By Keelan Cook
Pew Research released a new analysis of all of the American residents, foreign-born or otherwise, who claim Islam as their religion.
The numbers are something church leaders should understand if they are interested in engaging Muslim populations with the gospel.
Here are a few important takeaways.
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 Muslims in America is still small (under 5 million), the population is growing by about 100,000 per year. The vast majority of this growth is immigration, as this research indicates.
And roughly 1 in 4 Americans raised in Islam no longer identify with that faith. 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 wrestle with 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 percent of those who leave Islam stop identifying with a religion at all.
Of those converting, only 22 percent are becoming Christian adherents. That means 3 of every 4 people leaving Islam go to something other than Christianity.
For Muslims in America, humanism is currently a better evangelist than the church.
I wonder if this has to do with a lack of contact between Christians and non-Christians. While current research provides no information on this, it 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-Christendom society. That is in addition to the siren calls of money, position, place, and a litany of other world religions.
Amid 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.
As Muslims leave, just as many people join Islam.
One 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 percent of those raised in their faith, but 23 percent of their adult adherents are converts.
Christianity, on the other hand, is losing 22 percent of those raised Christian, while only 6 percent of adult Christians are converts from other religions. In other words, Christianity is losing adherents year over year.
I should note this number includes Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, and everything else considered Christian by Pew Research.
Nevertheless, this statistic should cause us to slow down and think, especially when considered with the final point.
More than half of those switching to Islam are former Protestants.
The largest pool of Muslim conversion is from Protestantism.
The study does not distinguish between mainline and evangelical denominations. It does, however, note that 53 percent of converts to Islam started as Protestants while another 20 percent began as Catholics.
The main reason noted for switching was a preference for Islamic teachings and finding more meaning in Islam. Almost a quarter (24 percent) gave a version of this as why they converted.
Furthermore, many of the new Muslims (21 percent) stated the importance of reading the religious texts of Islam in their conversion.
It stands to reason that many 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 Quran.
Church leaders, let us consider 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.