Latinos are a people of faith and for centuries that faith was Catholic. But the number of Latino Catholics is shrinking, thanks in large part to inroads by Protestant denominations, according to figures from The Pew Center, Religion & Public Life.
Religious institutions in the United States must recognize the tremendous potential the Latino market represents. There is an immediate opportunity to attract younger Latinos who generationally have moved away from Catholicism at the greatest rates but have not decided on a particular faith. These individuals are more likely to be U.S. born, have higher incomes than their parents, and identify with their Latino culture. Creating a welcoming place where they can tap their zeal for social justice will be especially relevant to Gen Z and younger Millennial Latinos.
For a century — from 1910 to 2010 — the Catholic population of Latin America dropped from 90% to 72%, according to a Pew Research analysis. In the United States, most Latinos are still Catholic, but the share of Catholic Latinos has been shrinking over the past few decades. According to the study, nearly one in four Latinos is a former Catholic. With over 35 million Latino adults in the United States today, that equals more than 8.75 million former Catholics among Latinos alone!
Some former Latino Catholics are becoming religiously unaffiliated. Most are turning toward Protestant religions, particularly the evangelical. According to the Pew study, these changes are cutting across all Hispanic demographics — men, women, U.S.-born, foreign-born, college educated and less educated.
Evangelical Protestants exhibit high levels of commitment and Hispanic evangelicals in the Pew study reported higher rates of attendance than Hispanic Catholics. They were also more engaged in other religious activities like Bible study and scripture reading.
Equally revealing, the Pew study points to a growth opportunity for Protestant denominations with Latinos under the age of 50. Younger Latinos, those ages 18 - 29, represent almost all the net change away from Catholicism and toward no religious affiliation, while Latinos ages 30 - 49 are more likely to have converted from Catholicism to become either Protestant or have no religious affiliation.
The challenge for these religions is in how they create a more welcoming place, particularly for an ever-growing Latino population.