How Often People Worship Is More Important than Where They Worship When It Comes to Being Good Neighbors
A growing segment of Americans is traveling farther to worship, Baylor University study finds
WACO, Texas (Dec. 2, 2019) – Americans travel farther on average to their worship places than they did a decade ago. But while those who belong to a congregation in their neighborhood attend more often, “worshipping local” does not make them feel closer to their neighbors or more satisfied with the neighborhood, according to a new study by researchers at Baylor University and Calvin University.
Instead, frequent attendance — whether “worshipping local” or traveling farther — is associated with higher commitment to the neighborhood where the congregant lives.
“How often people worship predicts neighborliness better than where people worship,” said lead author Kevin D. Dougherty, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
The study — “Worshipping Local? Congregation Proximity, Attendance, and Neighborhood Commitment” — is published in Review of Religious Research, the journal of the Religious Research Association.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, a national instrument administered by the Gallup Organization. A total of 1,501 respondents returned completed surveys.
Changes in residential patterns in the United States have implications for congregations, said co-author Mark T. Mulder, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After World War II, many Americans moved from cities to sprawling suburbs. Commuting became a way of life. Today, there is renewed interest in urban centers and an emphasis on local environments.
“While most religious Americans can reach their place of worship within 15 minutes, a growing segment is commuting more than 30 minutes,” Mulder said. The most pronounced jump in travel time occurred from 2009 to 2017, with more than one third commuting more than 16 minutes to their place of worship – up from one quarter in 2001 and 2009.
The abundance of congregations available in the United States is one explanation. Religious people engage in “church shopping” to find a place of worship that meets their preferences for preaching, music, programs or other characteristics. Another partial explanation may be the attraction of large congregations, which pull members from a broader geographic area. In the past decade, American congregants increasingly became concentrated in larger congregations, Dougherty said.
“The more specialized a congregation by theology or ethnicity, such as being the only Jewish synagogue in an area, the farther people may be willing to drive to attend it,” Mulder said.
The study found that people who live more than 15 minutes from their place of worship attend religious services less frequently than religiously affiliated individuals who live within 5 minutes of their congregation. Getting to a place of worship that is 20 to 30 minutes away can make it difficult to attend often for busy adults.
Based on their research, Dougherty and Mulder made three recommendations:
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
ABOUT THE COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and seven academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.