Sunday, August 12, 2007

Conversion Statistics

I'm curious. Does anyone know of reliable research on the number of converts moving between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism?

It seems that those who have moved to an Apostolic Church are thoughtful enough to write about their experience, but are they actually few and far between? I go to church with many former (cradle) Catholics, this being my experience at a number of churches now. I wonder (and doubt) that a Catholic so commonly has former Protestants in church with him...

But this is all speculation - has any contemporary research been done on such trends?


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

According to this article entitled "The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism" by David Hartline, over 100,000 came into the Catholic Church last year. I'd highly recommend reading the article.

The number of Anglican priests who have converted to the Catholic Church over the last 15 years is over 400.

And see this Wikipedia entry regarding a list of many famous people who have converted or reverted to the Catholic Church.

As for Orthodox conversions, I know of James Likoudis (not sure on spelling) he is fairly well known. I know there are scores of Russian Orthodox converting which is a partial source of some tension now between Rome & the Russian patriarch.

Last December the Coptic Catholic Church was extended full communion by Pope Benedict XVI bringing more than 250,000 former Eastern Orthodox Christians into full communion with Rome. This sort of re-unification is not only possible but nearly seamless with the Eastern Orthodox since they have maintained apostolic doctrine. As for Protestants and Anglicans, it is a bit more difficult but I pray for the day when all Christians will feast at the same banquet table.

Good news for all of us outside of the mainline evangelical movement: From an article in the LA Times last year:

"It is hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches — Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like — accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it's more like 12% (17 million out of 135 million)".

I've also read elsewhere that only the polar ends of Christianity (Catholicism and Pentecostalism) are growing (in relation to the other groups). I know that the southern hemisphere is experiencing massive growth right now for Catholicism.

It is true that a lot of Catholics have moved to the Protestant faith, but ask yourself honestly... was it the theologians who moved? Or lazy laity that didn't know their faith? Disgruntled teenagers perhaps?

The very opposite is true of the converts from Protestantism to the Catholic Church. There are few (if any) spiritually lazy don't-know their faith Protestants who convert. It is (generally speaking) the more studied, the Christians who have taken their faith the most seriously and have put a lot of theological thought into the question of conversion. The same could hardly be said of the typical Catholic-to-Protestant convert.

Thos said...

Interesting article, God Fearin' Fiddler.

Your point is taken. That more than one or two of our theologians, people who have studied at our seminaries, are becoming Catholic is undisputable. Seminary graduates vs. the Poorly Catechized: the former is more noteworthy.

But in terms of trends, are there a handful of PCA pastors becoming Catholic vs. 25% of cradle Catholics at some point flowing through the doors of Protestant churches (I made the number "25" up)?

Of the 100,000 that joined the RCC last year, how many were new converts (people not baptized in the Catholic church originally)? That would be interesting to know!

Finally, your point on mainline denominations accounting for a smaller portion of America is an interesting one. Calvin saw the need for a real church (indeed, he was for a theocracy, my wife tells me) with genuine authority. This is the Reformation model. We have so many Christian movements not agreeing with Calvin's view on "church" that I think they'd be bebtter labelled "independent" than "protestant" (they protest nothing, submit to no one). The only growing formal groups it seems are the Pentecostals, Mormons, and the like. Oh, and the Catholics are growing too.

Joseph said...


Regarding your question about whether or not the 100,000 figure completely consists of those who never considered themselves Roman Catholic, I'm not sure.

I will have to make an educated guess until someone actually finds the statistical data. Since the Church believes that once one is baptized a Catholic, they are a Catholic until they have made an act of schism or heresy. If they were Confirmed before they drifted from the Church, then they would definitely not be considered "converts". In that case the only thing required to return to full communion is an act of Confession. I would guess that these numbers may include some baptized Catholics but would not included those who were confirmed and drifted. Of course, that is merely a guess and one that I am more than willing to accept disagreement on.

Though the numbers are interesting, I'm not sure they are even worth mentioning. It is eerily reminiscent of keeping score at some kind of sporting event. Many of these "numbers", so to speak, are all searching for the Truth somewhere, perhaps all in a different manner. It is rather tempting to view statistics such as these as who will win this year's Conversion Cup.

From what I understand, thousands of Catholics have been falling away to join the Pentacostal movement. This appears to be the trend especially amongst what are termed Hispanic Catholics.

For many years in the United States and Europe, catechesis has been so abhorrent that many cradle Catholics have simply stopped believing. Unfortunately, they are usually the most outspoken against the Catholic Church after their departure, yet their positions illuminate the fact of their reception of horrible catechesis or none at all that I stated above.

The Catholic Church also teaches that conversion does not end with a single conversion experience. We are to be perpetually converting. One isn't guaranteed to enter heaven simply because they have been confirmed as Catholics. It is a process of learning, by the grace of God, to accept the crosses that God sends down to us. We strive to be made perfect in Him and through Him. Of course, that is an impossible goal to reach in this lifetime, yet, by His grace, we strive anyway. It is perfect freedom. We are all called to be saints, whether we reach that goal or not is not something that we decide.

It's hard not to engage in these conversations without sounding like salesmen either. I hope that is not how I sound. I respect your point of view. And though I believe that I am worshiping in the correct manner within the Catholic Church, it does not mean that I think anyone is "wrong". It is up to God and how we accept His grace that we end up where we do.

God bless you

Thos said...

I pondered before asking about statistics that numbers are irrelevant. If 99 people leave the truth and 1 person walks toward it, that one's decision would not be delegitimatized. However, if one views church movements as experiments (like American democracy is still dubbed a great experiment), the trends could be beneficial indicia.

I at least see (at least in America) that shrinking denominationalism exposes our hyper-individualism. It takes something with an amazing claim of authority like the RCC or the LDS to fight back anti-denominational (rather, anti-authoritarian) tendencies.

If I agree with Calvin that we are, for the sake of unity, to submit to a pastor who teaches the word and attends to the sacraments (and no other conditions than those two), but I have no one to believe that with, the aspiration of unity may be a fleeting one.

Joseph said...

I agree.

Kacy said...

I found your blog through The God Fearin' Fiddler. I too converted from the PCA to Catholcism, though I was brought up Baptist originally.

The best website for statistics on religion and religious movements is The Association of Religion Data Archives:

As one who hopes to study Sociology of Religion in grad school, I highly recommend this website.

You may find this map interesting because it compares the rate of adherents for the Catholic Church in the U.S. vs. the PCA:

This is the 1999 Gallup Poll of Catholics, and it asks specifically about conversion:

Anyway, search this website. It should help.

Thos said...

Thanks, Kacy for the intereting links! I would love to hear about your studies in Ecclesial Sociology as you move forward!!