For seventy-five years Gallup pollsters have asked Americans about church attendance, “Did you yourself happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?” And for seventy-five years 40% of those polled have said yes. The number has been steady for three quarters of a century. In today’s numbers, it means that on any given weekend, 118 million Americans are attending formal worship services. Pretty impressive. Or it would be if half of these people weren’t lying.
According to this month’s issue of Christianity Today magazine, a far more rigorous study of church attendance finds that about half of those who said they were in church weren’t. They lied.
I have no problem with people choosing not to go to church or synagogue. I don’t go, but I wouldn’t lie about it. When asked if I regularly attend synagogue I unabashedly say, “God, no!” There is nothing happening in synagogue worship that moves me. While I enjoy the communal aspect, there are better venues for schmoozing than shul. And if it is God I am looking for, I do much better walking along the river near my home than spending three hours in a closed room reading words that, more often than not, piss me off.
I am not alone in finding formal worship less than compelling. Even if 40% of Americans are in church every week, 60% of Americans opt not to be.
But what if they are lying also? After all, is it reasonable to think that only fake church-goers lie? And if half of both groups are lying, weekly church attendance would actually rise to 50%!
But why lie about going or not going to church in the first place? I did a bit of research on this, and while there are lots of opinions no one really knows. I certainly don’t. What I do know, however, is that lying about it is a waste of time. If you enjoy church, go. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t go. Read the Psalms: joy is the criteria God uses to measure the quality of worship. I think the better poll would be, Did you do something joyful in the last seven days? But I fear people would lie about this even more.