Research shows 1 in 6 US Christians changed their religious affiliation over a four-year span, with nondenominational worshipers leading the way.
Much of the switching in religious identity in the United States over the past several years occurred among the “nones,” specifically Americans who identify as agnostic or as “nothing in particular.” But the Christian landscape hasn’t remained static in the meantime.
Though academics have long wondered whether the US will follow the secularizing trend found in most of Europe, the greatest shifts among believers have occurred within Christianity, not away from it.
The three-wave Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES)—which surveyed the same individuals in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and started with 9,500 respondents—reveals how few Catholics and Protestants have changed affiliations and how many have moved from one denomination (or nondenomination) to another.
During this period, Catholics remained pretty attached to their tradition; they were about half as likely as Americans on average to change their affiliation: 8.8 percent vs. 18.9 percent. When Catholics do switch, they largely shift toward having no faith, with 6.4 percent switching to agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular.”
For Catholics, transitioning to another religious tradition is extremely rare. Of the 2,112 Catholics in the CCES sample, fewer than 50 left: 39 became Protestants, 6 became Orthodox Christians, and 3 became Buddhists.
The Catholic sample declined by 1 percent between 2010 and 2014, though this does not suggest a decline in Catholicism as a whole. (ThIS data only includes individuals who switch into or out of Catholicism as adults, and excludes birth or death rates, which also have a tremendous impact on the total number of adherents.)
Protestants—the largest religious tradition in …