‘Why I don’t believe any more!’ Deconversion and Young Adults – Results of an Empirical Theological Study.

Kultur & Glaube


Why do young adults who at one time described themselves as believers, no longer want to believe or are no longer able to believe? A topic that receives very little attention in current debates is deconversion research which addresses this issue. The study presented here is intended as a contribution towards further research into this topic and could serve as a catalyst for a series of larger, very much needed, empirical studies.  The focus here is on the question of why young adults who used to consider themselves Christians no longer can, or want to, believe. Questions are posed specifically about the experience of deconversion from the perspective of those affected and their narratives of their conversion and deconversion. As will be made clear below, it is young adults who are particularly suited to throwing light on this issue. This study shows that regardless of the different backgrounds, certain common themes and experiences appear in all of the interviews. These results are particularly interesting for practical theology, since they affect topics that are important for religious education such as the development of faith, personal journeys to faith, and issues around power and abuse, all within the context of religious education undertaken within churches. The study was conducted by the Institut empirica for youth culture and religion at the YMCA University with my colleagues Prof. Dr. Tobias Künkler und Martin Hofmann, M.A..

Introduction and problem description

Why do young adults who at one time described themselves as believers, no longer want to believe or are no longer able to believe? A topic that receives very little attention in current debates is deconversion research which addresses this issue. The study presented here is intended as a contribution towards further research into this topic and could serve as a catalyst for a series of larger, very much needed, empirical studies.[1] The focus here is on the question of why young adults who used to consider themselves Christians no longer can, or want to, believe. Questions are posed specifically about the experience of deconversion from the perspective of those affected and their narratives of their conversion and deconversion. As will be made clear below, it is young adults who are particularly suited to throwing light on this issue. Despite a plurality of religious forms of belief in today’s German society, in this study we will focus on persons with a Christian background. Other studies (Streib, 2009:12) have focused on the intensity and the everyday, mundane characteristics of the former belief, regardless of the specific religious affiliation. However, we will examine former Christians (by their own accounts) from very different dogmatic and confessional backgrounds. This study shows that regardless of the different backgrounds, certain common themes and experiences appear in all of the interviews. These results are particularly interesting for practical theology, since they affect topics that are important for religious education such as the development of faith, personal journeys to faith, and issues around power and abuse, all within the context of religious education undertaken within churches.

In the first step we will outline the current state of deconversion research and the results that our study was based on. We will then describe our understanding of a post-secular society. In the third step we will outline our methodological approach in order to show the most important results with regard to content. Finally, these results as well as the methodological approach will be critically examined.[2]

Methodological classification: explanation of the research design

The analysis of the motives of young people to deconvert was divided into four steps. The appraisal of the state of research and the theoretical localisation (1) is followed by the clarification of the research question: Why do young people who at one time considered themselves believers no longer believe – is it because they can’t, or because they don’t want to? A subsequent preliminary study (2) with quantitative and qualitative elements, fulfils two essential tasks: exploration of the topic area and the search for volunteers to participate in the interviews. An online questionnaire was thus sent out via various mailing lists on the internet. From this, a qualitative biographical interview guideline was developed. Based on specific criteria, a sample of 15 respondents was selected from the responses of the online preliminary study and then interviewed (3). After the transcription, the interviews were analysed by means of the MAXQDA  software whereby the grounded theory method by Strauss and Corbin (2006) was followed. After this, the data were interpreted and a theoretical reflection took place in the context of practical theology (4). These four steps, along with important interim results, will be explained in detail below.

Analysis and results of the data using grounded theory

The analysis of the interviews followed the model of intradisciplinarity (Van der Ven, 1994) in the context of the research process of integration (Kuhn, 1971) in order to directly connect sociological and theological approaches. The empirical research cycle of Ziebertz (2004) served as a model. This cycle shows a methodical development of experience processes that proceed in several sub-processes: perceiving, attempting, testing and assessing. This analysis of the process of experience can be viewed as the foundation of the empirical cycle, which itself then constructs the basis of the empirical methodology. Grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 1996), along with the methodological additions of Kelle and Kluge (Kelle & Kluge, 2010) fit very well into the overall process of the empirical research cycle. It was foremost Strauss and Corbin’s inductive method that led to the data material. Also, the possibility of the deductive reference to pre-knowledge and the theological target questions were very helpful for the methodical overall concept of the research.

