Time—Church-Shopping: Why Do Americans Change Faiths?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When Pew researchers set out last year to map the U.S.'s religious landscape with a groundbreaking survey of more than 35,000 people, they expected fairly straightforward answers to questions about individual religious affiliations. (The survey included more detailed questions about religious beliefs and practices than have been asked in past censuses; the 2010 census will not ask about religion at all.) What the Pew researchers didn't anticipate is that fully 44% of Americans have changed faiths at least once. Some converted from one religion or denomination to another; others grew up with no tradition only to adopt one as an adult; still others left their childhood faith and found themselves with no religious home.

"It was a phenomenon," says Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. "We needed to make greater sense of it." So the researchers followed up with more than 2,800 of the original respondents who had reported changing religious traditions and asked why they had decided to leave and/or join a faith.

The answers were so varied that analysts nearly ran out of codes to categorize them. "The U.S. has an unmatched religious dynamism," explains Lugo. "It's an open religious marketplace as well as a very competitive one. This is the supermarket cereal aisle." Without an established state religion, all faiths can freely exist in the U.S. but must compete for adherents in order to survive.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:01 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Well, I think a clarification of terms is needed here. This poll (and subsequent media coverage) keep saying over and over that Americans “change faiths.”

I think that can only be true if you change entire religions. From my reading of the polls, yes, people shift around in denominations a lot, but that is not a changing of faiths. We do live in a market driven culture.

Changing denominations to me does not classify and so this whole thing seems to be sensationalized.

April 30, 10:57 am | [comment link]
2. Harvey wrote:

#1 Arxher,  You are so right!!
1) Before I went into the US Navy - Southern baptist
2) During my service time - Met together with Nazarene, Baptist, Pentacostal, Episcopal, Church of Christ , and some Roman Catholics.
3) When I became a civilian again - Church of the Nazarene and back to Episcopal.

April 30, 1:07 pm | [comment link]
3. theroadback wrote:

Hello everyone,

First time poster, long time reader…and let me just say - this site, and the people who build and maintain it, have enormously help me clarify my spiritual status, and for that I’m eternally thankful. I’m not a huge poster, but I have some things to say at times.

I have some questions I hope my new friends can shed some light on. Briefly, my background…27, originally from Haddonfield, NJ, 3 years of college, but have not yet finished. Was at last reckoning a Judaic Studies major, but have been out of school for about 5 years now. I have always been a nosebleed Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, and have felt the inward call to ordained ministry since high school.

But this catholicism is tempered by my exceedingly strong conscience (VERY Law-oriented!) which has been whiplashed by, in alternating currents, Pietism and Anabaptist theology, and growing up in a Quaker town that has blue laws and Sunday shopping is tolerated, but not fed.

However, I’m now resident in St. Augustine, Fla and am trying to pay back student loans before figuring out how to pay for a BA. Working retail is a fine preparation for dealing with “people”, but it is also a rehearsal staged by Hell for my future…“life”, whatever that will be.

I have tried Trinity Episcopal downtown, and I feel I was treated very shabbily there; I have an eclectic ascetical theology and simply put, was made to feel ‘the Other’. A final thought: it seems like a Southern Baptist Church in Anglican clothing.

Since I must work nearly EVERY Sunday morning, when I can go I am at an LCMS church. The minister is very even handed and fair, and were it not for my Pietism, I might join them (LCMS thinks it is too ‘subjective’ and anyway, was formed as a reaction against Pietism, so that would be some dishonesty in my relationship with God to join there, I guess). The pastor says that for all my (out)Law-ness, I should go to an Evangelical Lutheran Synod church as they are very Law-oriented. But the high church part of me…would that be starved to nothingness? I am also perhaps persona non grata politically as I’m Socialist BECAUSE of my spritual beliefs….anglocatholic socialism, what a powerful witness to me!

I though, disdain politics and quietly prefer theology though I do vote (Socialist) because democracy is choice. But I’m no Marxist, I don’t want my freedom of conscience getting doctrinaired by the injection of Communism’s economic theories.

What I mean to say is I am finding many answers is a conservative Lutheran theological context, but I am too maverick and probably too socially ‘liberal’ for the conservative Synods. At times, I feel disloyal to TEC, which is the church where I came to know Christ, and felt the inward call.

