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Defining the Religion Surfers 2

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Converts: 36% of the Religion Surfers population

Converts are those who now practice a faith different from that which they practiced at age 16.  Conversions include those within a larger faith, say a Protestant Christian who becomes chrismated (anointed with oil to mark their reception into the church) into the Orthodox Church, as well as complete changes of tradition, such as a Catholic who turns to Buddhism.  The opposite of a Convert is someone we call a Faith Loyalist – that is, a person who has stuck with the faith tradition in which she was raised. As with Active Seekers, Converts largely mirror the demographic attributes of those who have remained with their original faiths

Converts are more likely than Faith Loyalists to belong to a non-Christian religion (14% to 5%).  This tendency to be outside of the mainstream may explain why Converts are more likely than Faith Loyalists to see themselves as Religious Outsiders, by a margin of 19% to 8%.

Converts surf for religious material somewhat more frequently than Faith Loyalists, and are especially appreciative of the Internet’s ability to provide quick access to educational resources. Fully 71% of Converts say it would be easier for them to find such resources online than offline.

Converts’ devotion across a range of practices appears mixed. Converts are more likely than Faith Loyalists to say they have a strong religious commitment (84% vs. 79%) and are more likely to attend services more than once a week (47% vs. 36%) despite being less likely to belong to a formal church or religious group (79% vs. 89%). However, Converts are also more likely than Faith Loyalists to have used the Internet to look for a new congregation by a margin of 19% to 11%. Convert and Faith Loyalist alike are committed to the practice of individual prayer and meditation, 85% of each professing to do so at least once a day.

Finally, Converts are more likely than Faith Loyalists to have provided spiritual advice via email. Each group is equally likely to have sought spiritual advice via email.

Members: 84% of the Religion Surfers population

Members are those who belong to a church, synagogue, temple, or other formal worship group.  Members are overwhelmingly women, by a 61% to 39% margin.  They are more likely than non-members to find spiritual practices to be “very important” except for “spending time in nature,” where non-members beat them out 63% to 41%.

Church Members surf for religious material slightly more often than non-members.  Members are more likely than non-members to be Christian (95% vs. 72%).  By contrast, non-members are more likely to belong to faiths that may not be familiar to many Americans; 10% of non-members belong to “some other religion” than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism.

Non-members are more likely than Members to have used the Internet to look up information on faiths other than their own (61% to 48%), and, ironically, to look for a new church or congregation (24% to 12%). Members, on the other hand, are more likely to use the Internet for activities that might be more comfortable for those already in religious communities – such as giving spiritual advice, planning religious activities, and making prayer requests.

Religious Outsiders: 12% of the Religion Surfers online

In a country in which 89% of the religious population considers itself Christian, there are bound to be people who feel their faith puts them outside of the mainstream.  Given the diversity of Christianity, many “minority” Christians might also feel disaffected.  We classified a group of “Religious Outsiders” based on responses to three questions: whether they feel their religion is widely accepted in this country, whether there are many people of their own faith in their communities, or whether they believe they have run up against religious discrimination. Those who provided responses that showed some level of alienation in two out of three of those questions were placed in the Outsider category.

Religious Outsiders span all ages, races, education and income levels.  They are less likely than Insiders to be Christian, but still, 74% of Outsiders say they are Christian. Our sample included 15 members of faiths other than the major Western religions, 73% of whom considered themselves outsiders.  By contrast, only 8% of Christians consider themselves Outsiders.

Outsiders and insiders are surprisingly similar.  They profess commitment to their faiths equally (about 80% of each group claims “very strong” faith), and are equally likely to consider “very important” most of the spiritual practices we asked about. Outsiders are less likely than insiders to belong to a formal congregation (66% vs. 87%). It is not surprising, then to note that formal group worship is less important to Outsiders than to insiders (57% vs. 72%). In addition, Outsiders are more likely than insiders to extol the virtues of spending time in nature (64% vs. 42%).

Religious Outsiders are slightly more likely than insiders to find it easier to interact with clergy (12% vs. 7% for insiders) and find others who share the same faith (24% vs. 16% for insiders) online than offline. However, the majority of Outsiders (76%) still find it easier to connect with clergy offline than online. And 59% of Outsiders say it is easier to meet with people of the same faith offline than online.


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