Most Americans Pray But Disagree about How Prayer Works

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Since the advent of the Coronavirus crisis millions of Americans have addressed the fears and challenges raised by COVID-19 through prayer. As part of a new two-dimensional national survey of U.S. adults commissioned by The Presidential Prayer Team, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, profiles the prayer life of Americans. The survey of the general public reveals that in the initial weeks of the pandemic half of all adults (49%) indicated they prayed more than usual in response to the pandemic while just 4% prayed less and four out of ten (41%) did not change their normal prayer practices.

Prayer is Common

In a typical week, two out of three American adults (66%) pray at least once. Another one out of ten adults (10%) prays at least once a month. Only one out of seven (15%) said they never pray, making prayer the nation’s most widely practiced religious activity.

Question: Thinking about prayer, how often, if ever, do you pray?

Source: survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, on behalf of The Presidential Prayer Team; N = 1,000 adults 18 or older, nationwide sample, data collected in April 2020. Other = non-Christian faith. * indicates less than one-half of one percent.

The population segments most devoted to prayer included SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians – 97% of whom pray at least once a week); people who read the Bible at least once a week (95%); adults who believe the essence of Christianity is having an ongoing relationship with God (92%); born-again Christians (90%); people who attend religious services every week (89%); adults who say they are deeply committed to practicing their faith (88%); and those who attend evangelical churches (86%). In other words, the more actively engaged a person is with their faith, the more likely they are to pray every week.

The survey also indicated that if a person engages in prayer at all during a typical week, they are most likely to pray on a daily basis. Two-thirds of the adults who pray in a given week (68%) pray daily, while one-fifth pray several times a week (21%) and the rest pray once during the week (11%).

Among the 15% of Americans who never pray, the failure to pray is reflective of a dormant spiritual life in general, and a rejection of basic Christian beliefs in particular. The survey revealed that 99% of people who never pray are among the least religious Americans (i.e., people with a low level of spiritual activity). More than nine out of ten of those who do not pray (94%) reject the Bible’s description of God; 93% of them do not believe the Bible is the true and accurate word of God; and nine out of ten of them never read the Bible or attend religious services of any kind.

The survey found that prayer is predominantly a Christian activity. While three-quarters of those who consider themselves Christian pray several times a week, the same is true for less than half of those who are associated with a non-Christian faith. (Unexpectedly one out of every seven spiritual skeptics – 14% also pray several times a week.) A different way of assessing the religious background of those who pray is to recognize that people who consider themselves to be Christian are 71% of the adult population in the U.S. but represent 91% of the Americans who pray at all.

How Prayer Works

Among the seven out of ten American adults who consider themselves to be Christian, three out of four (76%) believe that God hears prayers. However, there is a range of ideas concerning how God responds to the prayers He hears.

  • A plurality of self-identified Christians (39%) believe that He hears all prayers and answers each one, although sometimes the answer is “no”
  • One out of five self-identified Christians (20%) argue that He hears all prayers but carries out His will, regardless of those prayers
  • One out of every nine self-identified Christians (11%) says God hears all prayers but only answers those from people who are truly committed to Him
  • Just 6% of self-identified Christians contend that God only answers a prayer if many people pray it, or it has been prayed consistently for a long time
  • A surprisingly large share of people who pray (14%) admitted that they don’t know if God responds to peoples’ prayers or, if He does, how He responds

Several people groups stood out for the breadth of belief that God hears and answers all prayers, though the answer may not be the desired one. Those segments included SAGE Cons (74%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (65%), and born-again Christians (64%).

Women were considerably more likely than men to believe God hears and answers all prayers but may give a negative response (48% versus 30%). Age affected such a perspective: people 65 or older were far more likely than people 18-to-29 to embrace this view (51% versus 28%). Political conservatives were twice as likely as political liberals to harbor this perspective (49% compared to 24%).

Perhaps unexpectedly, the views of adults who attend an evangelical church were far from united. About half (53%) said God hears and answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is “no.” One-quarter (23%) believe that He hears all prayers but does His will regardless of prayer content. One out of eight (13%) said He hears all prayers but only answers those from people who are truly committed to Him. The remaining one out of ten who attend evangelical churches have adopted other viewpoints.

Motivations for Prayer

The survey examined nine possible reasons for praying. Five of those were considered “very accurate” descriptions of peoples’ motivations for praying by a majority of adults who pray at least once a month while between one-third and one-half of the public embraced each of the other four reasons.

By far the most compelling reason for praying was that it is peoples’ way of communicating with God. Nearly two-thirds of those who pray regularly (64%) are driven by this purpose. That reason was particularly catalytic among SAGE Cons (92%), born-again Christians (86%), those who attend evangelical churches (79%), and people 65 or older (78%).

Other popular reasons for praying included the perception that it is a way for them to worship God (57%); prayer is central to their relationship with God (57%); it helps the person cope with situations (55%); and it gives the individual hope of a positive resolution (53%).

Less widely accepted reasons for praying were that prayer reduces their concern or anxiety (47%); it is one way that God transforms them (44%); praying is something they have always done (43%); and the belief that their prayers influence God’s actions (31%).

Adults under the age of 30 stood out for not producing a majority who identified with any of those nine possible motivations.

