Friday, March 23, 2007

When do Christian kids leave the faith?


I have recently undertaken a study of Christian deconversion--why do people leave Christianity. In reading about the topic, I came across an interesting study. A group of Dutch researchers studied religious (and other) transitions among 1,000 people. 653 of these respondents were raised in a religious home, and of them 186 left their church. Among those who left, when did they do so?

Percentage that leave the church by age group (n=186)
Age, % leaving church
13-14, 3.2%
15-16, 12.4%
17-18, 18.3%
19-20, 21.5%
21-22, 8.1%
23-24, 8.6%
25-26, 9.7%
27-28, 3.8%
29-30, 3.2%
31-34, 1.6%
35-39, 2.7%
40-49, 2.2%
50+, 2.2%

As a summary
, 28% of their sample left the Christian church, and, those who left were most likely to do so in the high school and early college years. I suppose this provides justification to churches that emphasize high school and college programs.

I also noticed that this looks a lot like the standard age-crime curve. Maybe there is just one table that sociologists use, and they simply change the axis labels?

(Citation: Need, Ariana, and Nan Dirk De Graaf. 1996. European Sociological Review 12(1)87-99. Table 3.)

Technical note: I probably would have analyzed the data differently--equal age ranges + looking at hazard of leaving over time, not raw percentages. This approach may over emphasize leaving in youth... but still I think that it's story is basically right.

6 comments:

André said...

You say that you would have done the data differently. Does this mean that you will be doing the data differently in your own studies? I think it would be a good thing to look at. You could also look at "fringe Christians" which are those Christians that have not left the church, but have gone from being actively involved to merely being on the fringe of the church. What makes them move towards the outer edge of the church?
... Maybe I should do some research on this topic...

Corey said...

Brad.... Rod Stark has done some writing where he explains conversion to new religious movements as a product of anomic strain and the dissolution of bonds... (I believe he co-wrote some stuff with Travis Hirschi).

In 1965 John Lofland and Stark ("Becoming a World Saver" American Sociological Review, 30(6):862-875) argued that in this stage in the life course (college aged) is the most Anomic (for the Churched as well as unChurched) creating push & pull factors. Elsewhere (I don't have the reference on hand) Stark argues that this is the time when children leave home, either for college or for work, where the bonds of family and community start to wither.

If they are correct (which I think they are...) we can explain some of the variance you cite in terms of the "natural" or "life-course normal" erosion of bonds, coupled with an increase in plausible alternative belief structures.

My own experience of falling away from the faith came while enrolled at "Christian College." I was 500 miles from home, surrounded by others in a similar circumstance, and I found their saccharine, dogmatic theodicies to be repellent.

It's an interesting project.

Brad Wright said...

As for the data analysis, if I had their data, I would have used a different, and in my mind more appropriate statistic... no big deal really.

That's an interesting idea about being at the fringe of the church. I wonder if when people leave the church they first go to the fringe then out or straight out?

Brad Wright said...

Stark is certainly the heavy-hitter on this topic (and lots else on the sociology of religion). The life-course approach makes sense, and it would be my guess that that's the same time that conversions to Christianity most frequently happen.

All these things happen from age 15-25 and we spend the rest of our lives thinking about them...

inkaboutit said...

Earlier age children go to church because they are taken by their parents. So it is like they don’t have a choice. They start having a choice at the older ages of 15-25 where they had no choice before.

Ages 15-25 there is a lot of transition going on then. Some will leave the church they knew there whole life, leave there friends and move on to College with new friends. Maybe these new friends do not go to church.

Decision Magazine did a survey of high school students and result was that 78% of them felt like they were a failure as a Christian. If 78% high school students feel like a failure then maybe they give up trying to be a good Christian and just leave the church feeling like they failed in living up to what a Christian should be. Why did they feel like a failure?

What about sex. They are the ages of strongest sex drive. Also beginning of sex drive and sexual thinking. Some churches are anti-masturbation and since 95% of male and most all females masturbate, would this cause a young male or female who enjoy masturbation feel like they have failed to be a good Christian.

I have one story of a Mormon who committed suicide at 16 because he hated himself because he could not overcome masturbation and felt like a total failure to be a good Mormon. I also have heard these same feels from others and others also feel like committing suicide because the same reason. The Bible College I went to, the year before, a student went to a isolated island in the middle of the large river and chopped his hand off and bleed to death. Why would he chop his hand off? Masturbation, Matt 5:28-32?

If a person thinks masturbation is a sin or evil or bad and they enjoy it or has a strong sex drive, they may feel like a failure as a Christian. What if they understood that masturbation was not a sin, but what a wonderful gift of sexuality from God for them to enjoy. That is it 100% normal and very healthy with 50 health benefits, for them to enjoy. If they understood that masturbation is a gift from God and that most all great Godly man masturbate and God blessed them greatly and used them greatly maybe this would change their feeling about them enjoying masturbation and feel good about themselves.

Also Satan the liar and father of lies, is the accuser of the brethren. Satan loves guilt trips and feeling of guilt, failure, feeling ashamed of yourself are all lies Satan uses against people.

I heard at a Bill Gothard Seminar that the common fact with Atheist is that they all had sex out side of marriage. Why is this a common factor? Maybe it is related to sex guilt. No one can live with guilt. If the Church tells you that you are a sinner or you are guilty if you have sex out side of marriage and you do, then you may want to avoid church because the church make you feel guilt and you may want to have more sex outside of marriage and feel there is nothing wrong with it. So they stop going to church.

Summary

I feel all the above there is a common factor and it is sexuality. Shame and guilt over a person’s sexuality can cause people to feel like a total failures. Why would a person go to Church if the Church makes them feel guilty and a failure all the time. I even have hear of story about ministers leaving the ministry because they masturbated and felt like a failure, others maybe had sex with another person outside of marriage.

The problem is wrong church teaching about sexuality. God is very pro-nudist, very pro-sex and very pro-polygamy. Masturbation is a wonderful gift for all to enjoy. But the church teaches the opposite. They are anti-nudity, anti-sex, anti-polygamy and call masturbation a sin. This wrong teaching causes a lot of man make guilt and man made shame. It causes a normal healthy loving person to feel like they are a total failure as a Christian when they are not. Also this failure can cause great depression in some people. This may lead them to avoid Church and God altogether.

http://inkaboutit.homestead.com/index6.html

Anonymous said...

There is a battle going on that is not about flesh and blood, but about the souls of us all. When we seek the face of Jesus, we love Him, which then births love for each other and then the world. Kids want to be around people who love them. Lets focus on that...and they will be hungry for more of that...teaching them it is great to ask questions about this Jesus and challenge us along the way. Truth does not fear examination. love them and encourage them to "bring it." If you ever really see Jesus, you will love Him. Lets let them see Him.

I am not sure about all the masterbation talk...i think if it was against God it wouldn't be ommitted in Scripture...the problem with masterbation is the heart can learn to prefer uncompicated solitude...but God calls us into community and marriage and all that hard stuff. I agree with whomever pointed out that Satan is the accuser...he loves to make us feel guilty so we walk away. there are some great new books out on sex these days comparing our sexuality to our relationship with God...a place where we are totally vulnerable, known and loved...worth thinking about.