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Folks in the US inflate reporting their church participation when asked by phone

Folks in the US inflate reporting their church participation when asked by phone

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) recently conducted a survey of the US population and have published the study’s results as I Know What You Did Last Sunday: Measuring Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Behavior, Belief, and Belonging. In the results the folks at PRRI have determined from a random sampling that people in the US, across the spectrum, over report their religious participation when asked over the phone, as opposed to answering the same questions about religious attendance, affiliation, salience and belief in God in an online survey. Those most likely to inflate? Young adults, Catholics and white mainline Protestants. The area most likely to be under reported when queried by phone, seldom or never attending religious services.

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Michelle Boomgaard

Scott and Anne,
The “news” here is not that people exaggerate, it’s that they feel they should. Social scientists have long known that people exaggerate when responding to pollsters – on the day after the election, everyone claims to have voted for the winning candidate, for example. The question is why people have done so in this case, and what it means for us.
A pessimistic view of these results would say that the phone survey respondents- perhaps knowing that this was a survey about religion- felt that they should act as if they went to church, or that they felt this was the “right” answer. My hope, however, is that it reflects a more positive attitude towards organized religion than is often portrayed in the media. Perhaps these respondants paused to think “gee, I’d like to be able to worship more regularly,” and their response reflects their intent, if not their reality. Better yet, perhaps being in conversation with someone about religion (instead of the more impersonal online survey) gave people a chance to think about the benefits of being in a community that engages such questions on a regular basis. Perhaps this is a call to us to remind others of the joy and blessing of having companionship in our journeys – in the form of church – rather than leaving everyone to sort things out for themselves anonymously and online.

Steve White

I guess this means people still feel guilty about not going to church. A little — not too much, just a little — guilt about that might be a good thing.

Anne Bay

Less and less people are going to churches. This is no secret. I am around a lot of people with diverse backgrounds and I notice more and more people are talking about spirituality, rather than belonging to a particular church. According to the latest surveys of people who have had a church membership, they do say they are not very active in their church any longer, even if they have gone to the same church for a long time. I think the church that I grew up in will change more and more and in the future a whole different look and religious set-up will be of one’s own idea of spirituality, rather than a religious belief code that is required to be learned and followed.

Scott Wesley

People over-reporting… shocking… Though as the late Rick Sklar observed: “people lie.” Sklar (who ran WABC at its most successful time in history) depended on only behavior he could observe. Anything reported, by the person or by someone else, is not reliable. Now sure what this means in terms of research on church attendance, except that we do have “observable” behavior. And if the number of folks who say they go to church actually went to church, churches would be pretty full. I think the powerful moment will come when there is no longer a social bias to inflate church involvement. That will have significant ramifications for many congregations.

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