Americans Relocating Faith of Their Fathers; A New Survey Finds Many Are Abandoning Mainline Churches for Other Opportunities

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Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

As a minister to Jacksonville college students, Shari O'Brien doesn't need a survey to tell her that a quarter of young adults claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

Nor did Gee Sprague, a local Methodist minister, need a poll to tell him mainline Protestant churches are in decline or that about half of American adults are quitting the faiths they were raised in for nondenominational congregations, other religions or no religion at all.

But confirmation that these trends are continuing as strong as ever came Monday when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life issued its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults, the survey describes a nation where religious self-identification and loyalty are in flux.

"It's sobering to me, but it's not a surprise," Sprague, pastor of Crossroad Church in Jacksonville, said about the survey.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, told The Associated Press the survey reveals that religion in America is "like a marketplace - very dynamic, very competitive."

"Everyone is losing, everyone is gaining," Lugo told AP. "There are net winners and losers, but no one can stand still. Those groups that are losing significant numbers have to recoup them to stay vibrant."

The survey said about 78 percent of Americans are Christian. It also said the United States is about to become a "minority Protestant country," with barely more than 51 percent claiming that label.

The survey found that more than 25 percent of American adults have abandoned their childhood faith for another religion.

The number is 44 percent when including those who have changed affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another.

It also said that one in four Americans ages 18-29 claim no current religious affiliation.

"There's a lot of that, yes," said O'Brien, acting director of the Interfaith Center at the University of North Florida and a campus minister at Jacksonville University.

Many young adults who consider themselves spiritual would never identify themselves with a particular denomination or religion, O'Brien said.

"There's a resistance in this age group to be labeled as anything, even Democrat or Republican," O'Brien said. "It doesn't mean they don't have strong opinions or strong values, but it's just not the party line."

Survey consultant Roger Fink told the AP that organized religion is losing its holding power on people.

"Right now, there is a dropping confidence in organized religion, especially in the traditional religious forms," said Fink, a sociologist at Penn State University.

Lugo said the 44 percent figure is "a very conservative estimate," and more research is planned to determine the causes. …