Implementation of case contrasting

As mentioned above, the procedure of selecting the participants already belongs to the repertoire of grounded theory as the theory-generating method. In the first round, ten interviews were conducted and after an initial evaluation of the content and contrast of the sample, five more participants were selected and interviewed. This then produced the following sample (Image):

Name Sex Nationality Age Confession/Religious influence
Claudia F Austria 24 Protestant[1]/Free-evangelical[2]
Frank M German 23 Free-evangelical
Gregor M German 35 Roman Catholic
Aurelius M German/Poland 27 Roman Catholic
Marco M German 33 Protestant
Thomas M German 26 Free-evangelical
Nicolas M Austria 28 Free-evangelical
Andreas M German 30 Free-evangelical
Ines F German 23 Roman Catholic/Charismatic
Anke F German 25 Protestant
Martina F German 24 Protestant/Pietistic[3]
Tanja F German 32 Protestant/Pietistic
Sophia F German 27 Protestant/Free evangelical
Robert M German 33 Protestant
Doreen F German 25 Protestant/Pietistic

Image: sample

The coding paradigm

A total of 15 interviews were conducted. Based on the preliminary study, these provided sufficient theoretical case contrast and data density. The evaluation of the data material was carried out using the following steps:[4]

  1. Open coding: reception, processing and creating categories, differentiation of different reading styles and checking of the reasoning (deductive, inductive and abductive).
  2. Dimensionalisation and checking of the categories formed and lexical analysis for consolidation of the coding paradigm.
  3. Social structuring of the biographical interviews for structure building and systematisation within individual interviews. For this, axial coding was conducted as an example in some of the interviews
  4. Selective coding: integration of the target questions, consolidation of the data and the development of new core categories.
  5. Type creation in conformity with Kelle and Kluge (2010).


In using these classical methods of grounded theory, succession as well as iteration played an important role in the research process.

Key results of the open coding

The evaluation began with the search for similarities and differences. Was there a pattern in the stories or experiences that ran through all or at least many of the life stories? What did the differences consist of between the individual cases? Was it possible, based on their similarities and differences, to summarise certain groups? The interviews were first read with these and other questions in mind. In doing so, seven main categories arose from the results:

  1. Religious influence (biography/socialisation).
  2. Genesis of faith (subjective awareness of one’s own faith).
  3. Faith (image of God and religious practice).
  4. Experience with Christian community (churches, congregations, communities).
  5. Deconversion (cause and process).
  6. Consequences of the deconversion (subjective feeling/reaction of others).
  7. Post-event story (changes in life through the deconversion).

A total of 52 subcategories with a total of 1 261 codes were assigned to these seven main categories. An additional change was added through the dimensionalisation. Additional subcategories were constructed below the sub-categories and divided into dimensions, and were given a value (e.g. negative – positive). In the dimensionalisation, a categorisation was carried out according to the aims of the research project.

Results of the ‘social structuring’ of the biographical story

The social structuring was carried out in place of the axial coding. Although this was used as an example in some of the interviews, it didn’t generate any new information. For this reason the steps of analysis for biographical case reconstruction, as developed by Fischer-Rosenthal and Rosenthal (1997), were used: analysis of biographical data (with open coding); the text analysis and thematic field analysis (with theoretical groundwork); reconstruction of the case story; detailed analysis of individual text passages; contrasting the narrative with the life story as experienced; and type creation in view of the research question. In other words, we differentiated between the experienced and the narrated life. For Fischer-Rosenthal and Rosenthal this difference is of particular importance because the way in which life stories are told always draws attention not only to living today with this past, but also to the past experience of these events (Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 1997:148) The text structure analysis of the participants expresses the experience of the past life phases not only through the subject matter, but also through the way in which it is presented. The biographic case analysis was completed in the following three steps:

