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Why Mormons Leave (Part 5 of 6)

Why do Mormons leave the LDS Church?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll have put together the largest random sample of ex-Mormons and tell us why Mormons leave.  What did they learn?

GT:  That’s pretty awesome I’d say. I know John Dehlin did a survey awhile back.  Were your results similar to his?

Jana: Not at all, and I want to point out that this is part of the difference between a nationally representative survey and a sample that is of a targeted population. Their study, which is really helpful and interesting and well done, they would be the first to tell you, I think, that it’s not a nationally representative sample of all former Mormons. If you look in the really helpful breakdown of who was in that study, they have a very affluent population and a very well-educated population. So, the fact that what they’re finding is that these people are very interested in history, and they’re very interested in some of these more controversial issues about Mormon theology. Well, in part that is because this is a very affluent and well-educated population, and in part, it’s because this is a population that has been fielded through social media affinity groups that are interested in those questions, right?  So, it’s a self-selecting sample, and I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind. That does not mean that it’s not valuable for understanding that important population, but it’s not generalizable to everyone.

GT:  What are some of the reasons that people choose to disaffiliate?

Benjamin:  I suppose the first thing to clarify is, we’ve got information amongst those who chose to disaffiliate for specific reasons that aren’t necessarily just simply lifecycle, adolescent disaffiliation, which is the biggest one right there.

GT:  The biggest one is just, “Well, I’m a teenager, I don’t want to go to church.”

Benjamin:  This is what people in America and Europe do. When they’re teenagers, they tend to just [quit going.]

Jana:  Right, or younger.

Benjamin:  Right, yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, a lot of former Mormons are in that same category. They are people who just for one reason or another, just weren’t that interested anymore.

GT:  Church is boring.

Benjamin:  Yeah, they went on to do other things. Some of them rejoined the church later. Some didn’t. We’ve got some information in the survey about like, what are the lives of former Mormons like? The ones who leave for these historical doctrinal issues tend to have a former Mormon life that’s a little bit different than those who just leave because they just went inactive when they were teenagers, got married to someone who’s not a member, that never really went anymore, because their family’s diverse. So, it’s important that we say, just like within the Mormon community, there are different groups of people and diversity and how it’s expressed, it’s the same thing with former members as well.

Are you surprised?  On the internet we often hear people publicly claim they lost their testimony due to church history.  We don’t hear about these people that quietly leave.  Find out what else they said (like politics.)  Check out our conversation….

Why do Mormons leave the church? Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll tell the results of the largest random sample of ex-Mormons.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Dr. Riess and Dr. Knoll.

299: Out of the Box Mormons

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

 

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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

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Comparing Mormons by Generations (Part 3 of 6)

Do young and old Mormons feel the same about Church teachings and culture?  How similar or different are they?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll discuss the results of their recent survey of Mormon attitudes and we’ll learn how similar or different we are based on age.  What are differences in Mormons by Generations?

Benjamin:  And so oftentimes in the book, we combined Baby Boomers and Silent Generation into a single category, because they tended to look similar on a lot of things. Whereas Gen Xers and Millennials tended to look similar on a lot of things. The breakdown seems to be between the Baby Boomer and Gen X generation. The trends that the Millennials show were often continuations of things that started or became more pronounced in the Gen X generation, which I thought was really interesting.

GT:  All right, so how are the Gen Xers and the Millennials similar? I think Millennials are even more different, right? How are they more different?

Jana:  Well, they are not quite as politically conservative. They are not flaming liberals by any stroke of the imagination. They’re still Mormons. And so, they’re more conservative than other people their age, but they are less conservative than older Latter-day Saints, politically. And I think in terms of their religiosity, they are, again, in between. So, Millennials as a whole in the nation are the generation that we’re seeing to be most likely to disaffiliate of any generation that we’ve been tracking, in American history. But for Millennial Mormons, yes, they are more likely to disaffiliate than their older counterparts, but less likely to do so than other Millennials. So just think of them as kind of in the middle of these two things. But they’re more supportive of LGBT rights, not as supportive as other Millennials.

We also talked about Millennials’s attitudes about LGBT and the Church, and even referenced Greg Prince’s recent book, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church.

GT:  Yeah, he thought that they would double down for about 15 years. So, it was definitely surprising. I asked Greg, a little bit about how many people left the church? He said, in the first year 60,000 people, which is just…..

Jana:  He and I talked about this as well, and we’re not finding that kind of evidence.

GT:  Oh, really?

Jana:  No.

Benjamin:  Well, that’s one that we’re going to have to take a little bit further look at. So, this happened, it was in 2015?

GT:  November.

Benjamin:  Right. And our survey was literally, just the year afterwards, and so for people to say that they’re former Mormons in here, that would have been only a year for that to have happened. There just weren’t that many people in the survey that we saw identifying as a former Mormon, who had left just in that 12 months before the survey was conducted from when the event first happened there. So, it’s difficult for us to be able to definitively put a number on that one way or another.

GT:  Well, I guess I do have another question. If you look at 60,000 divided by 15 million, that’s a fraction of a percent, right? And how big was your survey of Mormons?

Jana:  We had 1156 currently identified and 540 former Mormons.

GT:  So would your survey even be large enough to ascertain?  I mean, 60,000 sounds like a big number. But, in my statistics class, I always say rates are much better than counts. So, as far as a rate that would be a tiny fraction. Would you even be able to notice that in a survey of 1100 people?

Jana:  Matt Martinich, who is much more advanced on church statistics than just about anybody else, would say no. That’s not enough to move the needle, as he would put it.

What are your thoughts about shifting generational attitudes in the Church?  Is the exodus following the November 2015 Gay Policy a big number, or just a blip?

Check out our conversation….

Are Millennials’ attitudes changing the Church?

Don’t miss our other conversations with Jana and Ben!

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons