Oh Google search box, great soothsayer of our era, what can you tell us about the future of the American church?
An analysis the mega-search engine released this week argues that the number of Americans searching for a place to go church is going steadily down. This is true during the year, and also year-over-year at Christmas and Easter – the most popular times of the year for Christians to attend worship services.
In a separate analysis, Google argues that it’s not Christmas but Easter when people look more for places to go to church. You can see spikes in people searching for “church” each year at Christmas and Easter (thus the expression “C&E Christians” for people who only observe the big religious holidays). Even so, the number of people looking at those times of year has been going down, year after year.
This is not an exact social science. Google is analyzing the times when people look for anything with the word “church” in it. When you do a general search like “church,” Google will return results results tailored to your location first. Google spokesman Jim Prosser said about one-fifth of searching is for local stuff.
So obviously a search with the word “church” could pull in a lot of other people, not only those hunting for a place to go worship. But looking at the spikes around the holidays and the general trend, it’s hard not to think of the chorus of Christian leaders who have been concerned for years about Americans’ decreasing interest in organized religion. There is always a lot of – unresolved – debate about whether the number of Americans who actually attend services has changed over the decades and what that means about actual beliefs.