As more people claim to be “spiritual” more than religious, what exactly does that mean?

While in Johnson City, Tennessee, I began a conversation with a shuttle driver named Jeff.  He asked me why I was in town.  I explained I was speaking at a church, and said that he “hoped it was full of the Spirit.” 

I began asking him about his studies.  Jeff shared about his major, and what he wanted to do when he was done with college.  He was more than eager to talk about his life experiences, and how they had shaped him.  He was extremely articulate, and well-read in various philosophies. 

At some point during the conversation, I asked Jeff if he was religious.  He began by stating that his father was Jewish, and that his mother was Catholic, but neither of his parents actively participated in their faith.  He was not a believer in either religion, but stated that he was indeed spiritual. 

I then asked Jeff what “spiritual” meant to him.  Rather than put words to it, he gave me an example.  He stated that the evening before, there had been a banquet at the hotel.  After the event, there were left-over sandwiches.  He took these extra sandwiches and took them to people who were in need.  He stated that after this experience, he felt so good. 

I asked then how that was spiritual.  Jeff thought about it, and simply said that it had to do with the emotion associated with the action that he had done.  His emotional experience (due to his moral behavior), was the foundation of his recent spirituality. 

Jeff did not mention a belief in any god, or in anything supernatural. 

It has been stated that Millennials are spiritual, but not religious. 

A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. (Source)

Often little definition is given to this expression “spiritual.”  For someone who has grown up in the church, I often have understood the term to mean that they believed in some form of spiritual reality that usually contained a concept of God, but they were not interested in organized religion.  After meeting Jeff, my understanding of “spiritual, but not religious” has changed.

Many emerging adults who have not had a connection with a religious belief system do not even have a concept of the word spiritual.  The word spiritual is a word that is often limited to those with a religious background.

Here is what I learned from Jeff.

We should avoid more than our Christian clichés.  While Christian platitudes are painful to even to church-attenders, the use of words like spiritual immediately highlight the distance between us.  Evangelism tools such as The Four Spiritual Laws by Bill Bright, assume that the person you are sharing with has a general concept of religion.  As more emerging adults in the United States have been raised without a Christian worldview, the vocabulary that we use in dialogue with them might leave both sides confused.

Ask questions.  Emerging adults have no problem entering into dialogue with others about faith or religious beliefs.  From their perspective, diversity brings beauty to our world, and strength to our communities.  Dialogue can also help them learn and understand the viewpoints of others.

Spiritual, but not religious could refer to anything from a devout Christ-follower who avoids churches to someone like Jeff who simply feels good as he reflects on his own moral behavior.

Dr. G. David Boyd is the Managing Director of EA Resources, a nonprofit designed to equip parents and churches to minister to the needs of emerging adults.  He is also the founder of the EA Network, a group of individuals seeking to work together to understand and minister to emerging adults.  If Dr. Boyd can equip your community to reach emerging adults, contact him at gdavid@earesources.org.

The Fracturing of Evangelicalism – Will Millennials be the Wedge?

Fractured from Flickr via Wylio

© 2012 Lloyd Davis, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

I have walked among evangelicals my entire life.  Raised in a conservative Baptist tradition, my faith changed after I attended a national meeting where the denomination officially separated themselves from Walt Disney, Promise Keepers, and Billy Graham.  While I understood their fear of modern culture exemplified in media giants like Walt Disney, I wondered how anyone would call Rev. Billy Graham “evil?”

Since then, I have moved among various denominations under the umbrella of Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism as a movement arose within Protestant Christianity in the 1940’s.  The National Association of Evangelicalism (www.nae.net) is the organization which defines and leads this movement.  Approximately 26.3% of Americans identify themselves as Evangelicals, according to Pew research.   While “the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ” is a stated value of the organization, their divergent views on politics and culture may now be causing the movement to break apart.

Cultural issues like homosexuality, politics, and sexism have been splintering the unity of evangelicalism for the past decade.  The organization does not hold official doctrinal statements on these issues and therefore seeks to remain united in spite of their diversity.  However, Millennials might be the wedge that splits this movement.  The rift is not because Millennials want to fracture the movement, or because they hold a hidden secret agenda.  Nor is it due to the media’s frequent characterization of them as lazy, narcissist, or delusional.

rachel evans

Rachel Evans, a popular blogger and speaker.

