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The Statistics

The statistics on deconversion are stunning.

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Among websites advocating atheism on the Internet, there exists a large number dedicated to cataloging deconversion stories of former Christians who now self-identify as atheists. This may surprise you but these testimonies number in the tens of thousands and they are increasing in size. Moreover, the testimonies range from those new to the faith and who leave it soon after, to former pastors, former missionaries, and former seminary professors.


In the United States the number of individuals who identify as having no religion is growing and growing quite significantly.[1] The “nones” as they are referred to don’t identify with any religion. They may be agnostic, atheists, or merely individuals who do not subscribe to any particular religious faith. For some, the lack of religious affiliation is the result of being raised in homes without any religious commitments. For others, however, it’s due to a conscious decision to leave the religion they once adhered to. It’s interesting to note that as the number of “nones” go up, the numbers of Christians decrease. In fact, those once committed to following Jesus are deconverting in record numbers and at record rates.[2] In a 2015, CNN article Greg Smith, the Pew Research Center associate director of religion research commented that "We've known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades. But the pace at which they've continued to grow is really astounding."[3] Let me give you a whistle-stop tour of the statistics as they relate to faith exit over the last 18 years.


In 2001, the Southern Baptist Convention reported they were losing between 70-88 percent of their youth after their freshman year in college.[4] At the same time, 70 percent of SBC teenagers involved in church youth groups stopped attending church within two years of their high school graduation.[5]The following year the SBC also reported that 88 percent of children in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18.[6]


The Barna Group announced in 2006, that 61 percent of young adults who were involved in church during their teen years were now spiritually disengaged.[7] Supporting Barna’s findings a 2007, Assemblies of God study reported that between 50 percent and 67 percent of Assemblies of God, young people who attend a non-Christian public or private university will have left the faith four years after entering college.[8] A similar study from LifeWay Research that came out that same year claimed that 70 percent of students lose their faith in college, and of those only 35  percent eventually return.[9]


In May 2009, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, presented research that claimed that young Americans are leaving religion at five to six times the historic rate. They also noted that the percentage of young Americans who identify as having no religion is between 30 to 40 percent, up from 5 to 10 percent only a generation ago.[10] That same year the Fuller Youth Institute’s study, The College Transition Project discovered that current data seems “to suggest that about 40-50 percent of students in youth groups struggle in their faith after graduation.”[11]


The 2010, UCLA study “Spirituality in Higher Education”, found that only 29 percent of college students regularly attended church after their junior year, down from 52 percent the year before they entered college.[12] A second UCLA study, “The College Student Survey," asked students to indicate their present religious commitment. Researchers then compared the responses of freshmen who checked the "born again" category with the answers they gave four years later when they were seniors. What they found was shocking. On some campuses as high as 59 percent of students no longer describe themselves as "born again."[13]


Given what we know regarding the loss of faith among American young people, it will come as no surprise that America’s Class of 2018, cares less about their religious identity than any previous college freshman class in the last 40 years. A third study by UCLA found that students across the U.S. are dissociating themselves from religion in record numbers. “The American Freshman” study reveals that nearly 28 percent of the 2014, incoming college freshmen do not identify with any religious faith. That is a sharp increase from 1971 when only 16 percent of freshmen said they did not identify with a specific religion.[14] In 2015, The Pew Research Center conducted a study entitled “Choosing a New Church or House of Worship”, wherein they asked participants to identify the criteria by which they choose their place of worship. Interestingly the survey revealed that “Roughly eight-in-ten religious “nones” say they were raised with a religious affiliation.”[15] This of course means that nearly 80 percent of “nones” surveyed were at one time in a faith community before jettisoning it. In a 2016 survey ominously titled “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion – and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back”, researchers at the Public Religious Research Institute concluded the following.[16] Nearly 40 percent of young adults aged 18 – 29 are religiously unaffiliated. That is nearly four times as likely as young adults only one generation ago. More troubling is the finding that 79 percent of young adults 18 – 29 who leave the faith and identify as a “none” do so during their teenage years. Those of previous generations did so much later. For example, those over 65 years of age who left their faith during their teen years numbered only 38 percent. The stunning takeaway of the report is as follows: “Today, one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group in the U.S.”[17] Finally, the 2019, General Social Survey discovered that Americans with “no religion” now account for about 23.1 percent of the population. That is up from 21.6 percent just three years earlier. Over that same period, individuals identifying as evangelicals dropped slightly from 23.9 percent to 22.5 percent of Americans. What this means is that statistically the two groups are tied. According to one commentator the “vast majority” of the “nones” surveyed “are ex-Christians, and most are under the age of 35.[18]


More studies could have been included but I trust they are not needed. It is indisputable, nonbelief in the United States is on the rise and part of that is because the number of Christians leaving their faith is increasing. And at present, there are no signs of it slowing down. Deconversion is on the rise.


[1] The Pew Survey of 2014 reported that 22.8 percent of the population identified as having no religious affiliation up from 16.1 percent in 2007. 33 percent of those said they do not believe in God and nearly 40 percent said that religion has no importance to them at all. Between 2007 and 2014 the percentage of those who identified as atheists nearly doubled while the numbers of Christians dropped 7.8 percent (Protestants, Catholics and Mainline)

[2] Dyck, Drew. Generation Ex-Christian:Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith and How to Bring Them Back. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2010.)

[3]  Burke, Daniel. Millennials Leaving Church in Droves, Study Says. (CNN. Cable News Network, May 14, 2015),

[4] Southern Baptist Convention - 2002 SBC Annual Meeting Newsroom. Accessed February 5, 2020.

[5] Pinckney We Are Losing Our Children. Last modified February 5,, 2019,.

[6] “Family Life Council Says It's Time to Bring Family Back to Life.” SBC Newsroom. January 2, 2002..

[7] “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years.” Barna Group, September 11, 2006.

[8] Kitsriter. “Is the Lower Cost Worth the Higher Price?” General Council Assemblies of God. Accessed February 4,, 2017, Colleges.

[9] “Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church.” LifeWay Research, July 7, 2008,

[10] Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian.

[11] “Sticky College Campuses.” Fuller Youth Institute, December 12, 2011,

[12] “Spirituality in Higher Education.” College Spirituality Experience. UCLA, 2010,

[13] J.H. Pryor, et al., The American Freshman: Forty-Year Trends. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2007.

[14] Eagan, et al., "American freshman: National norms fall 2014." Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA  (2014).

[15] “Choosing a New Church or House of Worship.” Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, December 31, 2019,

[16] “Exodus: Why Americans Are Leaving Religion-and Why They're Unlikely to Come Back.” PRRI. Accessed February 6, 2020.

[17] Ibid. Emphasis mine. 

[18] Warner Wallace. “Young Christians Are Leaving the Church – Here's Why.” Fox News. FOX News Network, September 8, 2018,

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