If People Leave the Faith, When Do They Do It?

I have recently undertaken a study of Christian deconversion–why do people leave Christianity. In reading about the topic, I came across an interesting study. A group of Dutch researchers studied religious (and other) transitions among 1,000 people. 653 of these respondents were raised in a religious home, and of them 186 left their church. Among those who left, when did they do so?
Percentage that leave the church by age group (n=186)

Age, % leaving church
13-14, 3.2%
15-16, 12.4%
17-18, 18.3%
19-20, 21.5%
21-22, 8.1%
23-24, 8.6%
25-26, 9.7%
27-28, 3.8%
29-30, 3.2%
31-34, 1.6%
35-39, 2.7%
40-49, 2.2%
50+, 2.2%

As a summary, 28% of their sample left the Christian church, and, those who left were most likely to do so in the high school and early college years. I suppose this provides justification to churches that emphasize high school and college programs.

(Citation: Need, Ariana, and Nan Dirk De Graaf. 1996. European Sociological Review
12(1)87-99. Table 3.)

Technical note: I probably would have analyzed the data differently–equal age ranges + looking at hazard of leaving over time, not raw percentages. This approach may over emphasize leaving in youth… but still I think that it’s story is basically right.

  • Jay Egenes

    Interesting. Maybe why we always have this fear that “the church is losing the youth”.

    The mainline churches used to assume that people would disappear for awhile, then come back when they got married. It appears that for the last 30 or more years, if they’ve been coming back to “church,” they’re not coming back to the mainline churches.

    How many people who leave in that 15-20 or 21-26 age range come back? If they do, when and why? How likely are they to end up in the same tradition they left?

    • Karen GRace Hasegawa

      I think that is the important part why there is losing a lot of youth!!!

  • Karen GRace Hasegawa

    I thought that it is a big descision leaving and I think it will be so hard to move out!!!


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