Editor’s Note: The research presented in this article is sobering. While it can be tempting to push the information aside, dismiss it as a problem of cultural Christianity that doesn’t apply to us “churchgoers,” let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the information, hear from the people who have converted, and ask the hard questions to find a solution. One of the most pertinent being: Is there something lacking in our American, modern way of “doing church” or our expression of church that we need to adjust? Is this a problem of evangelism or passing on the faith to the next generation, or both? We encourage you to read the information and consider what we can learn from it.
There is so much good God is doing around the world. Including many Muslims coming to faith in Christ, particularly in the Middle East. Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged. But please pray about this and share your thoughts with us.
Annika’s journey to faith began with the beliefs of her coworkers. She had always considered herself spiritual, but something about their faith spoke to her, and Annika found herself wanting to know more. As she saw the faith from a believer’s perspective, Annika realized this was the spiritual belief she had been searching for.
So Annika made the decision to cross the line of faith and become…a Muslim.
People Converting to Islam at Greater Rates than Conversion to Christianity
New research by the Pew Research Center shows Annika is far from alone. Nearly 20 percent of all adults, regardless of the religion they were raised in, leave their faith. But unlike Christianity, which is declining in affiliation in America, Islam is gaining as many followers as they lose. According to Pew’s analysis of the research, while Muslims are losing people on par with the rate Christianity is losing followers, they are gaining more converts than Christianity is.
About a quarter of adults who were raised Muslim (23 percent) no longer identify as members of the faith, roughly on par with the share of Americans who were raised Christian and no longer identify with Christianity (22 percent), according to a new analysis of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study. But while the share of American Muslim adults who are converts to Islam also is about one-quarter (23 percent), a much smaller share of current Christians (6 percent) are converts. In other words, Christianity as a whole loses more people than it gains from religious switching (conversions in both directions) in the U.S., while the net effect on Islam in America is a wash.
This runs counter to the belief that Islam’s growth in the Western world is due to open borders, or Muslim communities producing more children. The truth, it would seem, is far more surprising: Islam is effectively evangelizing disaffected Christians. Pew’s survey reports that 77 percent of Muslim converts were raised Christian. While survey respondents say their conversion came from a careful consideration of the Islamic beliefs, anecdotal stories suggest the process is relational, not intellectual.
The United States is experiencing a phenomenon common in Western Europe, where Islam is also on the rise. In an article in Ireland news source The Journal, pediatric nurse Brigid Aylward says she never connected with her family’s Catholic faith.
“I believed there was a God, but I couldn’t find God in the Catholic religion, it didn’t make sense for me,” Aylward says. “I wasn’t a practising Catholic but I still believed in God, and life was fine but I needed an element of purpose. I started reading the Bible, and felt like there was a total lack of clarity.”
While working in Saudi Arabia, Aylward studied Islam to understand the culture she was now in, converted, and met and married an Islamic man. Aylward eventually returned to Ireland, and now tries to help others see a more nuanced view of Islam.
Why Is This Happening?
For some in America, a voluntary conversion to the Islamic faith is surprising. In some swaths of evangelicalism, Islam is seen only as a violent, jihadist, anti-American force of hate, but the reality is that Islam, like any world religion, comes in a variety of cultural containers. Specifically, Islam at times carries a strong sense of community, involvement and purpose that might be inviting to some in an isolated and lonely culture. This isn’t to suggest Christians should approve of or affirm the Islamic faith, but propose that a combative, fearful, racist or insultingly stereotypical description of the religion may be doing more harm than good. When spiritual seekers meet Muslims who don’t fit the stereotypical image they were taught, it makes them wonder, “What else is wrong?”