45% of Protestants stricter about who can be classified as a 'churchgoer' than pastors: poll

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Protestant churchgoers are much more likely than pastors to believe weekly church attendance is necessary to qualify as a regular churchgoer, according to a new poll. 

Lifeway Research released a set of new surveys based on responses collected from 1,000 Protestant pastors from Sept. 6-30 as well as 1,002 Protestant churchgoers conducted from Sept. 19-29. The surveys, released Tuesday, examined respondents’ views as to what constitutes a regular churchgoer. The report comes three years after the coronavirus pandemic forced thousands of churches to close their doors for months and hold online-only services after state and local governments restricted the ability of congregations to meet in person. 

A majority of pastors (61%) agreed that “someone is a regular churchgoer or attendee based on how often they attend church services in person or online.” Thirty-seven percent of pastors surveyed believed that a person’s designation as a regular churchgoer should depend solely on their frequency of attendance at in-person services while an additional 24% thought that attendance at online services should count toward determining an individual’s status as a regular churchgoer.

The remaining respondents considered attendance at “any church activity in person” (9%) or “in person or online” (24%) as necessary prerequisites to becoming a regular churchgoer. Protestant churchgoers had similar views to pastors regarding the definition of a regular churchgoer. 

Fifty-seven percent of respondents thought attendance at church should determine a person’s designation as a regular churchgoer, with 29% believing the term should apply exclusively to those who attend services in person and 28% wanting to extend the term to include those who attend services online. A plurality of pastors surveyed (30%) identified a regular churchgoer as someone who attends religious services at least twice a month. 

An additional 15% reserved the term regular churchgoer for those who attend at least three times a month, 13% only considered those who participate in weekly regular churchgoers and 3% thought that a person must go to church more than once a week to meet the definition of a regular churchgoer, meaning that 58% of pastors believe that one must attend church services at least twice a month in order to qualify as a regular churchgoer. A sizable share of pastors (24%) viewed attending church once a month as sufficient to be a regular churchgoer.

Much smaller shares of pastors believed that the term “regular churchgoer” should apply to those who only attend church at least once a year (2%), two or three times a year (2%), four or five times a year (2%) or between six and 10 times a year (4%). 

Protestant churchgoers were much more likely than pastors to believe that weekly church attendance should be the threshold for determining a person’s status as a regular churchgoer. Forty-five percent told pollsters that weekly attendance should be the determining factor in categorizing someone as a regular churchgoer, followed by 14% who wanted to limit the definition of regular churchgoer to those who go to church more than once a week and 12% who wanted to limit it to people who attend church three times a month.

Less than one-quarter of Protestant churchgoers said they believe that attending church services twice a month (9%), once a month (5%), between six and 10 times a year (3%), four or five times a year (2%), two or three times a year (2%) or at least once a year (1%) was enough to make someone a regular churchgoer.

“The study of churchgoers only provides insights from those attending each month, but there seems to be a consensus among that group that a regular churchgoer should be involved in the life of a congregation more often than not,” said Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell. “Pastors’ perceptions of a regular churchgoer often appear broader, while those in the pew lean closer to a weekly standard.”

“There has likely never been unanimity on what qualifies someone as a regular churchgoer,” McConnell said, adding that “the question piqued our interest recently as we have heard church leaders speculating that churchgoers are attending less often and that their mindset of who a regular attendee is may be changing.”

Overall, the research shows that churchgoers have a stricter interpretation of the term “regular churchgoer” than pastors. Broken down by region, pastors in the Midwest (44%) were more likely than those living in the South (36%) or Northeast (33%) to classify an individual’s status as a “regular churchgoer” based on their frequency of church attendance.

Pastors in the Northeast (32%) were more likely to see monthly church attendance as sufficient for designation as a regular churchgoer than those in the South (21%). Pastors in the South were most likely to define a regular churchgoer as someone who attends services at least once a week (20%), followed by 12% of pastors residing in the Northeast and 11% of church leaders from the Midwest.

Additionally, a larger share of pastors living in the West (34%) selected “twice a month” as the minimum amount of church attendance to qualify as a regular churchgoer, compared to 32% of pastors from the Midwest and 20% from the Northeast. Among churchgoers, those living in the Midwest (33%) and South (31%) were more likely than westerners (20%) to characterize the frequency of in-person church attendance as the factor determining someone’s status as a regular churchgoer.

A much higher share of pastors between the ages of 18 and 44 (42%) pointed to weekly in-person attendance as a determinant of whether someone is a regular church attender than those who included attendance at online worship in the definition (17%). About an even share of pastors between the ages of 55 and 64 viewed in-person worship attendance (32%) and in-person worship attendance as well as online attendance (30%) as necessary to become a regular churchgoer.

Methodist pastors were much more likely to embrace both in-person and online worship attendance (39%) as an option for regular churchgoers than in-person attendance only (18%). On the other hand, nondenominational pastors (53%) as well as those belonging to the Baptist (47%) and Lutheran denominations (44%) were more likely to favor using in-person church attendance to measure someone’s status as a regular churchgoer. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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