Empty Pews in Virginia

According to a recent Gallup poll analysis, as reported by the Washington Times, the South contains eight of the 10 most church-going states in the nation. Virginia, it appears, is not among them.

Nationally, 42 percent of those polled say they attend church at least once a week. Here’s the breakdown for the Top 10:

58 percent — Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina
57 percent — Mississippi
55 percent — Arkansas and Utah
53 percent– North Carolina and Nebraska
52 percent — Tennessee and Georgia

At 44 percent, Virginia was the lowest-ranking state in the South, and only a hair above the national average. Seems like everyone around me in Richmond goes to church (or synagogue). All those heathen in Northern Virginia must be dragging the numbers down!

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16 responses to “Empty Pews in Virginia”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I, too, would like to see the stats for the Federally-Occupied-Zone of NoVa and Virginia South of the Occoquan.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    My first thought exactly.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    We really need to learn to get our data / metrics right.

    By go to church do we mean every week, more often than not, sometimes, church holidays?

    Just because someone is absent from their local church, does it mean they didn’t attend chapel at the marina? How is the data collected, and how do we know they don’t have a dog in the fight?

  4. Chris Brancato Avatar
    Chris Brancato

    I, too, would like to see the stats for the Federally-Occupied-Zone of NoVa and Virginia South of the Occoquan.

    Seperation of church and state? LOL.

    Federally occupied. Are “they” not we? Interesting point of view. I was looking at GlobalSecurity.org yesterday. I was profoundly suprized on how much restricted space (airspace, seaspace, landspace) there was on the East Coast, the Mid-Atlantic in particular especially in comparison to the West Coast. All I could muster is wow and I never knew.

    I don’t remember how I ended up there but I was and am disturbed on how freely that information was and is available. HMMM…

  5. What conclusion do we draw from this data?

    That, as you suggest humorously, Jim, that anyone who doesn’t go to church weekly is a “heathen.”

    That people who go to church weekly are morally superior to or more spiritual than those who don’t?

    I know many people with integrity, high moral values and deep conviction and commitment who are not weekly church goers.

    I also know many who go to church weekly who talk one thing and do another.

    Fascinating that Jim’s irreverant remark would invite some to agree, some to demand to see the data (thinking that we need to invalidate the “conclusions” we would draw about Virginians if the data are true?) and provoke me to defend the unchurched (inviting, I’m sure, some anonymous personal attacks or a debate about why I can’t see that the data confirm that Virginia is on the way to becoming a latter day S and G — a fate from which only the churched can rescue us).

    Sanctimony is not attractive whether it is the sanctimony of the irreligious or that of the religious.

    All the more reason to understand and respect that faith is personal, should not be poltical, and that prejudice (even when expressed, as here, by Jim with tongue firmly in cheek) against those who go to church or don’t is just another form of religious intolerance that Virginia’s statute of religious freedom was designed to address.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Claire, Think of my post here as a Rorschach test — people can read into it anything they want. Actually, I was wondering about the political implications. Maybe the fundamentalist right in Virginia is not as strong as widely supposed to be.

  7. SouthoftheJames.com Avatar

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the data from Northern VA as a whole tracked similarly to the rest of Virginia. When you drive out in communities in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince Williams, the number of churches, synagogues, temples, and other types of houses of worship is quite healthy. Additionally, Arlington and Alexandria have significant black and/or Hispanic communities, who tend to attend church in greater numbers than whites but who may be underrepresented in polls. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t cast NoVA into the fiery pit of hell just yet as I’m sure that people’s time spent commiting major sins is reduced by the time spent in traffic. Also, I’m interested in how the data breaks down geographically in the rest of Virginia.

    I imagine that if the question was asked about monthly or biweekly attendance, the numbers would be higher. It’s a false premise to link weekly church-going with anything of significance. The better question is ask about beliefs – just because your butt isn’t in a pew every single Sunday (Saturday, Friday or whatever day your chosen religions observes) doesn’t make you any more of less heathen. Also, the Bible Belt tends to have higher rates of STD, teen pregnancy and other social ills despite being all churched up.

  8. I was recently looking at the statics on religion from the last census. Very interesting trends including:

    Between the 1990 and 2000 counts the percentage of people identifying themselves as Christian feel by 8.5% to 79.8% of the population.Of those identifying themselves as Christian, 40% do not attend church.

