Economics, Economy, Quality of Life, Religion, Society

What Determines Church Attendance?

Why are some societies more religious than other societies?

The traditional explanation has been that the less educated people in the society are, the more likely they are to be religious.  But now there’s a new theory — one based on a study of 60 nations — that says education is not the most powerful predictor of religiosity.   Instead, economic security is.

According to this new study, the more economically secure people in a society are, the less likely they are to be religious.  And the less economically secure people in a society are, the more likely they are to be religious.

It will be interesting if it holds up to scrutiny.  Check the theory out here.

15 thoughts on “What Determines Church Attendance?”

  1. Let’s not forget the power factor either that Nietzsche spoke about. I have known many a person in my lifetime that has found within the church their only taste of power that they never experienced within their vocations or elsewhere. If they claim that they can hear God’s voice (and convince others that they can) well … that’s a real power trip bar none. If their job and/or education provides them with that power they do not feel the need to search elsewhere. Interesting theory that you referenced.


  2. Hi Paul, your prompt and the article itself has triggered off several thoughts, perhaps not as random as I’m inclined to think they are:) I’d like to share a few.

    Just a few minutes ago, I was talking to someone about a book I’d thought of writing, It would have been on prayer. I’d started doing some informal, ‘street’ research for it, namely asking complete strangers questions such as:

    Do you prayer? Who or what do you pray to? Why do you pray? What are your prayers like? When do you pray? etc. (I am still mildly interested in following that up :).

    Anyway, one of the common reasons that people gave for praying was (surprise, surprise :))to invoke the help/intervention of a higher power. Also, people were more likely to pray when they were in need of something. I guess this is consistent with the findings of the study referred to in the article.

    A sense of insecurity, whether triggered by economic or psychosocial needs, can almost always be correlated with religious fervor and whatever practices, rituals and social events express and promote such fervor.

    Whilst I think the link between religiosity and economic insecurity is a real one, I also believe that there are other forms of insecurities that move people to seek help or intervention from a ‘higher’ power. This is especially true when they believe that power to be greater than the power of particular individuals, groups and other entities (eg governments, financial markets etc) whom they perceive,consciously or otherwise, to contribute or even cause their insecurities.

    My interest in prayer was really to uncover the conflicting beliefs that people have about god, themselves and more fundamentally, about power. I could go on about this but what’s really interesting for me is that, for many people, prayer is most often about asking (something that was true for me for a very long time).

    Increasingly for me, however, ‘prayer’ is about ‘communion’ and therefore not limited to mental dialogues (intercessions) with a ‘superior entity’. Rather, it is the ongoing awareness of interconnectedness…

    I might have gone right off the track here but I just thought I’d indulge myself by sharing some not so random thoughts 🙂


  3. @ Simstone: That might explain why people become religious leaders, but does it explain why people become religious followers?

    @ Lucy: I agree that it’s likely there are psychological — or even what might be called “spiritual” — insecurities in addition to economic insecurities. Sorting out how influential each factor is sounds like the work of a generation of sociologists.


  4. Prayer can also be an act of gratitude. Thanking a superior being for our blessings or for his guidance in taking the good decisions. That process does not need to be done within a particular religious setting. It’s a direct connection between an individual and the superior being. In a way, it’s akin to meditation and is an expression of spirituality.


  5. My first thought as I scanned your post Paul, is that the mighty Catholic church – arguably the most profitable and asset rich entity on the planet, does a much better job of feeding itself than it does the masses it keeps in the dark (ages). I don’t have evidence</em) of this. I just think I know it.

    It also seems as though we hear about a lot of anxious, angst-ridden Catholics who are lower middle-class. But, I also think there are more below poverty-level Muslims. So, does this mean most of the anger and ignorance is centered amongst the most warlike religions as well?

    Mine are, admittedly, over-broad statements. But, I'll use them as a starting point to noodle this over the weekend, and possibly revisit with you later.



  6. I think that the majority that become followers are desperately trying to “hook up” to the ultimate source of power … something that they feel gives them a sense of power over a harsh reality that we all find ourselves having to deal with at varying levels. Their drive for power is just a little different than those that become leaders. My opinion.


  7. I think its true, most people are in religious gatherings hoping to be blessed – financially, economically. Some 70 of them were trampled in one show, no, not religious but one that gives away cash for lucky ones who attended.[Ultra Stampede, Philippines]


  8. It’ll be interesting to note however that church attendance does not equal religious faith –it’s just an expression of it. I agree –it definitely has a community value : support and sharing issues. But I’d have to think more about it


  9. I won’t purport by any means to be an expert on the subject, but one that has years of experience on it. So I’ll take a quick moment to share why I pray first, and then why I attend church.

    I acknowledge the existence of a higher power, and have chosen to live my life based on a specific theology around that higher power. Part of that involves communion between that power and myself. Now, that higher power, if it truly exists as I believe, is worthy of my time and my praise and thankfulness. And I do that through prayer.

    I do ask for guidance and wisdom, since I believe I can acquire knowledge on my own, but that wisdom requires divine intervention. But I’ve learned over the years that seeing the one I serve as a “fairy godfather” both a)diminishes their true value and worth, and b)leaves me disappointed and ultimately weak if my only dependency is to receive a blessing out of my typically self-inflicted circumstances.

    So…why do I go to church? It is an opportunity for me to learn more about what I believe, and have it be challenged and strengthened. I don’t go into it blindly; I don’t accept everything I hear. But I do get to hear from others’ perspective how they are working along their road of reconciling their heart and their mind. I also benefit greatly from the gathering of those that share similar interests and convictions in that context. Much like what I receive by attending sales meetings for my firm, or sessions around business strategy.

    Am I the wealthiest man on earth? Depends on your measure of wealth. I have a great family, live in a wonderful city, have lots of friends, and a satisfying career.

    Does my allegiance to this higher power mean that I am spiritually insecure? If insecurity means that there is something beyond me that I cannot control, then yes I am.

    Am I secure in what I believe? Well, that’s part of the journey now, isn’t it…

    And one day, I hope to be.


  10. Well said Aaron.

    I’d expect naught else from a Subject Matter Expert on multiple fronts (to include balance of life and faith).



  11. Not a likely cause effect relationship.

    My economic status has never had an influence on why I am a believer. I also do not expect any deity to drop a bad of money on my doorstep. That bag of money thing would be nice, but anyone at Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement is welcome to take up a collection and just mail me the moolah:)


  12. i didnt pray until family members died, i stayed away from churches that preach fear, beg for money, or seem hypocrtical… so even though i might enjoy attending for awhile, it never lasts… on a more personal note, communion always creeps me out– eat the ‘flesh’ and drink the ‘blood’


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