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Good Question: How Many Of Us Go To Church?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In a tough economy, many have speculated that church attendance would increase because people are turning to a higher power for help. But is that what really happens? How many of us go to church?

The answer is surprisingly stable, according to Penny Edgell, a University of Minnesota sociologist who specializes in religion.

According to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of Minnesotans say they go to religious services at least once a week.

The national average is 39 percent, so Minnesotans are right in the middle of the nation.

"After peaking in the 1950s, that number has been pretty steady," said Edgell.

There are shifts -- as people go from one religion to another. But the number of people who regularly go to church, has been constant as long as researchers have been keeping track.

"Women attend more than men. They're more spiritual and they're joiners," Edgell said.

Also, married people go more than single people, and married people with kids go the most.

"African-American go at very high rates. Historically, the church is very important to the black community," she said.

According to Pew, 59 percent of those who say they belong to Historically Black Protestant Churches go to church at least once a week. That compares to 58 percent of Evangelical Protestant Churches, and 34 percent of mainline Protestant Church members.

Jehovah's Witnesses go at the highest rate, 82 percent go at least once a week. Seventy-five percent of Mormons go weekly as do 40 percent of Catholics and Muslims.

Sixteen percent of Jews report going to synagogue at least once a week.

Many people say they're too busy to go to church regularly, but according to Edgell, that's never been proven to be a factor.

"People say that. But the best studies that we've seen suggest that there's not much relationship between say the number of hours you might work at a paid job or your amount of other activities or your church attendance. In fact, people who go to church tend to do a lot of other  things. They tend to be joiners. They're quite busy," she said.

However, much like the 1960s were a shift downward in church-going, sociologists are watching to see what happens over the next decade.

"We do see less church attendance among younger generations, but it's not clear- are they going to go to church when they get older? The indicators are maybe they won't. Maybe there will be a long term, because younger generations are less religious," said Edgell.

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