Thursday, October 21, 2010
Why do Catholics leave the Church? Is the typical person who exits a long time member who has finally become fed up with the Church’s views on sex, women, reproduction etc? According a report by the Pew Forum (link to full report can be found at this link (the data here comes from the full report), it turns out that those who leave the Church typically leave it at an early age. Of those who have left, the overwhelming majority become Protestant or become unaffiliated in relatively equal numbers. About 9% join other faiths. Surprisingly (at least to me), of those who become Protestants, 2/3 join evangelical churches (10% of that group are black Protestant churches); only 1/3 join mainline Protestant churches. (The view that evangelical churches are growing is mistaken. Those churches stopped growing 20 years ago according to Putnam and Campbell).
I say they left at an early age because only 20% of those who became unaffiliated and 34% who became Protestants left after reaching age 24 (though those over the age of 24 exiting involve large numbers of people). In terms of why Catholics leave, there are many reasons (including new marriages, more preferable types of services, ministers they liked more, felt called by God etc), but, as the Pew Forum explains, former Catholics in large numbers say they gradually drifted away and “Majorities of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated also cite having stopped believing in Catholicism’s teachings overall (65%) or dissatisfaction with church teachings about abortion and homosexuality (56%) and almost half (48%) cite dissatisfaction with church teachings about birth control, as reasons for leaving Catholicism.” The treatment of women was mentioned as a factor by 39%. For those who become Protestant, only 16% cited disagreement with birth control teachings and 23% say they differed with the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality. Of those who joined mainline churches, however, these factors, of course, played a larger role. (Of those who joined evangelical churches, unhappiness was expressed about the Church’s failure to read the Bible in a more literal way).
I would like to see the Church change its position on many of these issues, but I do not contend that doing so would be a means of member retention. If the Church changed its stance on issues such as these it would continue to lose members – just different members for different religious/ethical reasons.
The most interesting statistic about Protestant switching is this: only 15% of Protestants say they left their former denomination because they stopped believing in its teachings. For example, only 14% cited teachings about abortion or homosexuality as a reason. Switching by Protestants seemed to be a search for a different religious community that would for one reason or another (the minister, the style of worship, a mixed marriage, etc.) provide greater spiritual fulfilment.