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Looking for God PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 29 June 2009 23:06
Welcome Whispers readers. I'm delighted that the good news about Atlanta is getting out!

As I've been doing last minute preparation for our upcoming Making Disciples seminar here in beautiful Colorado Springs, I've been crunching the numbers of the new Pew study: Faith in Flux which came out in May.
The results have been fascinating and encouraging. If we have a mission rather than maintenance mindset.

The long and short of it is that huge numbers of Americans, perhaps 20 - 25% of the adult population, are in a state of conscious or unconscious spiritual transition and openness. They are spiritual seekers now or will be in the near future.

The downside: relying almost entirely upon the religious identity established by childhood catechesis doesn't work when the prevailing cultural winds are driving those raised in any kind of faith at all - or no faith - to re-evaluate their religious commitments during young adulthood. We live in a spiritual culture that rewards those who actively evangelize and penalizes those who assume that religious identity is steady state and that childhood enculturation is enough.

I need to make it clear that the criteria for the Pew study is not practice or sacramental status or whether or not one is formally listed as a member of the religious congregation - but how those answering regard themselves. When a person is considered "unaffiliated" in the Pew studies, it means that they no longer regard themselves as part of any organized religious body.

The basics:

1) 10.1% of American adults are former Catholics. 2.6% of Americans are "converts" to Catholicism. Nearly four times as many leave the Church as enter it.

2) 32% of those raised Catholic no longer regard themselves as Catholic. (Remember this is not about how many are baptized or attend Mass but how many regard themselves as Catholic).

3) The vast majority of Catholics who leave the faith do one of two things: become Protestant or "unaffiliated."
15% of cradle Catholics have become Protestant. Two thirds of those who become Protestant become evangelicals. 3% of cradle Catholics join a non- Christian faith. 14% of cradle Catholics become "unaffiliated".

4) The 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey probably under-estimated the amount and frequency of religious change among American adults. They had given a figure of 44% of US adults who were no longer part of the faith in which they were raised. For Faith in Flux, the Pew researchers recontacted many of the people they had interviewed originally to find out more about this remarkable pattern of religious change.

As a result, they realized that about 9% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood and then returned to it at some point. That means that approximately 53% of American adults have changed their religious affiliation at least once. Even when taking the margin of error into account, "as few as 47% and as many as 59% of U.S. adults have changed religious affiliation at least once." (Faith in Flux)

5) Many Americans change faith more than once. In fact, the majority of people who change their faith do so in a series of steps, not through a single decision. They are on a journey.

For instance, 62% of cradle Catholics wno now consider themselves "unaffiliated" have made two or more religious changes. 26% have changed religions three or more times.

54% of former Catholics who are now Protestants have changed religion two or more times. 21% have changed faiths three or more times.

And 53% of those who were raised in no faith at all but have chosen one as an adult have also changed religious affiliation two or more times. 21% of what might be called cradle "unaffiliated" have also changed religions three or more times.

6) Religious change begins early. 79% of those cradle Catholics who now consider themselves "unaffiliated" left the Church by age 23. 97% have done so by age 35. However, things are a bit different for Catholics who become Protestant. The majority also leave early although not in the same numbers (66% of Catholics who will eventually become Protestant leave by age 23).

But there is a fascinating gap between the time many Catholics leave the Church and the time they actually become Protestant. While 66% have left the Church by age 23, only 39% have become Protestant by age 23. 41% have converted to Protestantism by age 35. Another 20% do so after age 35.

7) There is a very large population of what can be called "hidden seekers", people on a spiritual journey who make life-changing transitions that fly under our normal ecclesial radar. This would include:

a. The majority of Americans raised without any faith at all will choose a faith as an adult. Cradle "unaffiliated" Americans who choose a religion as an adult make up 4% of our total population.

b. One third of those who have left a childhood faith are, in fact, open to joining another faith. They told Pew researchers that “they have not found the right religion yet.” This group would include 17.66% of American adults.

c) 71% of Catholics who leave and eventually become Protestant said they left because their spiritual needs weren't being met. During the gap between the time they leave and the time they commit to a Protestant faith, many are searching and spiritually open.

d) The Pew Faith in Flux study found that most people who are about to leave their childhood faith do not have a strong faith for one or two years before they actually leave. As Fr. Mike pointed out to me, that means that there is a host of vaguely dissatisfied Catholics and other religiously affiliated people who have not yet left the faith of their childhood but are ripe for evangelization. If we evangelize those still in the pews how, many of them will not became a statistic.

The upshot? Millions and millions of Americans are open to spiritual change right now. And million more will become so during the next year. Consciously or unconsciously, they are looking for good news. They are looking for God.

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