Anne Rice is not alone. She shares a spiritual profile with nearly 60 million other adults nationwide. In the Barna study, the matter of faith switching was explored in several ways. First, respondents identified their childhood faith, if any, and then were asked to list their current faith allegiance. A comparison of the two answers showed that nearly one-quarter of adults (23%) had moved from one faith or faith tradition to another. This definition of faith change included those who switched from Catholic to Protestant and vice versa, but did not include those who changed from one Protestant denomination to another within the Protestant tradition. Overall, an additional 12% of adults had shifted affiliations but had not altered their Protestant orientation.
A second survey approach mirrored the findings of major faith change. Respondents to the same study were also asked if they had ever “changed to a different faith or significantly changed their faith views” or if they were “the same faith today as they were as a child.” Once again, about one-quarter of Americans (26%) said they had changed faith. Based on the research profile, these types of individuals were more likely than average to be women, divorced adults, residents of the Western states, atheists or agnostics, unchurched, and political independents.
The most common type of spiritual shift was from those who were Christian, Protestant or Catholic in childhood to those who currently report being atheist, agnostic or some other faith. In total, this group represents about one out of every eight adults (12%), a category that might be described as ex-Christians.
Converts to Christianity (those converting from another faith or from non-belief as a child to the Christian faith as an adult) represent 3% of the population. About twice as many (7%) moved from Protestant to Catholic or from Catholic to Protestant. Another 2% of adults were no longer the same as their childhood faith but did not fit into any of these three categories.
Why People Change
The survey also explored the top-of-mind reasons why people change faiths. The most common reasons for moving away from Christianity included life experiences, such as gaining new knowledge or education; feeling disillusioned with church and religion; feeling the church is hypocritical; having negative experiences in churches; being in disagreement with Christianity about specific issues such as homosexuality, abortion or birth control; feeling the church is too authoritarian; wanting to express their faith outside of church; and searching for a new faith or wanting to experience other religions.
Among those who were shifting toward Christianity, the most common motivations were going through difficult life events (such as divorce, a health crisis or death of a loved one); getting older and seeing life differently; wanting to connect with a church and grow spiritually; discovering Christ; or wanting to know what was in the Bible.