Convert Zeal

Last week the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published the findings of an analysis of religious converts. The “Zeal of the Convert”: Is It the Real Deal? reports:

“A common perception about individuals who switch religions is that they are very fervent about their new faith. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life provides quantitative support for this piece of conventional wisdom often referred to as the ‘zeal of the convert.’ The analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed slightly more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith, as measured by the importance of religion in their lives, frequency with which they attend religious services and other measures of religious commitment.”

The six areas of analysis the Pew Forum employs are:

  • Religion is very important
  • Attend religious services weekly
  • Absolutely certain of belief in God
  • Pray daily
  • Share faith/views on God weekly
  • [Believe theirs is the] One true faith

The findings from the survey generally hold no surprises. In the 12 religions surveyed, there is a consistent but small difference between lifelong members’ commitment to their faith and that of converts, with the converts exhibiting a mildly stronger devotion. Except for one church.

“The analysis reveals only one striking exception to this pattern: Lifelong Mormons are significantly more religious than converts to the faith on two measures. Nonconverts are, for instance, more likely to attend church regularly and to believe that theirs is the one true faith than are converts to the Mormon faith. Outside of Mormonism, however, the analysis finds no instances where lifelong members of a particular faith exhibit significantly higher levels of religious commitment than converts on any of the six measures.”

Indeed, lifelong Mormons show more commitment than converts on five of the six measures. The only area where the commitment levels are reversed is in the sharing of the faith. On this, 19% of lifelong Mormons share their faith weekly as compared to 38% of Mormon converts that do so.

To me it makes some sense that converts–those who choose their religion for themselves–might exhibit a little more zeal than those who have remained in a particular faith initially chosen for them by their parents. It’s puzzling that Mormonism is the other way around.

The Pew Forum publication offers no suggestions regarding the underlying causes for the findings of the analysis. What do you think the reasons for this “striking exception to the pattern” might be?


Comments within the parameters of 1 Peter 3:15 are invited.


About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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55 Responses to Convert Zeal

  1. subgenius says:

    there is a certain irony in the monikers used on this board. That being said, i have little interest in bigotry. Though you obviously disagree with my position on may aspects of these discussions, but it seems lost on this issue. Clarification – the manner by which many Ev churches are organized influence their purpose towards social concerns rather than religoius concerns. Again, as stated prior, the LDS church has many “social” activities, but that is not at the core of the manner by which the church was and is organized.
    As your post deterioates into personal insult (oops, your emotions are showing). I would counter your statement about an academic theologian versus a layperson is seen throughout religious history and the scriptures….nary a degree to be found (though i feel “Divnity School” has a nice Mormon ring to it, right?).

  2. falcon says:

    I was out riding my bike and some statistics from long ago popped into my mind. I’m doing this from memory of things read long ago. Something like 90% of people who go into business are no longer in business at the end of one year. I believe it’s something like 50% of those remaining make it to the five year mark. Finally, people who are successful in business become successful after three to five attempts.
    I guess we could put all of this on a zeal-o-meter because I’m sure all of those folks who start a business are super fired-up and ready to go. However for a variety of reasons their initial zeal isn’t enough to sustain them in becoming successful.
    An interesting measure of zeal in Mormonism might be how many Mormon converts attend sacrament meeting at least once a month. How many tithe. And just for fun, if we looked at all male Mormons, how many progress beyond the first level of the priesthood. That is what percent obtain the Malchizedek designation. My guess is that for this higher level priesthood, the number won’t hit 50% of all males on the membership roster.
    And while we’re talking about members, how many people who are counted as “new” members are converts and how many are kids that get baptized and are now counted in the church growth statistics.
    If someone is interested, Sharon Lindbloom wrote an article on a related topic dated 10/08/07 titled LDS Growth and Retention. It’s another way, in my mind of looking at zeal.

  3. Mike R says:


    A lot of 8 year old LDS children get baptized
    into the Mormon church each year:

    for 1996= 81,017 (May 1997 Ensign)

    for 2003= 99,457

  4. Ralph says:


    The new convert baptisms are counted seperately from the child of record baptisms. The new converts are done through the mission offices while the child of record are done through the ward/branch.

    If anyone wants statistics for the LDS church I can give you a few I have heardin various meetings. They are a few years old but here they are –

    In 1991 one third of RMs went inactive within a year of going home. Given the time difference, this may have increased as Falcon gives about 50%.

    In 2003 the number of active full tithe paying MP holders had decreased below the prospective elders numbers; ie the number of men above 18 years old without the MP now outnumbers those with the MP who are active.

    From my understanding and experience as ward clerk in the past 5 years, most wards here in Australia have about 2/3 active Sunday members; meaning all those who show up on Sundays, including non-tithe payers, non-Priesthood holders, disfellowshipped, etc, as well as fully active members.

    Yes, they are ‘bad’ statistics, but as mentioned, this does not prove truth or falsity. It does go along with the teachings of Jesus in that strait is the gate and narrow the path and few will walk and enter there-in. And the 10 virgins, who were true believers of Christ (ie true Christians whatever your definition) – only 5 will enter heaven, the other 5 wont. The parables of the wheat and the tares show many members will not enter heaven; and the sower shows that many will accept the true gospel but then turn away so will not enter heaven. The list could go on but these are the ones I can think of from the top of my head.

    The thing we LDS are taught to do is to go out and try to help these people because we do not know which ones will come back to the fold and ultimately be saved. This is called home teaching and visiting teaching which is one reason why we have records and an ‘organisation’ – to keep track of Jesus’ sheep and assist Him with the flock as He has mandated for us

  5. falcon says:

    I am continually amazed that you have the truth starring you right in the face but for some reason you can’t make the connection. Joseph Smith presented a religion that borrowed some from Christianity and a whole bunch from various sources which makes the final product a total different religion from that presented in the NT. The only fall back position Mormons have is to claim that all of the Mormonism got left out of the Bible due to a dastardly conspiracy by the Catholic church or some other plotting group or individuals. Quite frankly, the explanations that Mormons give in support of Joseph Smith’s fantasy are down right childish.
    I guess when someone wants to believe something they will do what ever is necessary to maintain that belief. It is interesting to hear and read the accounts of those who were die-hard Mormons regarding how their thinking got flipped when they finally got it.
    Ralph, Joseph Smith is not going to get you to heaven. You prove the point by alluding to those who are true believers and those who are not in the parables. While Mormons have “faith”, that faith is misplaced and will not result in eternal life. Like I’ve said, if Jesus were to ask you “why should I let you into my heaven?”, your answer would prove that you never knew Him. A counterfeit Jesus can’t provide salvation for you.

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