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Church Attendance Back to Normal

The emotional pain and search for answers after Sept. 11 had many flocking to religious services like never before. But, like many of the initial post-attack phenomenon, church attendance has since returned to normal.

A surge of spirituality occurred as Americans examined just how fragile life was and evaluated what was really important. Answers were hard to come by in the months that followed the attacks, and many sought solace in a higher power.

"After 9/11 we had 20-some odd thousand people show up," said Senior Pastor Ed Young. "The largest crowd in the history of Fellowship Church…and when I walked on stage I looked around and said, 'Where have you guys been? It takes something like this for you to show up to church?'"

But the pews were soon a bit roomier.

"I was disappointed somewhat that more didn't stick because we dropped…to 16 or 17 thousand the next weekend and then the weekend after that to about 14,500," he said. 

By some estimates, on the Sunday following the terror attacks roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service. But the attendance dropped off starting in November.

According to Barna Research, a polling firm that specializes in religious data, religious activity is back to just about what it was before the attacks.

Forty-two percent of Americans polled said they attended services and 84 percent said they prayed before Sept. 11. And now, 43 percent said they attend services and 83 percent said they pray.

George Barna of Barna Research expressed amazement at the outcome of the study. He went into the project expecting to see a lasting spiritual impact following the attacks, he said, and was very surprised to find that people had gone back to the way they were spiritually before Sept. 11.

One theologist believes people never made space in their busy lives for religion.

"People who have not made basic changes in their lives in the days before Sept. 11 found themselves Feb. 11, March 11 and April 11 living the same kind of lives they lived before Sept. 11," said Robin Lovin, a theology professor at Southern Methodist University.

"If you don't respond to that kind of spiritual crisis fairly immediately with some new priorities and activities, it's not going to be a permanent change," Lovin said.

Young attributes the initial attendance spike to human nature. "I think when we are riddled with fear, when things fall apart around us especially when we are struck at the heart of who we are, people suddenly respond and they're turning to God and asking those deep questions in an even deeper way," he said.

"When things are going bad we want to turn to God and want to get right with him and we want to attend to church," Young said. "When things level out we tend to forget the most important things and drift away."

Fox News' Mike Tobin contributed to this report.