40% of Americans over the age of 55 have left their religion and then returned
In February, Megan Phelps-Roper—a former member of Westboro Baptist Church—filmed a TED Talk that went viral within days of being posted. Now, on TED’s own website, her emotional, vulnerable account of leaving her church has garnered well over 3 million views.
Before extricating herself from Westboro Baptist, Phelps-Roper, who ran the organization’s Twitter page, was often considered the millennial voice of the Church. As millennial participation in organized religion declines, it is important to note that it isn’t just young people who sometimes have a crisis of faith. A recent YouGov survey reveals that 14% of US adults have left their religion and not joined another.
Age does play a role in who returns to their religion, though. Individuals 55+ are more likely to have left their religion and then returned to it than younger generations—40% compared to 23% of millennials.
According to research from Pew, the two most popular religions in the United States are Protestantism and Roman Catholicism—well over the majority of the US population practices within one of these two sects of Christianity. Interestingly, around half of all American Protestants and Roman Catholics (52% and 48%) have stopped practicing at some point during their lifetime, but then resumed.
Of those who had ever left their religion, reasons for doing so varied amongst age groups, and Protestants and Catholics. Millennials, for example, were much more likely than the general public to be dissatisfied with their religion’s teachings on birth control, how their religion treated women, and the general atmosphere of religious services.
16% of Roman Catholics cited marrying someone of a different faith as a reason they’d stopped practicing their religion, but only 7% of Protestants did.