I try to keep my eyes on new research concerning the foreign born population in the United States, and Pew Research dropped a new report this week that deserves some attention. This report is not expressly about foreign-born populations. Instead it deals with U.S. adherents to Islam. In other words, this research is about all of the American residents, foreign-born or otherwise, who claim Islam as their religion.
The premise: there are as many new Americans converting to Islam as former Muslims leaving it.
The report makes several interesting claims, and the numbers are something church leaders should understand if they are interested in engaging Muslim populations with the gospel. You can read the Pew article here, but below are a few important takeaways from the report.
Many Muslims are open to conversion.
I believe this reality escapes many of us when talking about the growing Muslim population in the United States. While the number of total Muslims in America is still small (under 5 million), the population is still growing by about 100,000 per year. The vast majority of this growth is immigration, as this research indicates.
Fact is, roughly one in four people leave Islam for another religion in the United States. This presents a significant opportunity for the church. Muslims are considering and weighing their own faith in light of the new realities present around them. According to the study, many cited philosophical issues with religion generally or Islam specifically as their reason for leaving their religion. They also listed reasons they saw their new religion as superior. In short, as Muslims are wrestling through these issues, the gospel needs to be on the table for them. That, folks, is our responsibility.
But, most are not switching to Christianity.
While a quarter of Muslims are switching out of Islam, most are not becoming Christians. In fact, a solid 55% stop identifying with a religion at all. Of those converting, only 22% are becoming Christian adherents. That means three out of every four people leaving Islam are going to something other than Christianity.
For Muslims in America, Humanism is currently a better evangelist than the church. While the research provides no information on this, I wonder if this has to do with a lack of contact with Christians and no verbal proclamation of the gospel. This was certainly an issue a couple of years ago, and I don’t imagine this trend has reversed.
Simply put, our new Muslim neighbors will hear all kinds of messages that compete for their loyalty and their lives. Islam, the religion of their past, calls to them for allegiance. However, so does the secularism of our increasingly post-Christian society. We can add to that the siren calls of money, position, place, and a litany of other world religions. In the midst of all of these competing voices, I pray local congregations around the country can see the need to introduce their Muslim neighbors to the only real words of life.
Unlike Christianity in the U.S., as many people are becoming Muslims as leaving Islam.
One very important reality is somewhat buried in the report, but central to the conversation of local church missions. While there is no net gain from Muslim proselytizing, they are reaching as many people as they are losing. In other words, they gain as many new followers as they lose to other faiths. This is definitely not true of Christianity on the whole in America.
Muslims are losing 23% and gaining back 23% of their adherents. Christianity, on the other hand, is losing 22% and gaining back only 6%. In other words, Christianity is losing adherents year over year. Some qualifiers need to be stated. First, this number includes Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, and everything else considered “Christian” in their research categories. There is much to be said for the decline evidenced in mainline Protestant or theologically liberal denominations compared to what are classically considered Evangelical denominations. Nevertheless, this statistic should cause us to slow down and think, especially when considered with the final point.
Over half of those switching to Islam are former Protestants.
The largest pool of Muslim conversion is actually Protestantism. Again, the study does not distinguish between mainline and Evangelical denominations. It does, however, note that 53% of converts to Islam started as Protestants while another 20% began as Catholics.
The main reason noted for switching was a preference for Islamic teachings and finding more meaning in Islam. Furthermore, many of them stated the importance of reading the religious texts of Islam in their conversion.
It stands to reason that many of converts will come from the majority religious groups in the country. It should be no surprise that the majority begin as Christians. However, we must not overlook the significance of people growing up in Christian pews and ultimately finding more meaning in the Koran.
Church leaders, let us consider the possibility of reaching our Muslim neighbors by giving them a clear presentation of the gospel. And, may we see the importance of making sure that gospel is clear to those in our pews as well.