Mississippians Go to Church the Most; Vermonters, Least
Overall, 42% of Americans attend church weekly or almost weekly
PRINCETON, NJ — Mississippians were the most frequent churchgoers in the nation in 2009, as was the case in 2008, with 63% of residents attending weekly or almost every week. Nine of the top 10 states in church attendance are in the South; the only non-Southern state is Utah, with 56% frequent attendance. At the other end of the spectrum, 23% of Vermont residents attend church frequently, putting it at the bottom of the list of churchgoing states. Other states at the bottom of the church attendance list are in either New England or the West.
“Church attendance levels are widely dispersed across the states, with the highest levels generally occurring in the South and the Midwest, and the lowest in the Northeast and the West.”
Gallup’s compilation of church attendance data is based on more than 350,000 interviews conducted among national adults, aged 18 and older, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2009. Gallup began tracking state-level church attendance on a daily basis in 2008, asking respondents how often they “attend church, synagogue, or mosque — at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never.” Frequent church attendance for the purpose of this analysis is defined as those who report attending at least once a week or almost every week. Nationally, 41.6% of all Americans in 2009 said they attended church this often.
Church attendance levels are widely dispersed across the states, with the highest levels generally occurring in the South and the Midwest, and the lowest in the Northeast and the West.
Nine of the top 10 states in church attendance — Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas — are in the South. Utah, with its high concentration of churchgoing Mormons, provides a Western exception. Six of the lowest church-attending states are in New England — Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut — while the others are in the West: Nevada, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington.
Changes in Church Attendance From 2008 to 2009
Overall, church attendance was stable between 2008 and 2009, with average church attendance at 40.9% in 2008 and 41.6% in 2009. Reflecting this stability, most individual states exhibited little change from 2008 to 2009. Five states — Louisiana (+5), North Dakota (+4), Alaska (+3), Montana (+3), and Mississippi (+3) — saw an uptick of more than two points in frequent church attendance from 2008 to 2009. Three states saw a drop of more than two points: South Dakota, Wyoming, and Rhode Island (all with 3-point decreases).
Despite the generally high degree of geographic mobility in the U.S. in recent decades, and the commonality of experience brought about by exposure to mass media and the Internet, substantial state differences in churchgoing behavior persist.
Well over half of all residents in a number of Southern states and Utah report attending religious services weekly or almost every week, compared to below a third who attend frequently in New England and several Western states. At the extremes, the range in average church attendance between Mississippi and Vermont is 40 points.
One explanation for these wide differences in religious behavior is the substantial differences by state in religious identity.
The Southern states have high proportions of residents who identify as Protestant, non-Catholic Christians — faith traditions with high average church attendance levels. Residents of New England, the Northwest, and other Western states are more likely to have no religious identity, usually associated with low church attendance. And the majority of Utah residents are Mormons, a group with the highest average church attendance level of any major religious group in the country.
Ethnic and racial differences may account for some of the state-by-state differences in churchgoing. Black Americans have the highest church-attendance averages of any major racial or ethnic group, and Southern states have a relatively high proportion of blacks in their populations.
There also may be cultural differences across states that are related to religious behavior. These differences may be so strong that they help shape the behavior of newly arrived residents. Or, certain types of people may be attracted to certain types of states. Individuals who are attracted to Vermont and Alaska, by way of example, may be the types of people who are less inclined to participate in religious services than are those attracted to Southern or Midwestern states.
Gallup’s “State of the States” series reveals state-by-state differences on political, economic, and wellbeing measures Gallup tracks each day. New stories will be released throughout the month of February.
Results are based on telephone interviews with more than 353,849 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted in 2009 as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.
The margin of sampling error for most states is ±1 to ±2 percentage points, but is as high as ±4 points for smaller states such as Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, and Hawaii.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.