(Photo: Reuters / Lucy Nicholson)
Behind Easter and Christmas, Mother's Day draws the highest attendance in U.S. churches, a recent study shows.
LifeWay Research, a Christian research center, asked 1,000 Protestant pastors what the three highest attendance Sundays were throughout the year. Easter was first, indicated by 93 percent of the pastors asked, followed by Christmas with 84 percent, and Mother's Day with 59 percent.
"Clearly, mothers want to be present for the affirmation that is typically offered in most churches, but families also are present knowing their attendance will honor their mother," Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement. "Many families make church attendance on Mother's Day nearly obligatory."
Holidays and special days, regardless of which ones, "offer an opportunity for churches to host guests who might not otherwise attend church," McConnell said. "Encouraging attendees to invite family and friends for services on these special days is a natural time to ask since many people will be considering attending."
The study asked the question: "At your church, which day typically has the highest attendance for worship services?"
Results revealed that other high attendance days include Homecoming or the anniversary of the church, which was indicated by 16 percent of those surveyed; a special day to invite friends, indicated by 14 percent, and the Fourth of July, indicated by 4 percent. Twenty-six percent of the pastors indicated another day.
Meanwhile, Father's Day found itself at the very end of the list, even behind Homecoming and the Fourth of July in terms of attendance.
"The attendance difference between Mother's Day and Father's Day is telling," McConnell commented. "Either churches are less effective in affirming fathers, or families believe Christian fathers don't value their participation in worship services."
There was significant variation in responses when filtered by geographic regions, size and educational level.
Smaller churches (with less than 50 attendees) were least likely to pick Easter as their highest attendance day and most likely to select Mother's Day. Pastors with a graduate degree were less likely to pick Mother's Day than pastors with at most a bachelor's degree (3 percent to 8 percent).
The survey was conducted May 18-25, 2011. Pastors were chosen randomly from a list of all Protestant churches in the United States.
Mother's Day is Sunday, May 13.