Canadians modest about their religion while Americans prone to exaggeration

Published June 1, 2006

More than half of Canadians engage in “private religious behaviour,” often in their homes, says a Statistics Canada report.

Canadians may actually be more religious than they say they are, while their neighbours south of the border may actually be going to church much less than they say they do, two separate studies have reported.

The number of Canadians in church pews and who identify with an organized religion may have plummeted since the 1940s but a Statistics Canada report says more than half actually engage in “private religious behaviour” either in the privacy of their own homes or in other locations.

Only one-third (32 per cent) of adult Canadians attend religious services at least monthly, but more than one-half (53 per cent) pray, meditate, worship and read sacred texts, said Statscan in a report released in May.

Statscan used data from the General Social Survey and the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey to track the religious views and practices of Canadians.

“Public religious behaviour, religious affiliation and attendance have been declining among much of the population, but this captures only one aspect of people’s religiosity,” said Statscan. “There has been much debate about whether Canada is becoming increasingly secularized. Many argue that institutional religion has a reduced influence on Canadian society.

“Certainly, religious attendance rates between the late 1940s and late 1990s have declined significantly while the percentage of people reporting no religious affiliation has increased. But does this imply that there is an erosion of individual faith, based on the supposition that attendance rates decrease because people lack the belief that motivates attendance?” the report posited.

Canadians from the Atlantic region were most likely to engage in both religious attendance and religious activities while those in British Columbia were least likely to do so, it said.

In the United States, meanwhile, Gallup polls have reported – over the last 75 years – that 40 per cent of Americans go to church every week. But a new research published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion says that actual church attendance was only 20.4 per cent.

According to an article on, Episcopal church researcher Kirk Hadaway and his co-author, Penny Marler of Samford University, used a number of sources to come up with the contradictory conclusion.

“They combined a known figure – the number of Catholic (21,975) and mainline (81,183) churches – with data from the National Congregations Study (NCS) done by Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona and the National Opinion Research Center,” said the article. “The NCS study told researchers the expected proportions for each category of United States churches – Catholic, mainline, conservative/ evangelical, and so on – allowing them to estimate the number of churches in the United States at 331,000 for the year 2000.”

The researchers then computed average attendance by using data from the research group U.S. Congregations, as well as attendance counts from mainline and Roman Catholic churches to compute average attendance.


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