Americans today may spend less time in houses of worship than they once did, but many still regularly try to connect with the divine, according to new research on religious and spiritual habits.
The survey, which was released Thursday on the National Day of Prayer, showed that 85% of Americans participate in some kind of spiritual practice, with the most common being prayer.
More than 6 in 10 survey respondents (61%) said they pray, while 39% said they practice meditation. Millennials and members of Gen Z were more likely than older adults to meditate or engage in other mindfulness practices.
The new survey, which was conducted by City Square Associates on behalf of Skylight, an initiative of the Radiant Foundation, was fielded online from April 6-12, 2023, among 1,783 U.S. adults. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Skylight’s mission is to use technology to help young people embrace God-centered spiritual habits. Like the Deseret News, it’s part of Deseret Management Corporation.
John Dye, the executive director of Skylight, said the new data is a reminder that people remain “spiritual beings” and that many Americans crave a divine connection.
“We often talk about a lack of connection with others causing a plague of loneliness. Well, we feel there’s a divine loneliness that can occur unless you connect with the divine,” Dye said.
Seeking divine connection amid religious shifts
The survey found that during the COVID lockdowns, some 53% of people who prayed actually prayed more and many sustained that elevated level of spiritual practice.
Although it identified a strong spiritual streak in the American public overall, the new survey is not at odds with recent research from the Pew Research Center, showing that religious “nones” are on the rise. The share of those who don’t affiliate with any faith group rose from 16% to 29% from 2007 to 2021.
These trends likely help explain why Americans’ spiritual practices are often detached from formal worship services. For example, Skylight’s survey found that respondents were nearly as likely to pray out in nature (43%) as they were to pray in their house of worship (46%).
The survey also showed that few people feel that religious affiliation affects whether or not someone’s prayers are heard.
Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed that “their higher power hears and responds to the prayers of those of all religious traditions, and even those of the nonreligious or religiously unaffiliated,” Skylight reported.
Researchers noted that nearly 9 in 10 praying Americans believe they’d received an answer to their prayers sometime in the past year.
What do Americans pray for?
Americans who pray do so for an average of 18 minutes per day, the survey showed. These prayers are often focused on someone other than the person doing the praying.
When asked what and who they pray for, 76% of respondents said their prayers focus on loved ones in crisis and 71% said someone who is sick. Fewer (56%) prayed for themselves during an illness or for good results on an upcoming job interview (33%) or exam (30%).
But even when they’re not focused on personal goals or challenges, prayers offer personal benefits, according to Americans who pray.
Around half (45%) of these respondents said praying makes them feel less anxious or depressed, and one-third (32%) said it makes them feel like better versions of themselves.
“The mental benefits and other types of benefits that accompany prayer do come back to the individual doing the praying,” Dye said.
Sports and ‘Star Wars’
In addition to praying for loved ones and for mental peace, Americans sometimes pray about lighter topics, like sports, the new survey showed.
Around 20% of respondents said they’d prayed for a win for their favorite athlete or team in the past 12 months. Those prayers were typically tied to major sporting events, like the NBA Finals or Super Bowl, researchers found.
In a nod to the fact that the National Day of Prayer and Star Wars Day — “May the 4th be with you” — fall on the same day this year, researchers also asked who respondents would like to pray or meditate with from the “Star Wars” universe.
Yoda was the most popular pick, with nearly one-quarter of respondents (23%) choosing him. Grogu from “The Mandalorian” (15%) and Obi Wan Kenobi (10%) also performed well.
C-3PO (2%) was the least popular candidate for prayer partnership.
Dye said he’s hopeful the new research, including the funny findings about “Star Wars,” will spark conversations about spiritual wellness, which he feels do not happen enough.
“We talk a lot about physical, emotional and mental wellness, but we don’t often talk about spiritual wellness. As we see from the numbers, people are spiritual beings and that aspect of their wholeness is very important to them,” he said.