Survey: Half of U.S. adults have switched religions

Vang Lutheran Church, Dunn County, N.D. Seven percent of U.S. adults raised 
Protestant are now unaffiliated, while 15% have switched to a different 
Protestant faith

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
About half of all Americans have switched religions at least once, according to 
the most in-depth survey on the topic, released Monday. And that may still be 
"a conservative estimate," says Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on 
Religion & Public Life.

FAITH & REASON: Does economy affect worship attendance?
AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY: See how other survey shows change in 
religions over 2 decades
Pew's new survey is based on re-contacting 2,800 people from its U.S. Religious 
Landscape Survey of 35,000 people, released last year. Pew estimated at the 
time that about 44% of Americans have changed religions. It now says between 
47% and 59% have, if you count the millions who once switched but have returned 
to their childhood faith.

The reasons people give for changing their religion - or leaving religion 
altogether - differ widely: 71% of Catholics and nearly 60% of Protestants who 
switched didn't think their spiritual needs were being met, liked another faith 
more or changed their religious or moral beliefs.

Most switched early, committing to one faith by age 36. Americans switch 
religions "often, early and for many different reasons," says John Green, a Pew 
senior fellow.

Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious 
change: The 10% of U.S. adults who have quit the church vastly outnumber the 
2.6% who are incoming Catholics. Two in three who became unaffiliated - and 
half of those who became Protestant - say they left the Catholic Church because 
they "stopped believing its teachings." The sexual abuse scandal was a factor 
for fewer than three in 10 former Catholics.

Life circumstances, not religious doctrinal differences, prompt most 
Protestants who switch denominations (Baptist to Methodist, for example). 
Moving to a new town or marrying someone of a different tradition are the most 
often-cited reasons, but 36% attributed changes to "likes and dislikes about 
religious institutions, practices and people."

Many people who left a religion and now are "unaffiliated" say they did so in 
part because they see religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because 
religious organizations focus too much on rules, or because religious leaders 
focus too much on power and money.

Among the 16% of Americans who say they're now not affiliated with any 
religion, most are former Protestants and Catholics who say they didn't quit in 
a huff or get lured away by science or by atheist philosophy: About 70% say 
"they just gradually drifted away" from their childhood religion.

About 9% return to their childhood religion, saying they tried another religion 
or two but then went back.

Religious education or youth group participation seemed to make no dent, 
although people who say they participated frequently in worship services or 
Mass were less likely to switch.

Green sees no simple answer for retaining members in "a competitive religious 

The findings "suggest that one thing that might be needed to recruit and keep 
members is vibrant and vital congregations - a tough thing to create."

The Flux questionaire was conducted in English and Spanish between Oct. 3 and 
Nov 7. The findings are focused on Catholics, Protestants and the unaffiliated. 
There were too few converts to or from Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and 
other religions to analyze their views, researchers said.

Both the original Religious Landscape Survey, and the new survey are snapshots 
in time, so it's not possible to tell whether America has always been a 
bubbling chemistry lab of religious change. But this is the first to spell out 
the switches in such detail, establishing a baseline to measure future changes, 
and potential problems.

Lugo says the findings present opportunities for churches, which have seen "a 
decrease in brand loyalty"- especially among "spiritual but not religious" 
Americans. "These are folks that are, in some sense, 'catchable.' "


Of U.S. adults who do not belong to their childhood faiths, the reason(s) they 
said were an important factor in their switch:

      Raised Catholic, now unaffiliated Raised Catholic, now Protestant  Raised 
Protestant, now unaffiliated Raised Protestant, now different Protestant faith 
Raised unaffiliated, now affiliated with a religion

      Just gradually drifted away from the religion 71 54 71 40

      Spiritual needs not being met 43  71 39 51 51

      Stopped believing in the religion's teachings 65  50 50 15

      Found a religion they liked more 10  70 11 58 46

      Unhappy with teachings about the Bible 29  43 36 23

      Dissatisfied with atmosphere at worship services 26 3 32 29 39

      Dissatisfied with clergy at congregation 18  27 25 36

Source: Pew Research Center

*Respondents were asked whether or not each item was an important reason for 
leaving their former religion and could answer "yes" to more than one reason.




Reply via email to