|Do Americans Change Faiths?|
August 16, 2010
When author Anne Rice recently “quit Christianity” on her Facebook page, she lit up the blogosphere and sparked interest among media. Though the novelist announced that this time she was quitting “in the name of Christ,” her previous journey away from – and back to – the Christian faith had been well chronicled.
Just how common is this type of experience for Americans? How many Americans change faiths? A multi-year study conducted by the Barna Group explores the percentage of Americans who report shifting to a different faith or significantly changing their faith views during their life.
A second survey approach mirrored the findings of major faith change. Respondents to the same study were also asked if they had ever “changed to a different faith or significantly changed their faith views” or if they were “the same faith today as they were as a child.” Once again, about one-quarter of Americans (26%) said they had changed faith. Based on the research profile, these types of individuals were more likely than average to be women, divorced adults, residents of the Western states, atheists or agnostics, unchurched, and political independents.
Converts to Christianity (those converting from another faith or from non-belief as a child to the Christian faith as an adult) represent 3% of the population. About twice as many (7%) moved from Protestant to Catholic or from Catholic to Protestant. Another 2% of adults were no longer the same as their childhood faith but did not fit into any of these three categories.
Why People Change
Among those who were shifting toward Christianity, the most common motivations were going through difficult life events (such as divorce, a health crisis or death of a loved one); getting older and seeing life differently; wanting to connect with a church and grow spiritually; discovering Christ; or wanting to know what was in the Bible.
Age and Change
One-third of those who experienced a significant faith shift did so during their twenties and another one-third did so before age 20. In total, two-thirds of people who had a major faith change experienced that outcome before the age of 30 (68%). In fact, among respondents over 40, only 5% of them reported making a major shift in their religious affiliation after the age of 40.
Kinnaman, the president of Barna Group, also indicated that despite the fluctuations of faith among millions of Americans, “the study underscores that the spiritual allegiances of childhood are remarkably sustainable in our society. Nearly three out of every four American adults said they are the same religious faith today as they were during their childhood. That means the most common faith journey that people take is to form spiritual commitments as children and teenagers that typically last for the duration of their life.”
About the Research
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.
© Barna Group 2010.
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