I know, I know, the institution….and yet…

I for one, LIKE how the ELCA brought all of its inter-synodical conflicts into a single body; perhaps I can wrestle with my call to ministry there, have my Pietism, AND my evangelical Catholicism?

I like the ELCA church here, apparently it was formed as an AELC church some years ago, which to my knowledge was Seminex folks and liberal Missouri Synod benefactors? I think I am turning into a Lutheran…..?

The Episcopal Church has nasty politics, what can I say and the Dio FLA where I am techinically resident, sends only to VTS, U of South, and Trinity. And with the caveat in TEC that go goto seminary without the Bishop’s approval is practically a sin against the holy spirit..jeez….I have not felt fed in the Calvinist/Arminian wing of low church TEC..which this dio seems to foster..almost reactionary from what I can tell.

Thanks for enduring this, but it’s hard to not write an essay. So basically in my head, could I goto Nashotah House and then be ordained in the ELCA? Or something….but also Wartburg seminary looks nice as it was helped in its early days by JKW Lohe, who was LCMS…any remnant of that spirit there? Also LTSP, to be close to home….

I dunno, my Anglicanism is starving due to…high expectations?

I would like some feedback, and…charity..as I seek advice on this. I would particularly be interested in talking to brian_of_maryland, as he appears to be an extroadinary individual.

So, whew…a lot to digest, I know, but all the same….I might end up becoming Amish!

How I see churchly things: A hard splintery colonial style oak table, unfinished of course, with a lace doily runner thingy as the only accessory, with an open bible to Lamentations on a stand, raging thunderstorm outside, with a minister dressed all in black in front of the table hurling invectives at me. 

As for generic evangelicalism, worshipping in a converted Home Depot and following the bouncing ball Powepoint hymns almost turned me atheist in college, my frosh year was under SBC auspices (Palm Beach Atlantic in West Palm), which left me with little learning and a violation of inner feelings which is hard to forgive. My proudest moment was denouncing a so-called American Free Enterprise day chapel where the CEO of Amway got down on the ground and worshipped MONEY…funny that, because I literally whispered my disapproval to a friend, and aftwards was accosted by some SBC head office bureaucrat in a poleyster suit who said my…um, “attitude” was not in keeping with the mission of the school. He had no answer to the fact that I had clearly been informed on…there’s your Stalinist Christianity that passes for enlightenment. I left for FAU Boca and found refuge in Jewish Studies until I couldn’t pay for it anymore.

Here I stand?

Thanks. -Ryan in St. Augustine…a little drinking town with a fishing problem

April 30, 2:57 pm | [comment link]
4. Frances S Scott wrote:

I read with great interest your whole comment!  I’ve been “confirmed” in the LCMS (1950), the Christian Reformed (1973), and the Episcopal (1986) churches.  No change in basic beliefs, just changes in geographical location and taking advantage of what was available.
My advice to you is that you remember that the church is a human institution and is, therefore, flawed.  There is no “perfect” denomination and if there were, you would not be allowed to join on the basis of you own imperfections.  On the other hand, The Church is made up all those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and they are know to Him.  It is perfect and invisible…  Find a denomination you can live with temporarily and go for it!  Be willing to commit for the present and leave the future up to God.  He will lead you where He wants you to go, yours is to follow.
God bless you as you seek His will in this.  Frances Scott

May 1, 2:15 pm | [comment link]
5. Larry Morse wrote:

T hey change churches and faiths because they are looking for something that demands little of them and gives great rewards in return. In short, when it becomes clear that commitment is essential, primary, indelible, then it’s time to go church shopping again. Indeed, our statistical Americans change churches the way they get married - ready for anything except commitment. Larry

May 2, 9:30 am | [comment link]
6. theroadback wrote:

Frances, thank you for your kind words. I don’t write my “testimonies” without much shame.  It’s gotten to the point with my ACism that I don’t “deserve” that kind of experience anymore, and I wonder if God “likes” all that ritual. I am happy to report that I have no assurance of my salvation (sic) - the LCMS pastor asked me “Ryan, when God looks at you, what does he see?” “A sinner” “No, he sees Christ”. That didn’t comfort me very much. The elenchtical
(convicting) use of the Law keeps me humble.

I suppose my Lutheralia is sentimental…the whole dreary Scandinavian pietism…and I am studying the Mennonitism.

May 2, 12:56 pm | [comment link]
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