Just in time for Christmas, new poll results show fewer than half of Washington state residents, 48 percent, consider religion important in their lives, although a strong majority say they believe in a higher power.
The poll, from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, showed, in general, Washington residents just weren’t that religious, especially compared with such southern states as Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.
But Washington also ranked ahead of a number of states in all categories, including Western neighbors such as Oregon, Alaska and Colorado.
Nationally, 56 percent of those surveyed thought religion was an important part of their lives. Washington ranked 36th among all the states. Vermont and New Hampshire were last, with only one-third of their residents thinking religion was important.
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The poll also found that one in three Washington state residents attend a religious service at least once a week. Even so, that’s better than Oregon, California, Alaska, Nevada and New York.
Washington ranked higher in church attendance than it has in some earlier surveys.
In 2004, a group of professors meeting in Tacoma reported the Northwest was the least church-going region of the country, with the highest percentage of people – 25 percent – who said they have no religion. At that time, Washington ranked 49th out of the 50 states in religious participation, according to the North American Religion Atlas.
Some local clergy were unfazed by the latest poll results. The Rev. Philip Nesvig said there are some indications immigration is actually increasing church attendance on the West Coast, including Washington.
But Nesvig, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tacoma, said reaching new people is “a constant challenge.”
“It’s not the 1950s where it’s assumed we had whole intact families coming,” he said.
The most effective way to reach others is for church members to express the meaning of their faith to friends and in other relationships, Nesvig said.
The Pew Forum analysis also found:
• 54 percent of state residents pray once a day. Washington ranked 32nd on this issue. The national average was 58 percent.
• Almost two-thirds of state residents surveyed said they believed in God or a universal spirit with absolute certainty, compared with more than 70 percent nationally. Washington state ranked 36th.
• Mississippi was the most religious state, ranking first in importance of religion, frequency of prayer, attendance at worship services and certainty in the belief in God.
The telephone poll sampled 745 Washington residents and a total of 35,556 adult U.S. residents. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
The study can be found online at www.pewforum.org.