Deconversion is defined as “the loss of one’s faith in a religion and a return to a previous religion or non-religion.” In the case of those who deconvert from Christianity, deconversion means giving up Christianity in exchange for a different religion, spiritualism, or no religion, such as atheism or agnosticism. Deconversion is related to deconstructing one’s faith.
Those who deconvert from Christianity reject core tenets of orthodox Christian faith, typically distance themselves from Christian community, and often, though not always, reject religion altogether.
The most common reasons given for deconversion are emotional, cognitive, or a combination thereof. Emotionally, people may deconvert because they experience hurt from other Christians or because they feel hurt by God. Cognitively, people may feel that Christianity or the Bible is not intellectually viable, whether because of perceived biblical inconsistencies, conflict with “science,” issues with biblical moral or truth claims, or any number of other areas of cognitive dissonance.
Knowing these reasons for deconversion can help Christians fortify their own faith and help others who may be struggling.
In the Parable of the Sower (found in Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:1–15), Jesus outlines reasons why a person may seem to have faith but later lose it. Some may lack understanding. Others may fall away in the face of trouble and persecution. The faith of others may be choked out by the cares of life and the riches and pleasures of this world.
Christians and churches may combat some of these issues. Churches and believers may submit their actions to Christ and model themselves after the teachings and practices of the early church, as laid out in Acts and the Epistles, to bear the image of Christ to both one another and nonbelievers. All Christians, not just pastors and theologians, may educate themselves on difficult scientific, historical, and theological topics, addressing rather than ignoring cognitive dissonance.
We all must remember to leave room for questions, doubt, discussions, and mistakes. Even genuine, born-again Christians are still imperfect and susceptible to sin and hurting others. All people, no matter how well educated, will fall short of understanding everything. In the words of Isaiah 40:13–14, “Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?”
Are those who deconvert examples of apostates who were never born again (see 1 John 2:19), or are they simply Christians going through a crisis of faith? Only God knows for sure, and only time will tell. We should patiently engage questions from seekers, doubters, and those in the process of deconversion. Not all challenges to faith come from a point of antagonism. Some come in the form of curiosity, some in the form of skepticism, and some with personal pain and a complicated history. For those reasons, believers should provide a “safe space” for others to express their concerns, doubts, and frustrations (Romans 12:18; 14:13). We can never, in ourselves, turn anyone away from deconversion, completely address the hurt others feel, or reassure a doubting heart, but God can.
When we encounter Christians who behave badly or we face a difficult teaching in the Bible, the response should not be to abandon Christianity altogether. Instead, we should study harder, pray more, and look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).