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.

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Relative Unimportance of Non-Christians

Part 4 in a series on deconversion.

Going into this study of deconversion, I figured that interactions and relationships with non-Christians would be an important cause for people leaving. After, we’re sociologists, and we study how peer and friend relationships affect so many things.

However, in the narratives themselves, there were surprisingly few references to non-Christians leading the writers away from faith. We counted only eight in the fifty testimonies that we read. For example, one writer had a non-Christian friend loan him a book arguing against Christianity. Another had a family member who advocated against Christianity.

Far more commonly, non-Christians were mentioned as supporting the writers’ decisions after they had left Christianity. For example, the website from which we drew the narratives endorsed and supported the decisions of former Christians, but it did not seem to initially bring about these decisions.

As such, the narrative writers rarely described individuals outside of the church as helping bring about their deconversion. Rather, they described new relationships with non-Christians (exemplified by their participation in an online community for deconverts) as the consequence, not cause, of changes in their beliefs.

Why might non-Christians be mostly absent from these deconversion stories? One answer might be the insular social networks of some Christians, for several writers spoke of having had relatively few interactions or relationships with non-Christians. For example, a woman raised in the church wrote that she did not even know what the word “atheist” meant until she was in her twenties.

Generally speaking, then, [Read more...]

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Problem of Responding Badly to Doubt

Part 3 in a series on deconversion

Does Christians’ bad behavior cause people to leave the faith? When we started this research project deconversion, I assumed that the most frequently-referenced cause would be Christians’ misbehavior—something along the lines of “I left the Church because Christians don’t act like Christians.” After all, this “Christians don’t act like Christians” narrative is extremely popular among Christian writers.

A majority (42 out of 50) of the deconverts that we studied did mention frustration with the Christians they knew, but it usually wasn’t misbehavior, per se, rather it was something that I never would have guessed: Frustration with how their fellow Christians reacted to their doubts.

The way that Christians react to the doubts of others can, inadvertently, amplify existing doubt. Many of the writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.

For example, a former Southern Baptist, rather harshly, identified this tendency among the Christians that he had known: [Read more...]

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? Breaking-up with a God Who Failed Them

Part 2 in a series on deconversion.

In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.

God’s perceived failure took various forms, most of which fall under the general heading of “unanswered prayers.”

One way that people felt that God had failed them happened when He did not respond to requests for help during difficult times. A young man raised in a Baptist church epitomized this feeling of failure when he wrote about God not answering his prayers about family difficulties. He wrote: “The first time I questioned the faith was when my grandmother shriveled up in front of me for 6 month’s due to cancer. I was 13 & my mother & father [were] getting a divorce. My father told me I should have been aborted. I prayed to God but nothing fails like prayers.”

Likewise, a woman raised in a Methodist household described her [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X