By Aaron Earls
Most Americans say churches have a positive effect on the direction of the U.S., according to a new survey from Pew Research.
But not everyone sees the benefit of churches, including those who rarely attend religious services.
Overall, 59 percent of Americans say churches and other religious institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country. Only 26 percent say churches have a negative effect.
For churches, however, their biggest fans are already in their pews. Almost three-quarters of those who attend at least weekly (74 percent) say the church is a positive influence.
For those who attend occasionally, the number drops to 66 percent. And for those who seldom or never attend, it falls even further.
Among those who attend the least, more see the church as a negative influence (46 percent) than a positive one (34 percent).
White evangelicals (80 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (73 percent) have the highest percentage who view the church positively.
High numbers of white mainline Protestants (68 percent), black Protestants (66 percent) and white Catholics (61 percent) also see the church as a positive influence.
Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated are most likely to see the church as a bad influence.
Slightly less than half of nones (46 percent) see religious institutions as having a negative effect, while 34 percent say they are good for the nation.
Education and political alignment also relate to opinions on the church’s influence.
As education levels rise, fewer people believe the church makes a positive impact. More than 6 in 10 of those with a high school degree or less (63 percent) say the church is a positive influence, but only 48 percent of those with a postgraduate degree agree.
Among Republicans or Republican leaners, 73 percent say churches have a positive effect, compared with 50 percent among Democrats and Democratic leaners.
The overall numbers of Americans who say the church has a positive impact on the country have stayed fairly consistent since Pew began asking the question in 2010.
The public images of other institutions have fluctuated more in the last seven years, including a decline for colleges and universities.
For the first year since the survey began in 2010, Americans in 2017 are more likely to view churches than colleges as a positive national influence.
Slightly more than half (55 percent) say places of higher education have a positive effect on the nation, while 36 percent see them as having a negative impact—the highest negative percentage colleges have seen.
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.