ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis/AP) – Despite the fast-approaching Christmas holiday, less than half of Americans report attending church in the days leading up to Dec. 25.

According to a recently conducted Gallup poll, 39 percent of Americans said that they attended church in the past seven days – a number that, those at Gallup noted, might also be subject to scrutiny.

“This measure of church attendance is based on individuals’ assessments of their own behavior and is not always directly related to actual attendance on a weekly basis,” a release on the study’s findings noted. “Various studies over the years have suggested that Americans may overreport their attendance at religious services when compared with other objective measures of their actual attendance.”

It continued, “But this self-reported measure of weekly church attendance uses identical question wording in surveys stretching back over 70 years and thus provides a valuable a record of changes from year to year using a constant measure of self-reported religiosity.”

Researchers additionally noted that, even though discourse regarding religion and religious representation in the United States has reached a fever pitch in both frequency and fervor, self-reported attendance figures represent a continuation of the same attendance rates seen over the past five to six decades.

All the same, almost 60 percent of Americans claim religion is a “very important” part of their lives.

The release indicated, “These trend data show a complex pattern by which both self-reported church attendance and self-reported importance of religion fluctuate across the years, although both are at the lower end of the trend spectrum today.”

The study was released as coverage of pastors eager to update the age-old practice of luring in worshippers with messages on marquees out front of the church has increased. Long the place for Gospel quotes and Christmas Eve sermon hours, now the signs are often clever, pithy or funny. But pastors are finding that joking about religion is serious business, and it’s easy to cross a line.

Dozens of websites and social media sites collect pictures of church signage, celebrating those that seem to work — “Many Who Seek God at the Eleventh Hour Die at 10:30” — or panning others, such as, “Stop, Drop and Roll Doesn’t Work in Hell.”

Churches largely are left on their own when it comes to marquees. The 13 million-member United Methodist Church doesn’t tell its congregations what to write, said Larry Holland, the church’s global communications chief. But it offers a big suggestion: Make them welcoming, non-judgmental and theologically accurate.

But the messages should be fresh and avoid negative slogans, such as “‘hell’s waiting for you’ kinda thing,” according to Woody Murray, a former advertising agency worker who in recent years wrote a column about church signs.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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