Most adults who attended religious services as a child are glad they did

(Original release date: November 13, 2007) Study results released from Ellison Research (Phoenix, Arizona) show that only 7% of all American adults have not had any point in their lives when they regularly attended religious worship services (attendance of once a month or more).

Just over half of all adults (51%) say they currently attend religious worship services of some kind once a month or more, leaving 42% who can be considered “lapsed” – meaning they attended regularly at some point, but no longer do so.

Most of this previous attendance was during childhood.  Nine out of ten adults attended religious worship services regularly at some point before the age of 18, including 86% of those who no longer attend today. 

However, it appears childhood attendance is becoming less and less common.  Among people who do not regularly attend worship services today, 24% of those under age 35 also did not attend as a child, compared to 13% among people age 35 to 54, and just 9% of those 55 or older.

The findings are from a study independently designed and conducted by Ellison Research among a representative sample of 1,007 American adults.  The sample was balanced by gender, age, income, race, and geography.

Most Americans who attended religious services at some point during childhood look back on their experience in a positive way.   Sixty-six percent believe their religious attendance before age 18 gave them a good moral foundation, 62% say it’s something they are glad they did, 57% believe it gave them important religious knowledge, 50% believe it helped them grow spiritually, 47% feel it helped them prepare for life as an adult, and 43% say it deepened their spiritual faith.    

On the other hand, 19% believe their childhood experiences turned them off on organized religion, 15% believe their childhood religious attendance is not relevant to their life today, and 13% feel it helped send them down a different spiritual path than the one they were taking at that time. 

Not surprisingly, attitudes about childhood religious involvement vary substantially according to whether the person is still regularly attending religious services.  Among those who currently attend services, the vast majority have positive things to say about their childhood religious attendance.  For instance, 62% believe it helped them grow spiritually, and 75% believe it gave them a good moral foundation.

But even among those who have abandoned regular religious attendance, the view of their childhood attendance is more positive than negative.  On the positive side, 55% feel their childhood religious attendance gave them a good moral foundation, 48% say it gave them important religious knowledge, 35% believe it helped them grow spiritually, 34% feel it helped them prepare for life as an adult, and 27% say it deepened their spiritual faith.  On the negative side, 31% say their childhood attendance turned them off to organized religion, and 24% believe their childhood involvement is not relevant to their life today.  Thirteen percent believe it sent them down a different spiritual path than the one they were on at that time.

All in all, 51% of Americans who attended religious worship services at some point during childhood, but who do not currently do so, still say they are glad they attended as a child.

Fifty-six percent of all adults who attended religious services in childhood feel that attendance has made them more interested in religion as an adult, including 33% who say it has made them much more interested in religion.  Only 18% believe childhood attendance decreased their interest in religion as an adult, including 11% who believe it strongly decreased their interest.  The remaining 26% believe their childhood attendance did not impact their interest in religion as an adult.

Again, these numbers vary dramatically according to whether the person is still regularly attending religious services.  Among those who currently attend, 78% believe childhood involvement increased their interest in religion as an adult, while 14% feel it had no impact, and 8% say it decreased their interest in religion.  Among those who do not currently attend services regularly, 30% still believe childhood attendance increased their interest in religion, while 40% believe it had no impact, and 30% feel it decreased their interest in religion.

Seventy-three percent of adults who attended worship services at some point before age 18 feel this attendance has had a positive influence on their life, including 40% who feel it has had a highly positive influence.  Eighteen percent say their attendance as a child did not influence their life at all, while just 8% feel it had a negative influence on their life (including only 2% who feel childhood religious attendance had a highly negative influence on them).

Among those who continue to attend worship services as an adult, 87% believe attending as a child had a positive influence on their life, while only 4% say it had a negative influence.  But even among those who no longer attend religious services, 56% believe their childhood attendance had a positive influence on their life, including 21% who say it had a strongly positive influence.  Thirty percent see no influence on their life from their childhood religious involvement, and 14% believe it negatively influenced them, including just 3% who believe the negative influence was strong.

All adults who attended religious services as a child can therefore be divided into six categories:

The study was conducted by Ellison Research, a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona. The sample of 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more is accurate to within ±2.7 percentage points under the same parameters.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted that these findings should refute claims that having children attend religious services will negatively impact them.  “There have long been claims from some in the atheist community that taking children to religious services is harmful to their development,” Sellers noted.  “According to the vast majority of adults who have themselves been through the experience, this is simply not true.  Only about one out of every seventeen people who attended religious services at some point during their childhood feel this had a negative influence on their lives and no longer attend services.  At the same time, almost three out of four believe it had a positive influence on their lives, whether or not they still attend.  Today’s adults are, by and large, glad they attended worship services at some point during their childhood.” 

Sellers also explained that these findings should have some influence on parents who may be deciding whether or not to have their children attend religious services.  “Today’s adults are over twenty times more likely to feel attending worship services in childhood had a highly positive influence on them than to say this had a highly negative influence on them – twenty times.  Even adults who no longer are involved in religious attendance are seven times more likely to cite childhood religious attendance as a highly positive influence on their lives than as a highly negative influence.  Clearly, most adults believe the reward far outweighs the risk when it comes to childhood religious involvement.”

STUDY DETAILS:
The study was conducted by Ellison Research, a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,007 adults is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. 

Perceived impact of having regularly attended religious worship services at some point before the age of 18…

Impact as an Adult
All Adults
Currently Attend Services
Currently Don’t Attend Services
It gave you a good moral foundation 66% 75% 55%
It’s something you’re glad you did 62 70 51
It gave you important religious knowledge 57 64 48
It helped you grow spiritually 50 62 35
It helped prepare you for life as an adult 47 57 34
It deepened your spiritual faith 44 58 27
It turned you off on organized religion 19 9 31
It is not relevant to your life today 15 6 24
It sent you down a different spiritual path than the one you were taking before age 18 13 14 13

Perceived impact of having regularly attended religious worship services at some point before the age of 18…

Impact as an Adult
All Adults
Currently Attend Services
Currently Don’t Attend Services
It has made you much more interested in religion as an adult 33% 49% 14%
It has made you a little more interested in religion as an adult 23 29 16
It has had no real effect on your interest in religion 26 14 40
It has made you a little less interested in religion as an adult 7 6 8
It has made you much less interested in religion as an adult 11 2 21

Perceived impact of having regularly attended religious worship services at some point before the age of 18…

Impact as an Adult
All Adults
Currently Attend Services
Currently Don’t Attend Services
It has had a highly positive influence on your life 40% 55% 21%
It has had a somewhat positive influence on your life 34 32 35
It has had no real influence on your life 18 9 30
It has had a somewhat negative influence on your life 6 3 10
It has had a highly negative influence on your life 2 1 3