Monday, February 25, 2008

America's Religion: Convertism

An excerpt:

A major new survey presents perhaps the most detailed picture we've yet had of which religious groups Americans belong to. And its big message is: blink and they'll change. For the first time, a large-scale study has quantified what many experts suspect: there is a constant membership turnover among most American faiths. America's religious culture, which is best known for its high participation rates, may now be equally famous (or infamous) for what the new report dubs "churn...."

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

For some groups, their relatively steady number of adherents over the years hides a remarkable amount of coming and going. Simply counting Catholics since 1972,for example, you would get the impression that its population had remained fairly static - at about 25% of adult Americans (the current number is 23.9%). But the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.) But Catholicism has made up for the losses by adding converts (2.6% of the population) and, more significantly, enjoying an influx of new immigratns [sic], mostly Hispanic.

Read it all here.


  1. Dixie said...

    I attend a parish in a university town so I am surrounded by PhD thinking types. The joke in France is that France is the land of 1000 cheeses and 1 church while the US is the land of 1000 churches and 1 PhD economist friend says this isn't a bad thing for the faith in the US. He pointed out that in places where there is a state church or one common church (like France and Greece) attendance runs low...about 3% or so. But in the US...where there is no state's like the free market...and we have much higher church attendance comparatively speaking.

    If you have a large group of the population actually attending church...taking it isn't surprising that at least a portion of that group doesn't take what they have been given for granted but rather challenges, investigates, and attempts to authenticate their religious heritage.

    I wish that were the true explanation for the majority of the "convertism" identified in the article but in reality I suspect it is more related to individualism and the Burger King "have it your way" culture in the US.

    I am one of those who have turned my back on the faith of my fathers. I honestly don't think it is my American individualism and "doing it my way" drive. I'd like to think I fall into the first camp but if not...that's OK. I remain content and at peace with where I landed.

  2. -C said...

    Well,you can look it at it another way, Dixie - which is what I have done.

    I have not left the faith of my fathers, I have accepted the faith of my fathers.

  3. Peeshepig said...

    Great article and excellent comments!