Step 1: Reconstruction of the case history: From the transcriptions, the biographical data were compiled, and thus the life stories were chronologically reconstructed. While doing this, the researchers were aware that they had to infer abductively to the elements of the biography that were not mentioned (Priece, Kelle & Kluge, 2007). Most of those interviewed gave an account of their ‘religious story’, starting with their family of origin and their religious character and proceeding chronologically, talking about their lives up to the present. Missing pieces were revealed through follow-up questions in the second part of the interview or through abductive deduction. This resulted in 15 summaries of the biographies of the participants.

Step 2: The detailed analysis of individual text passages: Through breaking down the interviews, individual sequences were thematically carved out in detail and the previous results (from the open coding) were used to check individual experiences (codes or also categories), as well as the total biography. For example, in the process the following questions were used: Why is this topic mentioned at this point? Which topics are addressed, and which ones are not? Why is this topic presented with this type of text? How thoroughly is a topic dealt with? What are the possible thematic areas in which this topic is integrated (Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 1997:153)? For this purpose the results of the open coding were used and crucial passages (e.g. that were filtered out with the help of the Code-Relation-Browser within MAXQDA2010) in the context of the interview and the category belonging to it (or subcategory) were used and examined. In this way, different motives for deconversion were found in the individual interviews, for example, inconsistency between teachings and life using by example the tension between the commandment of love thy neighbour and how homosexuality is treated, the question of power with suggestions to change, the role of women in (worship) services, self-discovery, or disappointment in God. These passages were clustered in each interview and summarised in a chart, as the following example (Chart 1) taken from Claudia’s case shows:


Name Claudia
Major categories Critical and intellectual reflection


Contradiction between teachings/life: love of neighbour vs. homosexuality

Question of power with suggestions for change

Women’s role in the worship service

Separation of formal and informal events Behaviour

Chart:  detailed analysis of individual text sections


There are different passages behind the individual motives. The detailed analysis that was developed from this was then traced back to the story of origin.

Step 3: Contrasting the story as told with the experienced life story: By means of contrasting, both levels were compared, so that the story as told was contrasted with the life as experienced. Here, it was primarily the individual passages that were placed in the context of the life story and then verified with a view to meaning and contrast.

Through contrasting we obtained insight into the mechanism of presenting and the selection of experiences from memory. We also gained insight into the respective presentations, the difference between past and present perspective, and the connected difference in the temporality of the told and experienced life story that is connected to the experience. Now, with the contrasting we could ask ourselves which function does this presentation have for the autobiography and vice versa, which biographic experiences lead to this presentation (Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 1997:155).

In practice, the individual motives were arranged in the chronological life story, whereby we asked what each motive means in the life story and which motives relate to each other. Particular attention was given to the correlation of biographic events (such as a move, emotional experiences, etc.) and the compiled motives. It was found that, on the one hand, the deconversion was always a long process, and that on the other hand there were, in almost all cases, special biographical events in which at least one motive (most often two or three) which led to a kind of crystallisation point that was clearly visible to the participants themselves. This then had stronger repercussions on the deconversion process. For Anke, for example, this point was a rock concert, where she realised that she had an emotional experience that she had only experienced in praise and worship through the Holy Spirit before. Although she had already repeatedly felt the limitation of her experience-oriented faith, she had been frustrated by the double standards in her church community. The experience of the rock concert was pivotal in Anke’s biography and in her process of deconversion.

