Dana Koch grew up in a Protestant Wisconsin family, but as he got older, he had spiritual questions his childhood faith couldn’t clearly answer.
Where did I come from before this life?
Why am I here? What is my purpose?
Where am I going after this life?
“For me, having answers to those questions was an important element in my conversion,” said Koch, now the bishop of the St. Charles congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Koch, who was 21 when he joined the LDS church, is among those who have chosen another religion for themselves.
According to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 28 percent of American adults have left the faith they were raised in for another religion – or no religion at all.
That percentage is even higher – 44 percent – if the change in affiliation is from one type of Protestantism to another is included, Pew reported.
Churches have programs for adults wanting to join their religion.
Steven Srock, senior pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Batavia, said his church tends to have three sessions of new member classes a year.
People who come from other denominations go through a six-week session of instruction that covers a basic understanding of the Lutheran Church and explains how the faith tradition participants grew up in is different from – and similar to – the Lutheran beliefs, he said. Those with no religious background go through a more extensive process, he said.
Adults joining the Catholic Church participate in RCIA, which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. At St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Sugar Grove, RCIA starts after Labor Day, the Rev. Bob Jones said. The class meets weekly, and the process ends on Easter.
The church emphasizes that the process is a journey of the head and the heart, and more importantly, of the heart and the soul, Jones said.
He said it’s about answering this question: “Is this the church [and] community I really want to be part of?”
That’s a question 17-year-old Corinne DeVault didn’t take lightly when she decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 13.
In addition to attending Methodist worship services with her father as a kid, DeVault said she had been going to the LDS church with her mother, who already was a member. The St. Charles teen noted her father didn’t want her to get baptized in the LDS church, which traditionally happens at age 8.
Her decision to formally join the LDS church was about 18 months in the making and culminated at a camp for girls during a testimony meeting, which lets the girls say what they believe in front of the group, she said.
“I was saying what I believe, and that’s when I realized I wanted to join the church,” DeVault said.
Because she had been attending church with her mother, DeVault said she didn’t have to attend classes in preparation for baptism, but she did talk with the bishop about her commitment.
She said it helped that she was older than the traditional baptism age.
“I feel like I’m really committed to it because it was definitely my choice,” DeVault said. “I really know for myself that what I did was for me and not for someone else.”
Koch attended a lot of different churches before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said.
His initial set of questions expanded, and he got a lot of trite and unsatisfying responses during the process. The LDS church answered his questions, he said.
He said his parents, who remained Protestant, were supportive of his decision.
“They raised me with the best they understood,” Koch said. “I was able to build on that foundation.”
Some churches, including The Well in Geneva and Christ Community Church in St. Charles Township, say they appeal to the “unchurched” – those who don’t have a religious background, don’t feel connected to their childhood faith or haven’t gone to church in a while.
“We’re definitely a church that is for the unchurched or de-churched,” said Jerry Shaffer, lead pastor at The Well.
He encouraged people not to give up on their faith after a bad experience. He suggested finding a new church to attend, noting there are a lot of great churches in the Tri-Cities.
“Sometimes, it’s about finding a good fit for your faith,” Shaffer said. “Don’t give up on that process.”