On one level, the story of how Americans’ religious affiliations are changing is well-known and straightforward: More and more U.S. adults say they do not identify with any religion, while a shrinking majority describe themselves as Christians, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study we published in May.
But whether the country is actually becoming less religious is a more complicated question. Are its religious beliefs and practices changing beyond the declining shares of people who choose to identify with a religion?
Our second report from the 2014 Religious Landscape Study examines Americans’ religious beliefs and finds that the question of whether adults in the U.S. are becoming more or less religious depends, in part, on how religious observance is measured.
Here are five key takeaways from the report:
1. Overall, Americans have become slightly less religious—based on some key traditional gauges of religiosity—since the last Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. For instance, 53 percent of U.S. adults now say religion is very important in their lives, down from 56 percent in 2007. Over the same seven-year period, the share of Americans who say they are absolutely certain that God exists has dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent. And 36 percent of adults report attending religious services at least weekly, down 3 percentage points since 2007.