Americans aren’t losing their religion; their changing their religion…a lot. I’m not sure if you caught the article about this at cnn.com on Monday, but if you didn’t, let me share some of it with you.
More than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives, a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. And there is no discernible pattern to the change, just “a free for all,” one of the lead researchers told CNN. “You’re seeing the free market at work,” said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. “If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it.”
Many people switch because they move to a new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he said. Some don’t like their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better. And many people list more than one reason for changing, Smith said. “The reasons people change religions are as diverse as the religious landscape itself,” he told CNN by phone.
Some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion – such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science “disproves” religion – actually play a very small role, the study suggests. “I’ve been struck by the very large number across all the different groups who say they just gradually drifted away. Not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making that happens at a specific point in time,” Smith said.
The number of people who have changed religion is much higher than previously thought, the new report suggests. A Pew Forum study released last year concluded that just over one in four Americans had switched. More than four in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion they were brought up in, while about one in 10 changed religion, then went back to the one they left, the study found. Just under five in 10 – 47 percent – have never changed faith. Some have switched more than once, and a small number have changed three times or more, according to the study.
The survey supported a study released last month in that it found about 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. The American Religious Identification Survey, from Trinity College in Connecticut, found the number to be about 15 percent. But Smith warned against labeling those people “secular.” “Upwards of one-third of newly unaffiliated people say they just haven’t found the right religion yet,” Smith said. And many people who had no religion as children later join one, he said.
“More than half the people who are raised unaffiliated are now affiliated,” he said. “More than half [of those people] say they joined their current faith in part because they felt called by God to do so. Just because a person is part of a particular group at this point in time, or a part of no religion, doesn’t mean they are going to stay that way forever,” said Smith.Most people who switch religions do so before they are 24, combined with the finding that older people as well as younger people have changed, suggests to Smith that the trend has been going on for some time, he said. “If I’m 65 and I changed religion at 24, I changed 40 years ago,” he pointed out. “It’s not a new phenomenon.”
Not sure what all of this means for the local church, but I should would like to hear what you think.