Prayer motivations differed according to the type of church a person attends. Adults associated with evangelical churches were more likely than other people to view prayer as a relational tool between them and God. Those who attend a mainline Protestant church were driven to pray to advance their relationship with God but also to strengthen their own resolve in the face of concerns and anxieties. Catholics consider prayer to be part of a personal spiritual routine and engage in it as a way of increasing their hope of a positive resolution to challenging situations or opportunities. People associated with non-Christian faiths mirrored the motivations of Catholics.

Reasons Why People Pray
(Responses of adults who pray and said the reason
listed was a “very accurate” reason why they pray)

Source: survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, on behalf of The Presidential Prayer Team; N = 1,000 adults 18 or older, nationwide sample, data collected in April 2020. Other = non-Christian faith.

There are obvious generational differences in motivations for prayer, too. Boomers and Elders – two generation whose members are 55 and older – pray primarily to communicate with God and to worship Him. Gen Xers, on the other hand, are most interested in prayer as a means to communicating with God and coping with life circumstances. They were also the segment most likely to believe their prayers could influence God’s actions. The youngest adults – those in the Millennial generation –were most likely to view prayer as an avenue for communication. In fact, that was the sole motivation embraced by a majority of that generation. Overall, the youngest adults emerged as the generation least interested in prayer – of any type, for any reason.

The Objects of Prayer

Survey respondents who pray at least once a month were asked to describe who or what they pray for most often. By far the most common subject of prayer, from the options posed to respondents, was prayer for people in their life – family, friends, co-workers, and people in the community. Three-quarters of adults (75%) pray for other people at least once a week. Next in frequency was praying for the nation, which six out of ten praying adults (61%) do every month. A slight majority (53%) also noted that they pray every month for those who serve in the military.

Less than half of praying adults acknowledged praying for people serving in the government (46%), the president of the United States (45%), or for people with whom they disagree on important issues or choices (33%).

What Americans Pray For
(Base: Adults who pray)

Source: survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, on behalf of The Presidential Prayer Team; N = 1,000 adults 18 or older, nationwide sample, data collected in April 2020.

Among adults who pray each month, large portions of the group never pray for the president of the United States (29% of the monthly praying adults), for people serving in the government (24%), and for people with whom the person disagrees on important issues and choices (20%).

The survey discovered that adults associated with the Democratic Party or who are registered as independent voters are more than twice as likely as people associated with the Republican Party to never pray for the president of the U.S. (36% versus 15%, respectively). Similarly, those who are politically liberal are considerably more likely than those who are politically conservative to never pray for the president (39% versus 23%, respectively).

The population segments most likely to pray for the nation’s chief executive include SAGE Cons (89% pray for the president at least monthly), people who have the highest levels of spiritual activity (89%), those who read the Bible every week (82%), and adults who attend Pentecostal churches (81%). The Americans who are least likely to pray for the nation’s president are those who attend mainline Protestant churches (41% never pray for the president); spiritual skeptics (41%); and people in the 50-to-64 age group (41%).

Sharing Insights on Prayer

“Americans pray. And that is a good thing,” said James Bolthouse, president and CEO of The Presidential Prayer Team. “How much they understand about communicating with God, how they approach Him, and what they expect from it, was surprising. It was heartening to know that Americans do pray for the government and our leaders, as we are instructed in the Bible to do. But we also know there is a demographic that isn’t sure about the value of praying and whether it would change anything even if they prayed. We hope to share with the public some of the central lessons from centuries of human experience with prayer, as well as dozens of research studies that have been conducted regarding prayer, to help people better understand, enjoy, and see the impact of prayer.”

About the Research

The research was developed and implemented by George Barna, Director of Research of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The survey was conducted among a nationwide sample of 1,000 adults associated with an online survey panel managed by Braun Research. The data were collected in April 2020. The demographic profile of the survey results reflects that of the adult population of the U.S., as determined by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

The two-dimensional study was commissioned by The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT), a non-partisan, non-profit organization as part of their national prayer initiative, Pray the Vote 2020. Their national headquarters is located in Scottsdale, AZ.

The second study will be an inward dimension. The focus will be on prayer team membership in order to learn ways to better encourage their members, provide helpful prayer resources, and to improve their prayer life during the upcoming election season and into the future.

Since its inception in 2001, PPT has become the nation’s largest intercessory prayer movement. Regardless of party politics and ideology, PPT is dedicated to encouraging and facilitating prayer for the nation’s president, political leaders, and military leaders. It seeks to ignite a lifestyle characterized by robust prayer based on its belief that prayer will transform the nation, one heart at a time.


About The Presidential Prayer Team

Since its inception in 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has become the nation’s largest intercessory prayer movement. Regardless of party politics and ideology, The Presidential Prayer Team is dedicated to encouraging and facilitating prayer for the nation’s president, political leaders, and military leaders. It seeks to ignite a lifestyle characterized by robust prayer based on the belief that prayer will transform the nation, one heart at a time.

More information about The Presidential Prayer Team and the national survey can be accessed at www.presidentialprayerteam.org or www.praythevote.org.

Interviews with President James Bolthouse available.

CONTACT: Teresa Corelli, 866-433-7729


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