From The Layman today:
Pew Forum studies religious affiliation changes
The Layman, Posted Friday, May 1, 2009As the Church universal struggles with declining memberships and a growing number of people who do not worship or believe in God, a report fromThe Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life offers insight into why people are changing their religious affiliations or ending them altogether.
Released April 27, the 75-page “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” report outlines a consumer-driven attitude for those shopping for a faith. Much like the comment cards or online surveys measuring a customer’s experience, participants offered a variety of reasons for changing denominations by answering both open-ended and closed-ended questions.
Asked to name the main reasons one left the denomination of their childhood or why they joined a particular church, after deciding to leave another, they cited disagreements over moral issues, the church’s failure to meet spiritual needs, marrying someone of a different denomination or preferring worship styles at a different church. Divided into three study groups – Catholic, Protestant and unaffiliated – approximately 2,867 were interviewed by telephone from Oct. 3, 2008 to Nov. 7, 2008.
The new data is a follow-up to the 2007 study “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” which found that nearly half of U.S. adults (44 percent) do not currently belong to their childhood faith. That statistic led to the “Faith in Flux” in search of why. The “Faith in Flux” sampling was taken from participants of the original survey.
Among the findings were:
- On average, between one-third and half of those surveyed have changed their affiliation only once, with 49 percent of former Protestants opting for a different denomination among the Reformed faiths and 30 percent of those who changed only once now are unaffiliated. In contrast, 47 percent of formerly unaffiliated now are affiliated.
- The largest group that has changed affiliation is made up of those who have changed from one Protestant denomination to another.
- About seven-in-10 in the unaffiliated segment (73 percent of former Catholics and 71 percent of former Protestants) say religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough on spirituality. A slightly smaller fraction of those who have become unaffiliated say religious leaders are more concerned about money and power than with truth and spirituality. Forty percent of them say this is the reason they became unaffiliated.
- Seventy-one percent of the “unaffiliated” who left their childhood faith “gradually drifted away” and 65 percent who were raised Catholic simply stopped believing in the teachings, compared with 50 percent of Protestants.
- Most who left their childhood faith did so before age 24. Almost half of Catholics who are now unaffiliated left before reaching age 18, as did one-third who are now Protestant. Among both groups, an additional three-in-10 left the Catholic Church as young adults between ages 18 and 23. Only one-fifth who are now unaffiliated and one-third who are now Protestant departed after turning age 24.
Pew Forum director Luis Lugo told Time magazine he was surprised at the variety of reasons one would change religious affiliation.
“It’s an open religious marketplace as well as a very competitive one,” he told Time. “This is the supermarket cereal aisle.”
The Catholic Church
As the largest American denomination with 67 million members, the Roman Catholic Church has shown the largest losses due to religious change. According to the report, one in 10 Americans is a former Catholic, and a majority who left did so for religious reasons. Even though it’s seen major losses – those who have left the Catholic Church outnumber those who have joined by four to one – the church continues to have a high retention rate. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed who were raised Catholic are still Catholic. That’s in contrast to 15 percent who are now Protestant and another 14 percent who are now unaffiliated.
When asked closed-ended questions, the most common reasons for Catholics becoming Protestant is failure to meet spiritual needs (71 percent) and they found a religion they liked more (70 percent). Former Catholics who now are unaffiliated cited a gradual drifting away from the religion (71 percent).
More than half (56 percent) of former Catholics surveyed who now are unaffiliated say dissatisfaction with teachings on abortion and homosexuality were the reason they left. About half cite concerns with Catholic teachings on birth control and approximately 40 percent were unhappy with its treatment of women.
When asked to explain in their own words the main reason they left their childhood religion, half of former Catholics pointed to religious and moral beliefs with 18 percent of Protestants who were raised Catholic leaving for a “Biblical/Scriptural reason.” Based on the research, evangelical Protestantism is an attractive alternative for former Catholics. Most former Catholics who are now evangelical Protestants, for example, say they left Catholicism in part because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings (62 percent) and specifically because they were unhappy with Catholic teachings about the Bible (55 percent).
For those who became unaffiliated, the report shows it was more of an issue with faith of any kind. For those former Catholics who became unaffiliated, 42 percent claim to not believe in God or most religious teachings.
The sharpest criticism of the Catholic Church came from those who converted to evangelical Protestant faiths. More than half were unhappy with the church’s teachings about the Bible with 46 percent saying that the faith did not view it literally enough. More than half currently in an evangelical church cited religious teachings as their main reason for leaving Catholicism.
In contrast, 84 percent of former Catholics who switched to mainline Protestant faiths did not leave the religion for this reason. Those who converted to mainline Protestantism listed “Religious institutions, practice and people” and family-related issues as their main reason for leaving. Those who switched from Catholicism to unaffiliated mirrored the evangelical group in its reason with more than half citing religious teachings.
