This will be the first of a couple posts on the Pew Survey. 

The Pew Forum has completed a vast survey of the American Religious Landscape.  They released their first report last week, you might have seen some of the headlines.  “Ex-Catholics third largest religious group in America”, “Protestants are barely the majority.”  Many of these statements are misleading.  Here’s a table of the data for the major religious groups in America.

  Childhood Present Entering Leaving
Catholic 31.4 23.9 2.6 10.1
Baptist 20.9 17.2 4.5 8.3
Methodist 8.3 6.2 2.4 4.4
Nothing 6.6 12.1 9.6 4.1
Lutheran 5.5 4.6 1.4 2.3
Pentecostal 3.9 4.4 2.6 2
Presbyterian 3.4 2.7 1.3 2
Protestant non spec 3.4 4.9 3.6 2.1
Restorationist 2.3 2.1 1 1.2
Jewish 1.9 1.7 0.3 0.5
Mormon 1.8 1.7 0.4 0.5
Anglican 1.8 1.5 0.7 1
Non Denom 1.5 4.5 3.9 0.8
Congregationalist 0.8 0.8 0.4 0.5
Holiness 0.8 1.2 0.7 0.5
Atheist 0.5 1.6 1.4 0.3
Adventist 0.4 0.5 0.3 0.2
Buddhist 0.4 0.7 0.5 0.2

Most of the new reports focused on the raw numbers.  Catholics lost a lot of members.  Protestants are in net decline, almost entirely attributable to the mainline churches losses.  A better way to look at the numbers is to compare by percent lost and gained.  When you do that you see some interesting things.

While 10% of the American population is ex-Catholics, Catholics retain members (32%) better than all but two religious traditions.  Only Jews and Mormons retain members better (at 26% and 28% respectively).  Baptists are the next religious group at 40% and Lutherans lose 42%.  No other major religious group loses less than 50% of their members.  So in fact, although our youth catechesis programs were atrocious in the 70’s and 80’s they were not the primary cause of our net loss.

You could look at the number of people entering the Catholic faith and say that the number of Catholic converts easily outnumbers the entire Anglican/Episcopalian church.  But that would be to miss the point again.  In looking at the converts as a percentage of each church the Catholic church has been abysmal.  Catholic converts make up 11% of the members in the church.  To give you some perspective Jewish converts make up 18% of their church (that’s a religion that doesn’t seek to evangelize).  The next two groups were Mormons at 24% and Baptists at 26%.  Every other religion/denomination was over 30%.

What is clear from these numbers is that we live in a religious marketplace, this is especially true of Protestants.  Most Protestant denominations lose half of their members from childhood to adulthood but gain back most of the that number in adult conversions.  Mormons, Jews, and Catholics still have some stickiness to their religions but also have trouble bringing new members in.  For Jews this makes sense because of the ethnic nature of their religion and the fact that they do not proselytize.  For Mormons and Catholics this is surprising and troubling.  Especially for Catholics since our convert rate is so poor.  In my next post I will talk about why this may be happening and what we could do.