When The Economy Falters, The Pews Fill


Lisa Miller notes that church attendance goes up during recessions and down during good times. She speaks with economist Daniel Hungerman, who keeps a graph comparing GDP and church attendance above his desk:

Hungerman’s best guess explanation for the wide spaces and tight spots in his graph has nothing to do with God and self-interest (“if I pray in church, I will get a job”) but with something grander: a sense of global interconnectedness. “Maybe when the economy turns sour, no matter how much money you make, you get nervous and decide to go to church and talk with your buddies and get a sense of what’s going on in your community. Or maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.” In other words, Hungerman’s picture may illustrate our concern for our neighbors: down in good times and up in bad.

Avent's reasoning is more mundane:

Church is free entertainmentmusic, socialising, a bit of story telling, and a meal in the bargain if you're lucky (or Baptist). When mom and dad are both working, a night at the movies might seem grand. When dad loses his job, church may be the most affordable way to get out of the house.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty.)