percentage of Americans attending worship services at least weekly has stayed relatively stationary, Pew researchers found.
In January 2007, 39 percent of Americans said they attended religious services at least weekly; that figure remained exactly the same two years later.
“What we see is that there’s really a steady number of people who tell us that they attend religious services on a weekly basis,” said Greg Smith, research fellow at the Washington-based Pew Forum. “That’s true among the public overall. That’s also true among the different income brackets.”
Slightly more than a third (37 percent) of people making less than $30,000 attended services weekly in early 2007, compared to 42 percent in 2009. Middle income and higher income respondents reflected even smaller changes: from 39 percent to 38 percent for those making between $30,000 and $75,000, and from 37 percent to 38 percent for those with salaries higher than $75,000.
Still, Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said pastors of churches affiliated with his organization often report growth in attendance.
“I work with aggressive churches and they’re reporting attendance growth of about 10 percent, which is roughly the same as they’ve reported for the last few years,” he said of his mostly evangelical clientele.
Though he said some “frontline pastors of large churches” might exaggerate their numbers a bit, the Pew data and his network’s findings are based on two different ways of seeking attendance information.
Smith said the Pew findings do not indicate growth or decline of individual congregations.
“Without question, these data don’t speak at all as to whether attendance is up or down at any particular parish or congregation,” he said. “It may well be that there are congregations out there that are seeing an increase and there are others that are seeing a decrease. These data can’t speak to that.”
The analysis looked at monthly surveys of between 670 and 2,469 people conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
By Adelle M. Banks
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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