    Between 1990 and 2000 the number of people identified as No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic grew 105.7% to 15% of the population.

    As you might imagine the number of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc are all growing at three digit rates (although still making up a rather small % of the overall population).

  9. Here’s a link to a map of the dominant denomination by county in the country. As a side note, believe it or not, fundamentalists were not able to wrest control of the state Baptist conventions here in Virginia and Texas, but were able to in all the other southern states listed above.

    Given Virginia’s rep for housing the Falwells and Robertsons, and given Texas’s reputation of being…well, Texas, that is a bit surprising.

  10. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    If you want to look at the latest stats on Christian beliefs, Bible reading etc. Check out http://www.barna.org Best source that I know for quality work on what is happening.

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Nathan: Obviously, you know little or nothing about the Southern Baptist Convention. You have no idea what difference is between a Virginia moderate Baptist and a Virginia fundamentalist Baptist – or their disputes. As far as faith informing citizens or, more fundamentally, establishing world view, a moderate Baptist is more likely than not vote Conservatively.

    Barna.org can show the stats on how Bible reading lines up with conservative voting. Moderate Baptists read the Bible far more than most Americans.

  12. Jeremy Hinton Avatar
    Jeremy Hinton


    Re: the Jefferson quote, post the following Jefferson quote in a govt school, and see how many religious conservatives twitch:

    And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter…

  13. Valley Yellow Dog Avatar
    Valley Yellow Dog

    Too bad the data on which all these learned obsevations above depend are most likely crap. Studies comparing actual church attendance with self-reported attendance (like Gallup) show actual rates about half of those respondents reported.

    Self-reporting of socially desirable traits tends to act this way — especially in communities which pretend to strict religious observance. And the more devout are more likely to shade their responses toward what their social norms call for.

    As mentioned by one commentator, the fact that socially suspect behavior (prevalance of STD, divorce rates, and child abuse rates) correlate positively with reported religiousity makes whining about Northern Virginia bizarre.

  14. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jeremy: By all means put that TJ quote in public schools. What is the source?

    Also, put Voltaire’s quote about the Bible and Kruschev’s (sp) ‘we will bury you’. All good history points.

    Christians don’t fear the truth – in history, science, any intellectual endeavor.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Concerning church attendance in Virginia, there is nothing to be alarmed about. First because no where in the four Gospels did Jesus Christ ever make the statement “Blessed are those who go to church”. In the book of Acts of the New Testament, we are told that “God does not dwell in temples (church buildings) made with hands”. The reason God does not dwell in church buildings is because “We are the temple of the Holy Spirit”. In his blockbuster book “Revolution” (Copyright 2005), the famous George Barna (www.barna.org) states this on the back cover of his book “MILLIONS OF BELIEVERS HAVE MOVED BEYOND THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH…AND CHOSEN TO BE THE CHURCH INSTEAD. Research by renowned pollster George Barna points to a hidden revolution–one that will impact every Christian believer in America. Millions of committed Christ followers, looking for more of God, have stopped attending church on Sunday mornings. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? And what does this mean for the future of the Church?”.

    In his very informative book “Megashift” (Copyright 2005), James Rutz graphically details the vast difference between the highly programmed and very controlled institutional churches, and the complete freedom of expression as experienced by multitudes of “unchurched” Christians in the ever growing and vast “House Church Movement”. The “House Church Movement” is a modern day phenomenon happening all across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and other nations, in which many Christians are meeting in private homes. It would be obvious then, that “church attendance” has no real significance as to the dedication of many people, who do not attend an institutional church. Of great importance about the “House Church Movement” is the fact that the “clergy/laity” concept of churchianity is totally rejected, and there are no “professional clergy” or pastors as overlords.

  16. Have you ever heard of “Sunday Morning Baptists” you might want to check in to that, mostly due to that fact that in the Bible belt, church or religious services are a social thing and have almost nothing to do with a god or a religion of any sort. Second try looking at the connection between Churches per capita and illiteracy rate. You will find the more churches a state has the lower it literacy rate. Perhaps those “heathen” northerns have it right. After all I was born in New York and I know how to read.

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