There is a bit of a silver lining- it’s a decent silver lining for Protestants, not as big for Catholics. There are quite a few people who have left church behind, and many of them are even raising their kids without any churchgoing habits from the youngest possible age. However, when this happens, the rate of retention for the unaffiliated is not that good.
Among those who are raised unaffiliated, the rate of retention is less than 50%. Which is to say, only 46% of those raised unaffiliated are still unaffiliated as adults. Protestants and Catholics have much higher rates of retention- 68% of cradle Catholics are still Catholic, and 83% of cradle Catholics are some type of Christian who goes to church. 52% of those raised Protestant still belong to the specific type of Protestant church they were raised in, 80% are still some type of Protestant although much of that reflects a shift from Mainline to Evangelical, and exactly 83% of those raised Protestant are still some type of churchgoing Christian as an adult. An 83% churchgoing retention rate across the board is really quite good, especially compared to the 46% retention rate of those raised unaffiliated.
Now, with that being said, those raised Catholic and Protestant do wind up being unaffiliated with religion at rates of 14% and 13%, respectfully, and these rates are elevated significantly from where they’ve been in the past. But if this is to be what our future looks like, Protestants can look to some more comparative data that is fairly encouraging- 39% of those raised unaffiliated are now Protestant, and 22 of those percentage points go to Evangelicals, 13 to Mainline and 4 to historically black churches. Again, comparatively speaking and for the moment ignoring the relative size of the groups, I am very encouraged to see that 39% of those raised unaffiliated are becoming Protestants as adults. A loss rate of 13% is not quite what we want to see, but the percentage of those raised unaffiliated who become Protestant is three times greater. If these numbers hold up over time, the conversion numbers indicating who’s coming and going should be quite favorable as other factors stabilize a bit.
The relative percentages are not as good for Catholics, I’m afraid. The extent of your silver lining is a much higher rate of retention, 68% stay Catholic and 83% stay Christian whereas only 46% of those raised unaffiliated remain so. However, when you look at how many cradle Catholics become unaffiliated, that figure is 14%. By comparison, 6% of those raised unaffiliated are now Catholic. So basically, compared to cradle Catholics, those who are raised unaffiliated are not likely to be retained as such- but they also aren’t all that likely to become Catholic, those who do become affiliated tend to do so elsewhere, mostly as Protestants.
Sources. pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux2/ (chart at the bottom)
pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux3/ (chart at the top)
pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux4/ (chart at the top)