The CNN.com headline caught my eye: "Americans not losing their religion, but changing it often."
The CNN.com headline caught my eye: "Americans not losing their religion, but changing it often." The lead story was of Ingrid Case, a 41 year old freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis, who grew up an altar girl (acolyte) in her Episcopalian church. But after college, she drifted away, uncomfortable with her church's theology, eventually meeting and falling in love with a man who himself was searching for religion. Eventually the two of them joined the Society of Friends and became Quakers. She told the reporter, "It wasn’t so much 'You people stink and I'm out of here,' as 'I like this better and this is what I want to do.'" (http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/27/changing.religion.study/index.html)
Turns out she's not alone. According to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life "more than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives. . . . Just under five in 10—47%—have never changed faith." According to Gregory Smith, research fellow at Pew, "You’re seeing the free market at work. If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it." Such changing can be the result of moving to a new community, marrying someone of a different faith, not liking their minister or liking another pastor more. "The reasons people change are as diverse as the religious landscape itself," he said. And interestingly, factors you'd think would lead people to change religions, actually don't have much impact—such as sex abuse scandals in the church or science "disproving" religion, etc. Many reported that like Ingrid they simply drifted away.
On the other hand, "more than half the people who are raised unaffiliated are now affiliated. More than half [of those people] say they joined their current faith in part because they felt called by God to do so." So while people who grew up in the church may leave it, it is encouraging to be reminded that people who grew up with no church at all may eventually join it. Flux obviously flows both directions.
But the statistic that caught my eye was this one: "Most people who switch religions do so before they are 24." As pastor of a university community where so many are under that age, I wonder how strong the forces of change are within the young adults and teenagers who occupy our pews or who may never have at all.
No wonder the jaded and aged king, brooding over his disappointing life, ended his soliloquy with the sage counsel: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Given the compelling persuasion to change when we are young, isn't it the better part of wisdom to assist our young in defending their faith and securing their beliefs? And for those young with no faith at all (yet), aren't we who have found convincing reason to believe under moral obligation to point them to the very God and Savior we have learned to trust? After all, change is a two-way street. And with the right directions, a U-turn can be straight toward God.