Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Exaggerating the Worship Habit

I actually chuckled out loud, and inside I exclaimed "I knew it!" when I saw the results of a significant poll on worship attendance in the United States. More Americans are moving into the atheist/agnostic/none categories of surveys recently, but on the whole they are still a much more religious lot than here in Canada. But this poll discovered that folk aren't always honest when it comes to their attendance at synagogue or church or mosque. A Huffington Post piece Americans Exaggerate How Much They Go To Religious Services, According To Study reported the results this way:

On the phone, 36 percent of Americans said they attending religious services weekly or more often, while only 31 percent said the same when answering the question online. Meanwhile, 30 percent of phone respondents said they seldom or never go to a weekly service. Online, that share jumped to 43 percent.

"The existence of religious participation inflation demonstrates that church attendance remains a strong social norm in the U.S.,'" Robert P. Jones, co-author of the study and CEO of the institute, said in a statement. "The impact of these norms – what social scientists call ‘social desirability bias’ – is that respondents talking to live interviewers on the telephone are less willing to admit lower levels of participation in an activity deemed to be socially good. Respondents completing the survey privately online are less apt to feel this pressure."

I have found that lots of members don't want to admit the realities of their worship attendance, even when they are talking to their clergy. They make comments such as "I haven't been there as often as I would like lately" as though dark forces rather than other priorities have impeded their presence. Sometimes the comment is along the lines of "we need to get back into a more regular pattern" when I haven't seen them in church for a year or more. What would that pattern look like?

Don't get me wrong, I'm always glad to see folk, and our God is a hospitable God. Hurray! It's just that we do have an impressive propensity for self-deception, including the realities of involvement in our faith communities. At the same time, societal shifts can be insidious. I'm sure that some people who consider themselves regular attenders would be surprised to discover how often they miss worship.

Does it matter? Well worship is still the heart and lungs of Christian community and without that regular heartbeat we falter. Yes, going to church is a habit, but I think it is a healthy habit.

What do you think? Does it matter whether we're in our places of worship on a regular basis? Is this just a "sign of the times" to which we adjust? Does God care?

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