Most soldiers might say atheists don’t exist in foxholes on the field of battle. Perhaps the same is true of churches during the holiday season.

Church-goers throughout the community and beyond proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” at Christmas time, though the number of adherents to worship centers in the Ottawa area suggests a less-than-robust affinity and support for local churches.

Ottawa is home to nearly 40 churches. Some would say this market literally is saturated with churches of many types even though actual adherents to the faith are something much less than what people profess. Methodists lead the way with adherents — full members, their children and others who regularly attend services — and actual church affiliation with 25.8 percent; followed by American Baptists at 22 percent; Catholics, 15.5 percent; Presbyterians, 7.5 percent; Lutherans, 5.2 percent; Disciples of Christ, 4.8 percent; Assembly of God, 4.2 percent; Wesleyan, 3.1 percent; Church of Christ, 2.5 percent; and other, 9.2 percent — all based on demographic data from a church membership research study. Many of those attendees within specific disciplines are further splintered among multiple churches serving one affiliation. For churches seeking growth, the 2010 version of the same report indicated more than 16,000 “unclaimed” Franklin County residents.

Research suggests just 35.9 percent of Ottawa residents are adherents — as in sticking or holding fast to — a local religious congregation, despite there seemingly being a much higher moral majority who profess to be regular church-goers. Ours apparently is a more secular environment than many people would choose to believe. These numbers are supported by a Pew Research Study, which said that while 79 percent of Americans identify themselves with an organized faith group, only 24 percent of Americans — when looking at a Time Diary Method of recording activities — actually attend church, which suggests respondents said what they thought they should be doing rather than what they actually do.

Perhaps 79 percent of Americans attend church around one of the significant religious holidays — Christmas or Easter — but attending church regularly isn’t part of their routine. The numbers suggest people need to be honest with themselves about what they do or don’t do. If they were doing what they claim, churches would be packed year-round. Almost all local church leaders would say the facts don’t support such attendance claims.

While local church leaders are grateful for holiday attendance, they would prefer people live the life they say they do and regularly attend the church of their choice. In the field of religious battle, secular behavior is winning out over its religious competitors.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher