A Shifting Faith

Faith and religion—primarily Catholicism—remain strong influences on millions of Hispanics, but they are a group in transition. This is true of Hispanics even more so than other Americans.

Some of these dimensions of transition include Hispanics’ willingness to change denominations or faiths, their transitory connections with congregations and the softening allegiance of Millennials to Catholic and charismatic identity.

The Three C’s of Hispanic Faith

Three “C’s” cast long shadows on the faith of today’s Hispanics in America—Christianity, Catholicism and charismatic faith. As for the first “C,” more than four out of five Hispanics (84%) describe themselves as part of the Christian faith.

The second “C” is the largest element of Christianity among Hispanics—commitment to the Roman Catholic Church, an identity that describes nearly 7 out of 10 Hispanics (68%). In contrast, about one-sixth identify as Protestant (16%) and a similar proportion as having another or no faith (16%).

The final “C” is charismatic and Pentecostal elements of faith, which are a defining factor for many within the Hispanic population. While only 5% of the Hispanic population aligns with a traditionally charismatic denomination (such as Assembly of God, Foursquare or Pentecostal churches), there are other indicators of increasing spirit-filled influence on today’s Hispanics. For example, half of all Hispanics strongly to somewhat agree the charismatic gifts (such as tongues and healing) are valued and active today, including 49% of Catholics and 67% of Protestants. Additionally, 41% of Christian or Catholic respondents self-identify as charismatic or Pentecostal, saying the terms accurately fit their faith; this includes 39% of Catholics and 50% of Protestants.

Faith Journeys

The Hispanic population is especially likely to experience faith “journeys,” or transitions in their spiritual profile. To explain this pattern, keep in mind that the vast majority of Hispanics have some type of formative Christian or Catholic experience during their early years. Seven in ten Hispanics say they were Christian as a child. And the overwhelming majority of respondents attended a Catholic church as a child. While the majority of Hispanics have remained with their childhood faith (27%, on par with the national average of 28%), there is a pattern of religious migration among Hispanics from Catholic to either Protestant or non-Christians. Four in ten (41%) Protestants say they have changed their faith views since childhood and just over one-third of those who now align with other faith groups or have no faith say their faith views have changed significantly in their lifetime.

Since their “early years” most Hispanics have taken steps to distance themselves from church in some fashion. Two out of every three Hispanics (67%) say they have gone through a period of life when they dropped out of attending church, after having gone regularly. This is higher than the national norm of 59% among all U.S. adults.

The Changing Faith of Hispanic Millennials

The three prominent “C’s” of Hispanic faith are undergoing change when it comes to younger, Millennial Hispanics (those ages 18-28). As many Hispanic Millennials distance themselves from Catholicism (only one third of Millennials describe themselves as Catholic, down from three quarters of Boomers), they are moving in one of two directions—either toward Protestantism or away from Christianity. Currently, one-fifth of young Hispanics identify as Protestant (19%), which is edging higher than previous generations (17% Busters, 15% Boomers and 11% Elders). Similarly, one-fifth of Hispanic Millennials (21%) say they are part of a faith other than Christianity or they have no religious faith at all (as compared to 16% of Busters, 11% of Boomers and 16% of Elders). Furthermore, allegiance to spirit-filled forms of faith may be losing steam among Millennial Hispanics. Only 31% of Millennial Catholics and 48% of Millennial Protestants qualify as charismatic in this research, well below that of the Boomers and Busters.

What emerges then is that Millennial Hispanics are increasingly a mixture of religious perspectives and traditions by comparison to older Hispanics.

Engaging Faith
Describing yourself as Christian and living like a Christian are, of course, two different things and judging the latter is much more difficult than the former. About one-third of Hispanics qualify as “practicing Christians,” meaning they attend church at least once a month and say their religion is very important in their lives (one-quarter of all Hispanics are practicing Catholics and one-tenth are practicing Protestants). This means that about 32% of Catholic Hispanics have a practicing faith, while 51% of Protestant Hispanics do so.

Another way of defining religious activism is to look at various religious behaviors. In terms of faith participation in the last week, two-fifths of Hispanics have attended a church worship service (40%); one-quarter have read the Bible (27%); one-fifth have received Holy Communion (21%) and prayed the Rosary (20%); one-sixth have attended Sunday school (17%); and one-seventh have attended faith-related small group or Bible study (15%). Catholics are more likely to pray the Rosary (26% to 1%), but otherwise they are less likely than Protestants to attend worship (38% versus 59%), attend Sunday school (12% versus 40%), or attend a Bible study (12% versus 37%).

It is pretty rare to find someone among the Hispanic community who sees his or her faith as something on the sidelines. Only slightly more than one in ten Hispanics holds this view, which is that their faith just hasn’t made that big a difference in their lives. In fact, more people say that they aren’t sure (17%) than say that their faith doesn’t matter that much to the rest of their lives (12%).

To read more about the shifting faiths of Hispanic Americans, order a copy of the Hispanic America: Faith, Values & Priorities study.

Find out more about the survey and methodology.