New Survey Studies Why People Change Religious Affiliation

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A new survey has found that 10 percent of America’s estimated 230 million adults are former Catholics, while 2.6% of American adults are converts to Catholicism. Thus there are roughly 4 adult Americans who have left the faith for every 1 who has entered the Church.

“Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” is a follow-up to the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007 and released in 2008, and is based on over 2,800 callback interviews with members of the largest segments of the population that have changed religious affiliation.

The poll results offer a fuller picture of the “churn” within religion in America, where about half of adults have changed religious affiliation at least once in their life.

Key findings include:

• Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once.

• Many people who have left a religion to become unaffiliated, the group that has grown the most from religious switching, say they did so in part because they stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood faith. Many also cite disillusionment with religious people and institutions as reasons for becoming unaffiliated.

• Many people who have left the Catholic Church say they did so because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings. This is true for half of Catholics who have become Protestant as well as two-thirds of Catholics who have become unaffiliated. Many fewer say they left because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

• In contrast with other groups, Americans who have switched from one Protestant denominational family (e.g., Baptist, Methodist) to another tend to do so because of changes in life circumstances, such as marriage or moving to a new community.

The report also found that “Catholicism’s retention rate of childhood members (68%) is far greater than the retention rate of the unaffiliated and is comparable with or better than the retention rates of other religious groups.”


To read the full report, visit


© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace.

Comments are closed.