December 23, 2011

The civic and community engagement of religiously active Americans

Those who are active in religious organizations are more involved with all kinds of civic and other organizations, devote more time to organizational activities, and think more highly of their communities and their fellow citizens

The religiously active are just as likely to be technology users as other Americans and they say their tech use helps their involvement with groups

WASHINGTON – Some 40% of Americans are active in a church, religious, or spiritual organization.  Compared with those who are not involved with such organizations, religiously active Americans are more trusting of others, are more optimistic about their impact on their community, think more highly of their community, are more involved in more organizations of all kinds, and devote more time to the groups to which they are active.

A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked people about their membership in 28 different kinds of organizations and clubs. Religious and spiritual organizations topped the list and those who were active in such groups were more active in all kinds of groups. The average number of groups that religiously active Americans are active in is 5.61, and those who are not involved with religious groups participate in 2.11 groups.

Those who are active in religious groups spend an average of 7.5 of hours per week in group activities compared with 5.4 hours for those not active in a religious group.

When it comes to their technology profile, Americans who are members of religious groups are just as likely as others to use the internet, have broadband at home, use cell phones, use text messaging, and use social networking sites and Twitter.

In the Pew Internet Project survey respondents were asked about their involvement with groups and organizations; their views about other people and the organizations to which they belong, their feelings about their communities; and their use of different technologies. Some of the main findings:

  • 53% of religiously active Americans believe that other people are generally trustworthy, compared with 43% of those not involved with religious groups
  • 45% view their community as an excellent place to live, compared with 34% of those not active with religious groups
  • 38% of religiously active Americans believe that they can have a major impact on their communities, compared with 27% of those not active with religious groups

In many types of groups, the religiously active are involved in considerable numbers and at percentages substantially higher than the non-religious. For example:

  • 35% are active in sports or recreation leagues for themselves or for their children (versus 17% for the non-religious).
  • 34% are active in charitable or volunteer organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or the Humane Society (versus 15% for the non-religious).
  • 30% are active in community groups or neighborhood associations (versus 11% for the non-religious).

Asked about their technology usage:

  • 79% of Americans who are active in religious groups are internet users, compared with 75% of those not involved with religious groups
  • 86% of Americans who are active in religious groups are cell phone users, compared with 80% of those not involved with religious groups
  • 75% of religiously active Americans are email users, compared with 68% of those who are not involved with religious groups
  • 46% of these religiously active Americans use social networking sites such as Facebook, compared with 49% of those who are not involved with religious groups.
  • 9% of these religiously active Americans use Twitter, compared with 10% of those not involved with religious groups

“Some analysts have been concerned that those who have active spiritual lives might not be as engaged with the secular world,” noted Jim Jansen, a Senior Fellow at the Pew Internet Project and author of a report on the findings. “We see the opposite. Those who are religiously active are more likely to participate in all kinds of groups and more likely to feel good about their communities. Those who are active in religious groups seem to be joiners. They also are active users of technology.”

The results in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a sample of 2,303 adults, age 18 and older.  Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (1,555) and cell phone (748, including 310 without a landline phone). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.  For results based on internet users (n=1,811), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.