Results of the selective coding

In selective coding, the red thread of the life story that is developed in the contrasting is, together with the target question, placed on the categories of the open coding and then an attempt is made, as far as is possible, to consolidate this. Each of the four core categories that results from this is then divided into three sub-categories and the dimensions belonging to that. These three sub-categories resulted from the research question in the context of the life story. Reducing the categories, the sub-categories and the dimensions should help to place the ‘red thread of the story’ (Corbin & Strauss, 1996:96) and the question back into the focus of the research study. Chart 2 lists the number of categories, sub-categories, and codes that were created by the two different coding processes:


According to open coding According to selective coding
Core categories 7 4
Sub-categories 52 16
Codes 1261 475


Chart : results from selective coding


The four core categories that developed from the selective coding process were (1) relationship to God, (2) intellectuality, (3) subjectification, and (4) morality. These then formed the foundation for the creation of types that are described below.

Results of the typification

These four categories were then developed into four typologies (according to Kelle & Kluge, 2010). Out of these four categories, the previous categories surrounding the target question about the motivation for deconversion were classified. In the process, the four steps from Kelle and Kluge (2010) were followed: Step 1: working out relevant structures of comparison; Step 2: grouping of the cases; Step 3: analysis of previous contexts; and Step 4: characterisation of the cases, whereby the previous analyses and their results were used and then consolidated into the types described below:

  1. Relationship to God: disappointment in God (no personal experience of God, missing experience, theodicy) in 7 of 15 cases of decisive dimension.
  2. Intellectuality: in 10 of the 15 interviews, the intellectual dimension (critical and intellectual reflection, doubt in the teachings, contingency of the feelings) played a significant role in the deconversion process. In four cases it was a key category.
  3. Subjectification: growing out of the faith and deconversion as subjectification (living in two worlds, freedom and limitation, connection with culture shock, change to another culture, self-discovery and emancipation, growing out of the faith of childhood, contingency of the feelings). This was the decisive dimension in 9 of 15 cases. Here, growing out of the childhood faith as well as experience of diversity are relevant, because deconversion is described in both cases as development of self
  4. Morality: moral and ethical dimensions (disappointment or negative experiences with Christians and church communities; from hypocrisy and feelings of moral limitations, to experience of spiritual/religious abuse, contradiction of teachings/real life, dysfunctional religious family, power games, and atmosphere in the church community). Another dimension that also played a decisive role in 9 of the 15 interviews.

In these four types, the 15 interviews as well as the different motives, were reflected.

The central results of the study are described below and are classified in the context of the deconversion research.

I arrived at a point when my faith no longer made sense.’ Why young adults no longer have faith

First it should be noted that the findings of Streib et al,<<Author: JF: Date?>> that deconversions are processes that take place over a relatively long period of time, are, in our opinion, confirmed in our study. Only in one case, that of Anke, a singular event is mentioned as the reason for the loss of faith. On closer examination, this event is embedded in a longer period, during which the moral rules of the religious field were questioned and the relationship to God showed a tendency towards ‘looking for excitement and thrills’. From this it can be assumed that the event described by Anke, in which an awareness of contingency happened, should be seen more as a catalyst than a cause.

The kinds of deconversion

The central result of the study is that deconversion happens for the following four types of reason: relationship to God, intellectuality, subjectification and morality. The four types each displayed two characteristics, depending on the intensity of the influence on the personality of the participant. Considering the relationship to God, the following aspects were mentioned:  ‘being disappointed’, the experience that God does not keep those promises that he apparently makes, for example in a personal conversation; and more strongly expressed as  ‘being tormented’ by God, for example through misfortune. In the case of intellectuality, ‘doubt’ was expressed, whereby the religious teachings are clearly in contrast to scientific facts and with that ‘brooding’ takes place in the person and their own experience in the thinking process. In terms of subjectification, forms of growing out could be detected whereby the childhood faith did not develop further with age and was increasingly felt to be irrelevant. In the stronger form, this type was shown in terms of ‘being torn’ between a religious environment and its surroundings that can no longer be combined. Even the type of morality could be observed in two levels of intensity. Firstly, faith was felt as being restrictive due to the governing rules in the religious group. And secondly, this restriction could be so intense that it crossed the boundaries of the individual in spiritual, physical and/or sexual ways. The type of morality and power appeared here in the form of ‘damage’.

