For a generation we’ve been told that we should target families in evangelism. They bring stability, and children, and money.
But they’re also part of a cohort that is unlikely to change their affiliation. Barna has an interesting report out, Do Americans Change Faiths? The first reality is that people are leaving Christianity faster than they are coming in.
“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.”
“Most of the people who have made these changes did so as a teenager or young adult. The study discovered that the median age at the time they changed faiths or significantly altered their faith perspective was 22.
“One-third of those who experienced a significant faith shift did so during their twenties and another one-third did so before age 20. In total, two-thirds of people who had a major faith change experienced that outcome before the age of 30 (68%). In fact, among respondents over 40, only 5% of them reported making a major shift in their religious affiliation after the age of 40.
The Amish, meanwhile, grew 10% in two years–not by evangelism, but simply by having children and retaining them.
So youth and young adulthood is a critical time. It is the time people are most likely to leave their faith–and the time they are most likely to join one. Oh, those who are middle aged are indeed stable–but that stability also means they are not likely to change their lifestyle, beliefs, and routines.