Adult converts: who are they and why do they do it?

This post combines two of my interests – the statistics of belief and people’s stories.

Are there many adult converts to christianity? Why do they convert? Were they really unbelievers beforehand?

The statistics

It is common to read on the internet that non-belief is on the rise, but this is a very truncated picture. Globally, the percentage of atheists appears to be falling – “people with traditional religious views …. constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.” (Zuckerman, 2007) – and non-belief is generally only growing in advanced western democracies.

In most European countries plus Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the decline in belief and church attendance seems to have almost levelled out, but it is still evident in the US. Most of my information and stories come from USA, Great Britain and Australia.

In these countries, it appears that many people change their belief during their lifetime, some more than once. Many children of christian parents become atheists and many children of atheist parents become christians (in the US, atheist parents appear to be the least successful in raising children that stay with their parents’ belief – most religions do better at this).

The final statistics thus depend on birth rates, retention rates and conversion rates.

  • In the US, where some of the best statistics are available, non-denominational Protestants and those who are unaffiliated with any religion but not atheist or agnostic, appear to be growing the fastest, while atheist and agnostics are growing slowly. Baptists and Catholics have high conversion rates but even higher loss rates.
  • In Australia, it appears that the main shifts have been movement from religious belief, often fairly nominal, to non-belief or less specific belief, but few have moved to atheism (McCrindle and also here).
  • In the UK, it seems to be much the same, but with a higher level of disbelief and a modest growth in conversions to Islam.

Some of these statistics are reflected in the stories.

The stories

Like I said, I love hearing people’s stories, especially conversion stories, and I have reported or mentioned almost 40 of these on this website.

In the latest report, I briefly describe the journeys of 5 people (several of them prominent in the media or the blogging world) who grew up in atheist or unbelieving families, but who eventually came to embrace christianity (More atheists convert).

I have re-examined all these stories, and found some interesting patterns. (Note: these 30-40 stories are not randomly selected, so any patterns may not be found in a wider sample.)

The patterns

Most grew up not believing

Most of my small sample grew up in atheist or non-believing families. Only a few grew up christian, lost their faith and then returned to it.

Most conversions came because of messed-up lives

Almost half my small sample had significant life problems (alcoholism, abuse, anxiety, etc) and found solutions in christianity. This was generally via the love and care of christians, but God seemed to directly intervene (see below) in many cases. Most of these became Protestant or non-denminational christians.

Professional people needed intellectual answers

Many of the converts, especially more professional people, only converted after significant reading and wrestling with complex philosophical and ethical issues. Many of these converted to Catholicism, perhaps because Catholicism has a strong intellectual history whereas some Protestant denominations don’t seem to value philosophical thinking.

Dreams, visions and healings

Many of the converts reported an intervention by God via a sense of peace, healing, or a vision or voice. This was particularly true of Muslim converts (though this may well be an artefact of how I obtained the stories), but also of many converts in US and UK who were struggling in life.


Almost any statistic or story will be atypical in some way or other. People’s lives and their movement into and out of belief can be complex. But it seems that the main reasons people believe in christianity are:

  • they were born into it and stay with it;
  • christianity passes the practical test of working in real life – it helps them overcome deep problems in their lives;
  • God acts in their life in a way they find unmistakable; and/or
  • christianity explains the world better than other belief systems do.

Two Professors of English take different journeys to find God.

Photo Credit: Anosmia via Compfight cc. Regular readers will know I have used the original of this picture before to illustrate posts on atheism, because I think it is a fun photo. So I have taken liberties with the photo this time to illustrate a post on ex-atheists.


  1. Adult Converts; who are they and why do they do it:

    I would like to address five relative areas to answer this question relating to my life and the lives of those around me. Before I do, I would like to share with you that I was brought up in the Jewish faith. I have always loved my God. I accepted Yeshua/Jesus as Lord of my life and Savior of my soul 42 years ago. He has never let me down, ever!

    1) It was Scripture and prophecy that led me to Yeshua, specifically Isaiah 9:6 where it says this child will be born to us….and his name shall be called WONDERFUL, COUNSELOR, MIGHTY GOD, ETERNAL FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE. Can you see why? He came exactly as God said!

    2) Miracles: I have seen God perform many miracles in peoples’ lives. God opens doors when man closes them. God helps me help others, namely the homeless and those who have addictions. Some people were previously homeless for years, ill, hopeless; now they have turned to the Lord, because they can see that He actually does care and that He works in their lives, where nothing had ever worked before. They have a new-found hope and trust in God.

    3) God heals: I had four ruptured discs in my back. People came and prayed over me, and I was healed. The doctor was totally convinced that there was no way that I could be healed from this kind of injury. Yes, prayer works! I met a man who turned his life over to Jesus a couple of years ago. He came down with brain cancer. We laid hands on him and anointed him with oil. The doctors gave him six months to live. He should have been dead a year ago. He is now cured and cancer free. He used to sleep under a bridge in town, but he now has a full-time job and an apartment.

    4) Lives change: One of the men that I met last summer is now one of my dearest and best friends. He was an alcoholic, but he is now alcohol-free. He was an angry man and even went to prison for attacking the police this past year; he is now a changed man. He, too, lived under a bridge in town for three years. He now has an apartment and his mom lives with him. Previously, he did not get along with his family at all, because he as an alcoholic, but he is now a changed man, thanks to Jesus and his relationship with Him.

    5) Eternal life: Yes, we have eternal life, you and me, even if you do not believe in Jesus. We all have an eternal soul; we either go to Heaven or Hell for all eternity! It is totally up to you. Jesus proved this; He rose from the dead and brought many back from the dead, healed them, and made them whole again. He can do this for you also. Are you ready to put your life in the hands of our eternal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Try Him, you’ll love the amazing benefits, now and for all eternity! Be blessed y’all!

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