Deconversion and family influence

Even though most of the participants had grown up in a religious family environment and their approach to faith was influenced by this, no particular family factors (dysfunctionality, constellation of beliefs of the parents) could be found that were decisive for the deconversion. The only tendencies that could be detected were that the mother was perceived to be more influential, and the father as more decisive – both in terms of approval and disapproval regarding views on faith. Thus, it appeared that the confession of origin or the previously shared specific religious field apparently did not encourage certain central themes. Examining the content and the day-to-day form of faith also did not show any points of reference that could lead to the conclusion of a structural disposition towards deconversion. Recurring themes are the idea of God as a supernatural personal being and Jesus as best friend. However, negative connotations such as hell, or Satan wanting to get you to join his side, were evident. Regardless of the content, it was found that the church community in the religious field played an important role during the earlier faith. Central to the life practice were the three elements of attending a worship service, prayer, and Bible study. Here, confessional accents were clearly demarcated: for the former Catholics attending a worship service was more important than Bible study. How far a specific practice of faith would encourage a deconversion could not be determined at this point. The scope of the portrayed background motives seems to suggest that external, common social factors have an equally strong influence on the process of deconversion as the individual disposition and constellation within the religious field.

Deconversion and theology[5]

Below we will extract the essential theological ideas from the reports of the first eight participants as well as from the next seven participants in order to establish a connection between these ideas and the deconversion. In general, one may conclude that for all 15 participants the main factor in the formation and shaping of their theological ideas was either their family or a particular church. As a teenager, Claudia came into contact with the Christian faith, or rather with practised religion in general, but had encountered spiritual experiences much earlier in life. However, she only become articulate enough to speak about them through her connection with her former church.

The majority of those interviewed were able to verbalise their own beliefs, even if these beliefs were no longer held. This was to be expected, as the interviews were expressly undertaken with people who had formerly described themselves as Christian and were prepared to speak about their previous way of life and faith. Their description of themselves concerning their religious affiliation was an indication that the relevant faith could also be described with an understanding of its contents. Only two participants, Marco and Thomas, did not define any theological concepts or ideas concerning the God whom they once had believed in, even upon request. Regardless of the strength of these cases, which momentarily represent the entire range of variation involved in teenage deconversion, one can conclude that, within this context, deconversion occurs independent of the level of reflection that is invested in particular theological ideas or their elaboration.

Chart 4 shows the central theological ideas and images of God held by all 15 participants. In this condensed overview it is evident that the fundamental theological ideas belonging to the deconverts cut across their respective confessional doctrines. Their diversity, however, demonstrates that their theology did not seem to have a causal influence on the deconversion itself; at least within the framework of the current study. Constructing a notion, such as one whereby the ‘right’ theology is more immune to deconversion, would not do justice to the diversity and complexity of the case studies documented.[6]


Name Age Confession[7] Central Topics/Issues, Theology
Claudia 24 Ev/ev.-free  Hope, God speaks, Holy Spirit as driving force in life
Ines 32 Rk/charismatic God moves and speaks today, faith combined with experiences lived alongside other Christians, social dimension is recognised to a degree, God’s will, God is helping us to grow when bad things happen
Nicolo 28 Ev.-free Relationship with God, influence on everyday life, God is love, ideas about how to lead one’s life, a kind of father, Jesus’ redemptive death, the Bible is God’s Word, contrast between faith and science
Magdalena 34 Ev./LKG God depends on our actions, God is omniscient, God demands absolute love, fear of God; faith as a pair of glasses one wears; a parallel world, personified devil
Frank 23 Ev.-free Jesus as saviour, Jesus as best friend, the Bible is God’s Word, the experience of faith in music and fellowship, not so much through teaching, Jesus as companion
Gregor 35 Rk God hears prayer
Andreas 30 Ev.-free Conversion, God gives talents; as a child: God as friend and father, later on, he had no idea who God really is
Patrick 33 Ev. Influence on life, God as superior context of meaning, God has a plan, God as loving father; with Jesus everything can work out, social dimension of the gospel, faith as a gift of the spirit
Marek 27 Rk Faith as backup; when one is lonely there is someone listening, a person
Marco 33 Ev. Faith through biblical rules of life, only a weak concept of God as a person, no religious experiences
Thomas 26 Ev.-free No effects on everyday life, formalised religion: was read to from children’s Bible, evening prayers as education, a child’s faith, experienced fellowship during Christian retreats for children
Anke 25 Ev. Old man with beard – as in an animated film: Joseph in hive lighting, temptation through Satan; emotional faith
Martina 24 Ev./LKG God speaks, but not to her; prayer, God’s guidance, the body as a temple of God => smoking is evil
Sophia 27 Ev./ev.-free Dichotomous thinking, devil, fear of hell, conversion, baptism as an emotional moment, part emotional faith, unconditional acceptance, later theology as a science without personal access point
Doreen 25 Ev./EC God is great, forgiveness of sins, influenced by abuse

