The answer to the question, “Is religion the most important thing in your life?” is meeting with an increasingly negative response, according to a study released earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
According to the study, in which the question was asked of over 6,600 adults from all 50 states, just 16% of Americans believe religion is the most important thing in their lives, a decrease of 4% in the past decade. Moreover 36% say religion is one among many important things, 18% say religion is not as important as other things, and 29% say religion is not important. Period.
With a whopping 84% of us putting religion on the back burner of our lives, the demographics taken individually reflect a less precipitous drop. With Black Protestants and white evangelicals respectively, for example, 38% and 42% center their lives around religion. Still, at less than 50%, PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman observes, “that’s a change from perhaps earlier decades of findings.”
“Americans,” she says, “are becoming increasingly likely to become religiously unaffiliated.”
Other demographics surveyed reflect that continuing trend, with 28% of Hispanic Protestants saying religion is their top priority, followed by 27% of Latter-day Saints, and 22% of other Protestants of color. Lower proportions of Hispanic Catholics (14%), Jewish Americans (13%), other non-Christians (11%), white Catholics (9%), white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (6%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (2%) put religion at the top of their life list. All down from a decade ago.
Another not-so surprising revelation from the PRRI study is that nearly a fourth of respondents have switched religions, in the main departing Christianity or simply leaving all religion behind. Again, the statistics of departure or disaffection are up, with more than one-third saying they were formerly Catholic.
Sanctuaries are emptying at a greater rate as well with COVID-19 apparently having a bearing on the vacant seats. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, 19% of Americans said they attended a religious service once a week. That percentage has now dropped to 16% attending weekly and 13% saying they attend “a few times a year.” 28% say they never attend services while 29% say they “seldom” do—both down from the past decade when the nevers were at 21% and the seldoms at 22%.
The silver lining? According to the survey, those who do attend regularly are happy. 82% are optimistic about the future of their church.
And a solid optimistic core is good news any way you skew it.