Just nine percent of Americans report spending time on religious and spiritual activities; 6.7 percent of men and 11 percent of women. They report spending an average of one and two-thirds hours per day. Six percent reported doing so on week days and 16 percent on weekends, averaging more than an hour per day on week days and more than two hours on weekends.
These data are from the Time Use Survey conducted last year by the United States Census Bureau. The findings contrast sharply with Gallup and Barna polls that show about 40 percent of Americans claiming that they go to church each week, although other research has demonstrated that at least half of these respondents are reporting attendance that they do not actually engage in, probably because they see church attendance as a socially desirable behavior that they do not want to undercut by being honest in their responses.
The American Time Use Survey involves a sample of about 12,500 individuals age 15 and over who are asked to detail how they spend their time in a defined period the day prior to the interview. The sample is divided into equal shares for the days of the week and each is interviewed by telephone and asked to detail what they did on the previous day from 4 a.m. to the following 4 a.m. In other words, the period being detailed ended at 4 a.m. on the day of the interview.
If at any point respondents report doing more than one activity at a time, they are asked to identify which one was the "main" (primary) activity. If none can be identified, then the interviewer records the first activity mentioned. This may affect the data about religious and spiritual activities because many believers say that they pray while doing activities of a physical nature, such as cooking or housework or mowing the lawn. And it is common for people to watch television and read a book or periodical at the same time.
Religious and spiritual activities as defined in this study include those normally associated with membership in or identification with specific religions or denominations, such as attending religious services; participating in choirs, youth groups, orchestras, or unpaid teaching (unless identified as volunteer activities); and engaging in personal religious practices, such as praying. Some of the activities that many believers would associated with their faith commitments would be reported under a different category of volunteer activities.
What do these data mean?
Even among believers, involvement in religious activities is considerably less than assumed by most religious professionals. The "space" within which pastors work is getting smaller and very marginalized. It becomes more important that Christian faith be extended beyond the confines of religion into the secular world; secular pursuits, activities and spaces. The ability to extend the faith beyond the scope of religion is essential to the mission of Christ.