Atheists Have Lowest Retention Rate
Compared to all other Religious Groups

Summarized by Jerry Bergman PhD

(Investigator 147, 2012 November)

A study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found those reared in an atheist household are least likely to maintain their religious beliefs as adults.

Only about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist or secularist household remain such as adults. Of the 1,387 atheists in the survey, 432 respondents were reared in an atheist household, 131 self-identified as atheist as adults. This retention rate was the lowest of the 20 separate categories researched.

Of those reared as atheists, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% Catholic, 2% Jewish and 1% are Mormon. It is obviously much more challenging to rear a child as an atheist to retain that identity as an adult. The next lowest retention rate was holiness churches (32%) followed by the Jehovah's Witness (37%) and Congregationalist. Of those who grew up in no particular religious faith 37% remained unaffiliated.

The highest retention rate was Hindus (84%), followed by Jews (76%), Muslims (76%), Greek Orthodox (73%), Mormons (70%) and Catholics (68%). Of Protestants, Baptists had the highest retention rate (60%), followed by Lutherans (59%) and Pentecostals (50%). The study used the data collected in the 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

This study is very limited because it looks at self-identification only. Many people self-identify as a Christian not because they are an active Christian, or even believe in Christianity, but because they know they are not a Jew, a Hindus, or a Muslim, so must be a Christian.

Nonetheless, in spite of its limitations the study is significant because it shows how many people openly reject the Jehovah’s Witness and the atheist designations. No doubt many of these people now see themselves as simply Christians. These results are especially surprising in view of the fact that, as New York University Professor Herbert London has documented, the secularism worldview dominates American universities. He found that most secularists are not content with preaching secularism, but attempt to eradicate Christian belief from their students, although their efforts are often subtle and tactful, thus potentially more effective. (1) 

Professor London, a secular Jew, writes that he is indebted to Christians who take their goal of following Christ’s teaching seriously for making the Free World free, and is fearful about the future if their influence was lost. He concluded that millions of Christians spend billions to send their children to college, and business support of colleges runs in the billions of dollars, yet neither group is fully cognizant of the fact that many secular professors distain both Christianity and the business world.

Furthermore, the dominant worldview (actually a theology) was crystal clear in most of the science and social science writings that were part of my required academic reading diet in college. Most academic social science, and biological science books and journals I read assumed the universe was purely the result of an enormous amount of time, chance, plus the outworking of natural law, and nothing more. They implied, or openly taught, that if a god exists, He had no role in creating the universe or the life in it. In spite of this indoctrination obviously most students do not buy into it.


Napp Nazworth, Napp Christian Post Reporter July 11, 2012. 3XTVlWWhX.99

(1) Herbert London. American’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of the New Secular Religion. New York: Encounter Press, 2008.