More Americans pray in their car than in a place of worship

Study says 87% believe they received an answer to their prayers in the past 12 months.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) A woman prays at Catholic Mass on Ash Wednesday at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in West Jordan in 2022. A new survey shows 61% of Americans pray.

Despite reports of declining worship attendance and religious affiliation, 6 in 10 Americans say that they pray, a new survey reports.

A higher percentage (85%) say they engage in a spiritual practice to connect with a higher power, whether prayer, meditation, mindfulness, reciting affirmations or spiritually based yoga. Prayer, at 61%, is the most common of the five practices, with 39% of Americans saying they practiced meditation and 38% practicing mindfulness.

Findings of the survey of more than 1,700 Americans were released by the Radiant Foundation on Thursday, which is the National Day of Prayer.

It showed that U.S. adults who pray often do so at dawn or when they awaken (50%) or at bedtime (55%). More people report that they pray in their car (61%) than in a place of worship (46%).

“These results make it clear that there is more praying taking place than people expect. People are praying in a variety of ways and in unexpected places throughout the day,” said John Dye, executive director of Skylight, a Radiant Foundation website that offers spiritual content, such as prayer, affirmations and yoga, aimed at young adults. “They are frequently exploring their spiritual side and using prayer to work through adversity, find meaning, and create connection with a higher power.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Players pray before the game as the University of Utah hosts Washington State in September 2021. A new poll shows most Americans (61%) reach out out a higher power through prayer.

A distinct majority of those who pray (87%) said they believed they’d received an answer to their prayers in the past 12 months.

The top reasons cited for prayer were for a loved one in crisis (76%) or when someone else was sick (71%).

Other findings looked at how and with whom people prayed.

Eight in 10 reported regularly praying by themselves. Younger respondents — in particular millennials and Generation Zers — were more likely than younger boomers and Gen Xers to report that they prayed regularly with members of their spiritual group or family. Nearly a quarter said they pray routinely around their pets.

More than three-quarters of those who pray use at least one spiritually related object when they do. The most popular objects, based on a provided list of 20, were books and other texts, used by a quarter of respondents at least a few times a week. Others included burning objects such as candles (19%), a journal (18%), a pillow or kneeling pad (18%), a rosary or prayer beads (18%) or iconography (18%).

(Andrew Harnik | AP) Joe Biden bows his head in prayer in this August 2020 photo.

The National Day of Prayer was proclaimed by Congress in 1952 and has been observed on the first Thursday in May since 1988. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation; Christians planned gatherings in churches, plazas and capitals; and Religions for Peace USA hosted a virtual interfaith prayer gathering. Meanwhile, humanist and other nontheist organizations mark the day as a Day of Reason during a week of community voluntarism.

The survey was commissioned by Skylight and conducted by the Boston-area research firm City Square Associates. Skylight was launched in 2020 by the Radiant Foundation, a nonprofit organization associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and partially funded by the Deseret Management Corp., which manages entities affiliated with the Utah-based faith.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, prays at General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2013. This was the first time a woman offered a public prayer in the faith's General Conference.

A total of 1,783 U.S. adults ages 18 to 64 participated in the online survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Many of the questions on prayer were asked only of the 1,090 Americans who indicated that they pray.