Ev. = Evangelical (EKD); Rk. = Roman Catholic; Ev.-free = Evangelical free church; LKG independent fellowships affiliated to the Evangelical regional churches (EKD); EC = Christian Endeavour-Youth Society

Chart: The theological notions of the participants


Despite all the differences between the various understandings of the young deconverts, three central theologies can be discerned and are outlined below: a personalised image of God; the correlation of God and love; and following on from these two, the claim that faith is relevant to everyday life. The concept of God as a person with whom one can engage in a personal relationship is the most prevalent theological position defined in the interviews. Here, the notion of the person of God as creator, and of Jesus as a friend and/or redeemer, were most prominent. For three of the participants, who – interestingly – were all men, this crystallised into the image of a loving father. Andreas even speaks explicitly of God being like a substitute for his physical father, with whom he has a rather troubled relationship. A lesser role is apparently played by the Holy Spirit in the faith phase of the deconverts. Even the image of a personified evil being, in the form of the devil or Satan, appeared in three of the interviews with the participants. This image was particularly prominent for Doreen, who had repeatedly been spiritually abused, and also for Sophia, who had experienced a faith that was strongly based upon morals. However, even Anke, who was familiar with the regional EKD churches, and had experienced the charismatic movement within the regional churches, was aware of the idea that Satan is trying to pull everyone onto his side. Other personal beings such as angels or saints were not mentioned at all. This was also the case among those who had moved away from Catholicism.

God as a God of love was another important theological feature in the explanations given by the young deconverts. It should be noted, however, that in the cases where conclusions drawn from this belief for their own life experiences did not match this premise, the believer’s faith was shaken. This occurred most markedly among those who manifested the key attributes of having had a faith where morality was emphasised and, for a certain part, also of a Christian’s relationship with God in a particularly obvious way. In such cases, a discrepancy emerged between their own image of God and the actions of other people. When this gap increased between the relevant theological construct on the one hand and the reality experienced on the other, the contradiction was only resolved when the participants deconverted.

Deconversion and church community

Another aspect that was discussed in detail, both positively as well as negatively, by the majority of the participants was the communitisation in a Christian group. In a positive sense, community was associated with the experience of belonging and home. Often the formative years of adolescence of the participants were spent in these communities. Acquiring important social and practical skills and the opportunity to become involved as an individual with one’s own strengths may be seen in a positive light. On the other hand, negative experiences associated with restrictions, hypocrisy, abuse and manipulation were also noted.

Practical-theological consequences

Even if the theologies advocated by the participants did not directly lead to their departure from their faith, it was possible to identify a pattern of theologies corresponding with key attributes of individuals. The most unambiguous connection between the deconversions and the theological ideas of the participants was found in the leitmotif of the Christian’s relationship with God. Thus the idea of a personalised God with whom one can have an individual relationship was found to be central, with the most prominent manifestation thereof being personal encounters with God. Where this relationship with God had been damaged, either through external events, a lack of experience of God, or the influence of other people, and where all attempts to refresh the theological concept had failed, the end result was an active or passive loss of faith.

