Monday, January 7, 2013

No Religious Affiliation - What's a church to do?

This year our congress has the most religiously diverse make up in history. Among them is the first representative who listed her religious affiliation as ‘none’. With the increasing number of people in the United States who also state they have no religious affiliation, will we also be seeing more representation to reflect that growing trend? Just under 20% of the American population now indicate no religious affiliation. Two thirds of these folks say they believe in God. 37% identify as spiritual but not religious and twenty-one percent say they pray every day. Most of the unaffiliated are not looking for a faith family. They indicate that religious organizations are ‘too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.’ Interestingly enough this same group feels that religious organizations bring people together, strengthen community bonds, and play an important role in helping the poor and needy. (1)

What would happen if a religious group decided to stop meeting in a designated building? What if they met in homeless shelters? What if they turned their buildings into homeless shelters? That would reduce the concern about money and a place to meet. It would get the members into the community and help the poor and needy. The number of people who worship in the traditional manner are declining and there’s no end in sight. Culture has shifted.

Of course, my previous statement is meant to make religious organizations think outside the box. If those who are not affiliated and aren’t worshipping in religious buildings were able to exercise their desire to be in community and help the poor and needy came together what could happen? Along with this trend is the concept of being spiritual and not religious. Can churches and church people separate those two concepts? Religion as the organized expression of a shared spirituality has had its day in the world. What is that going to look like now? How will religious organizations start to express spirituality in a manner that is congruent with the new culture, if not by coming together in a building with lots of ritual and tradition?

What would happen if religious organizations started asking people how they are expressing their spirituality outside of religion? Books like An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor are leaving large hints for the religious organizations of the world to pick up on. Some are finding God on the mountain top (literally), others in family time. Still others in building homes for the needy, working in soup kitchens, driving the elderly to doctors appointments, to name but a few that I have heard. Aren’t these all spiritual practices? Nurturing family, caring for the poor, helping the elderly, building community? Isn't God to be found in each of these practices if the one who is doing the practice bring God with them?

Religious organizations of the fading past provided a sanctuary for those who were part of the community. Rare was the person who did not affiliate with or attend formal worship. That pendulum has swung the other way. The religious organizations that have evolved into what look like corporate organizations have become highly visible. Some of their activities have become the reference point for the unchurched and a confirmation of all that is wrong with formalized religion for those who had became disenfranchised.  

So perhaps the ‘sanctuary’ of the church will be found in community. Perhaps it will be found in a body of people who want to express their spirituality in the world rather than in a building. How will your church evolve?

(1) Information on this study is from a Pew Research project from October 2012. More information about this research can be found at