Based on survey findings, a majority of those who left the Catholic Church (81 percent) and Protestantism did so based on the religious services and style of worship. Nearly 75 percent of evangelicals felt called by God to make the change, as opposed to only one-third of mainline Protestants.
Even though four in 10 former Catholics who joined the ranks of the unaffiliated indicate they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions, many of them said they remain open to the possibility that they could someday find a religion that suits them.
The Protestant Church
In contrast with other groups, the prevailing reason for Protestants making a change is family related or geographic, while fewer Protestants were leaving their church based on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality or dissatisfaction with the clergy or congregation.
Nearly four-in-10 people who have changed religious affiliation within Protestantism (e.g., were raised Presbyterian and now are Lutheran) say they left their childhood faith, in part, because they relocated to a new community. Nearly as many say they left because they married someone from a different religious background.
Overall, 15 percent of Americans who were raised as Protestants now belong to a different Protestant denomination from their childhood one. Nearly four-in-10 within this group say they left because they moved to a new community. One-third say they left because their spouse is from a different religious background. Those who have changed within Protestantism also are less likely than others to say their decision to leave was motivated by a loss of belief in the religion’s teachings.
More than half of those who switched their affiliation within Protestantism found a church they liked more or said their spiritual needs were not being met. Less than 15 percent cited reasons such as treatment of women, abortion/homosexuality, teachings on poverty/war/death penalty and teachings on divorce/marriage.
The most common reason for switching affiliation within Protestantism was the religious service and style of worship (85 percent). The most common reason for joining a church, for those who have moved within Protestantism, was “religious institutions, practices and people.”
Of those who now are classified as unaffiliated after leaving the Protestant faith, 39 percent pointed to their spiritual needs not being met, while an equal percentage claimed unhappiness with teachings about the Bible. Protestants were half as apt as Catholics to leave based on social issue teachings such as abortion, homosexuality and treatment of women.
More than one-third of former Protestants who now are unaffiliated claimed they no longer believe in God or religious teachings, while another 38 percent haven’t found the right religion for them.
The unaffiliated – defined as claiming no particular religion – category has grown more rapidly than any other religious group in recent decades. According to the 2007 Landscape Survey, 16 percent of American adults say they are currently unaffiliated with any particular religion, compared with only 7 percent who were raised unaffiliated. The group also showed contempt for organized religion, based on a majority of those polled (ranging from 60 to 78 percent on average) agree that religious people are hypocritical, judgmental and insincere; religions are partly true and none is completely true; religious organizations are too focused on rules not spirituality; and religious leaders want money and power, not truth or spirituality.
Nearly half of those who were raised Catholic (49 percent) or Protestant (45 percent) have become unaffiliated due to religious or moral issues. The most common reason was agreement/disagreement with religious teachings.
Even though the unaffiliated group has grown the fastest, it has one of the lowest retention rates of all religious classifications. According to the survey, 40 percent of those raised unaffiliated end up in a Protestant denomination.
The study also shows that worship attendance nearly doubles from childhood to adult for those who join a denomination. In contrast, those who are raised unaffiliated and remain unaffiliated worship half as much as adults as they did as a child. According to the report, only 5 percent of unaffiliated adults who were raised unaffiliated attend church at least weekly. More than half of those adult who became affiliated after being raised unaffiliated attend weekly services.
In the group raised unaffiliated, the survey shows they consider their faith strengthening with age. Comparatively, a higher percentage of people in both groups claim stronger faith than the number who attend at least weekly worship services. Weekly worship attendance (51 percent) and having a “very strong faith” (63 percent) was much higher in adults who switched from unaffiliated to affiliated. Adults who remained unaffiliated had lower numbers for attendance (5 percent) and “very strong faith” (16 percent). A majority of those who joined a religious group after being raised unaffiliated did so because their spiritual needs weren’t being met (51 percent) or they found a religion they liked more (46 percent). Marriage to someone from a particular faith played a role in one-quarter of the cases.
A majority of those (74 percent) who chose a Catholic or Protestant church after being raised unaffiliated did so because they enjoy the services or style of worship, while 55 percent felt called by God. Nearly 30 percent listed a draw to a particular pastor or being asked to join by a member of that religion for becoming affiliated.
One thing I noticed in the Pew Survey was that there were twocategories left out. We can see “Catholics from childhood who changed to Protestant”, “Catholics from Childhood who became unaffiliated”, “Protestants from childhood who changed to other Protestant”, “Protestants from childhood who became unaffiliated”, and “Unaffiliated now affiliated with ‘a religion'”. Seems that we’re missing “Protestants who changed to Catholic” and “Unaffiliated who changed to Catholic”. I know of one parish, annecdotally, where 65 people converted, in fact, every convert every Easter is included in one of those two. So my first reaction is that this poll needs work.
I will pull excerpts and do comments on other aspects later.