It´s all about faith?

Often those who moved away from their faith had held fairly simple and one-dimensional ideas of God – ideas in accordance with the kind of faith one associates with childhood. Another personality trait of God, where he is principally regarded as the protector who keeps believers from misfortune and who answers prayer, was also found to be a key element. Marek described this quite vividly, envisaging God as a ‘kind of backup’. Here, too, the fact that an adaptation, or further development, of the theological concepts had either failed or had never even taken place seems to be the decisive factor. In such cases, the theology of childhood and early youth did not develop into an appropriate theology for a mature adult. Theological ideas also appear in the background of other leitmotifs. The leitmotif of ‘morals’ for example is determined by the fundamental theological statement that faith in God both frees one from sin and a negative past, while simultaneously releasing the Christian into a new life. Occasionally, a believer’s faith failed to bridge the gap between this concept and the practice of faith as it was lived out in a Christian fellowship; and, again, it was this tension that led to deconversion. At times, the participants had a second image of God which was diametrically opposed to the first. They thought of God as an omniscient and implacable judge who would notice and evaluate every moral transgression. It is interesting to note that this image was formed quite early on in the lives of the participants, within their own family and within the context of very constrictive, or even abusive, structures, as in the case of Doreen’s life.

In summary, while the personal faith journeys of the young deconverts away from the Christian faith are not identical, there are similarities. With regard to their theological concepts before deconversion, the image of God as a person and God as love are particularly dominant. However, there do not seem to be any direct correlations of a general nature between the deconverts’ theology and their later deconversion. Given that the experiences of an adult differ from those of a child and that everyday life, like the world, is constantly changing, the question as to whether there has been any development or adaptation of the theology of young people often seems to play a decisive role.

Challenges for church and faith

The topic of deconversion should not be suppressed, but needs to be addressed in both churches and communities. Behind this topic there are always real people who have a complex history with God, the Church and also with other Christians. These stories, and therefore also our responsibilities, should not end with deconversion. Rather than having to endure re-conversion attempts by other Christians, those who no longer believe have a right to be taken seriously as individuals who have their own history and experiences. In order for genuine discussion to take place with them, as well as to address deconversion in general, we need locations that inspire trust, a welcoming culture and open communication. In churches it is young adults in particular who need to be supported during times of change and maturation. The offer of mentoring by seasoned Christians is a good way to ensure this. In churches and communities a greater sensitivity towards unhealthy power structures and negative dynamics should be developed. A one-sided theology in churches and communities can lead to people developing inappropriate dependencies which can in turn make them ill. Abuse, in particular spiritual abuse, should not be made a taboo topic in churches and communities; rather, preventative measures should be taken and (wherever necessary) abuse dealt with. Diversity in faith should be seen as an opportunity, and doubt as an integral element of faith, and therefore a resource. To create such an environment, a culture of openness is needed; one which does not limit free and independent thinking, self-reliance or self-responsibility.

The whole study is available in german in the book: “Warum ich nicht mehr glaube”.


[1] A current overview of religious transformation: Practical Theology: Reppenhagen 2012; Psychology: Westerink 2013, Huber, Stefan 2013; Missiology: Simon/Wrogemann 2005. The term ‘deconversion’ is not listed in any of the important theological lexica, such as HrwG, RGG, TRE and the Lexicon of Mission-Theological Basic Concepts.

[1]          Belongs to one of the 20 Protestant churches (EKD) of Germany.

[2]          Belongs to one of the Free-evangelical churches, e.g. Baptist and FeG.

[3]          Belongs to one of the Landeskirchliche Gemeinschaften (LKD).

[4]          Each interview was first encoded by one person and then checked, and where necessary, added to and adjusted by a second coder. In this way biases were avoided. Also, significant information was less likely to be overlooked.

[5] For more detail, see Hofmann 2016:197.

[6] Table according to Hofmann, 2016:197.

[7] A sense of multiple belongings develops due to different influences during the course of the ‚faith biography‘.



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