Millennials are sometimes viewed as the catalyst for progressive changes within Evangelicalism.  In the divide between conservative evangelicals – like Trenton Wax; and more progressive perspectives like Rachel Held Evans, each holds different views on how to reach and re-engage Millennials.  While these and other writers can contribute to change within the church, during the process they are trailblazing pathways in seemingly opposite directions. (see Note below)

Many articles are filled with reasons why evangelicals are leaving the church, including:  churches are too cool; churches are not cool enough; churches are irrelevant; churches are too relevant; churches are too strict; churches are not strict enough; and on and on and on.  However, upon dissecting these statements, one finds that the focus often shifts from young adults themselves onto the cultural war happening within Evangelicalism.

Our desire to reach Millennials may become the wedge that will split us. The progressives are yelling, “Well, if you would stop living in the past…” while conservatives shout back, “If you would stop conforming to the culture!”  Each side is being consumed by their own beliefs.  Each side is filled with anger at “others” who they perceive to be injuring the church.  Each side claims spiritual discernment and is filled with righteous indignation.

Many assert that without change, the future of the church is at stake.  This fear motivates us – especially when it revolves around our children and the legacy we will leave for them.  Unfortunately, this fear often also motivates us to move in unhealthy directions.

All the while, each side is contributing to the fracturing within Evangelicalism, when both should be focusing on the Millennials who are stuck in between them.

Religious communities must ask themselves key questions:

  •  Do we understand emerging adults and their needs during this life phase?
  • How do we reach and re-engage emerging adults?
  • What are our expectations (spoken and unspoken) of emerging adults within our community?
  • Where is there room for Millennials to serve and lead within the church?
  • What messages are we sending to them, and how can we communicate our confidence in them?

These are changes that conservative and progressive evangelicals can agree upon.  May we focus not on the issues that divide, but upon the gospel, and seek to follow the voice of our one God and Savior Jesus Christ.

David - Prof 2Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip parents and churches to understand emerging adulthood.  If you need someone to help your community understand the challenges of emerging adulthood, contact him at gdavid@earesources.org.

Notes:

  1. I believe these authors and leaders want to find unity within the church (just as Jesus prayed for his followers to be one in John 17).  Rachel Held Evans blogged about her personal struggles with the future of evangelicalism, and then “left” evangelicalism and now worships at an Episcopalian church.  However, the church must question whether our unity is even reflected through man-made labels like “evangelicalism.”

Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials

Almost everyday, it seems, there’s a new story about how “Millennials are leaving the church.” But there’s a problem with these trend pieces: They aren’t true. American Christianity still has plenty of Millennials — they’re just not necessarily in white churches. Continue reading

Learning about America’s Growing Non-religious Population- And Who is to Blame

Growing up within the church, I heard many words to describe those who were not associated with the church including:  non-believers, heathen, the lost, the world, and sinners.  Regardless of what you call those outside the church, the number of people claiming no religion is growing.

The Pew Research Center released a new study this month about the changing religious beliefs among Americans.  Here are a few facts about those who declare themselves non-religious.

1.  They are Young.

Men at work from Flickr via Wylio

© 2013 reynermedia, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46.  (Source)

 2.  Many grew up in religious homes.

Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised in a religious faith and now identify with no religion.  While some young adults who are raised in a non-religious household have chosen to become religious, they are outnumbered by those fleeing their religious up-bringing (The ratio is 4:1.)  There is no magical way to ensure that your adult child will follow your faith as a parent, but here is a great book to read about this topic.

 3.  Their numbers are growing equally among whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

The non-religious are found among whites (24%), blacks (18%), and Hispanics (20%).

4.  They are growing among college graduates, and those without a college degree.

College is often seen as the enemy of faith, and the cause of emerging adults leaving the faith.  However, those claiming to be non-religious is growing among both groups.  “Nones” now claim 24% of college graduates and 22% of those with less than a college degree.  As I have stated in other places, college is not the main destructive cause of Millennials’ faith.

 5.  Labels don’t really stick.

hoto courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2013. www.aaronrobertphotography.com

It is hard to find a label that describes this group.  The article states, “In 2007, 25% of the ‘nones’ called themselves atheists or agnostics; 39% identified their religion as ‘nothing in particular’ and also said that religion is ‘not too’ or ‘not at all’ important in their lives; and 36% identified their religion as ‘nothing in particular.’’  Atheists believe that there is no God, while agnostics is often defined as those who believe that nothing is known or can be known about the existence of God.  Many ‘nones’ don’t identify as either maybe because they don’t know the terminology or because they refuse to be classified.

For those who have a passion for the church, the changing religious beliefs here in America causes a reaction within each of us.  Here are a few “knee-jerk” responses:

Millennials Suck.  Millennials are constantly blasted in the media and in our churches.  Some people may believe that Millennials are simply evil, and inherently irreligious.  However, I believe in Millennials, and I believe that generational bashing is destructive to the church.

The Youth Pastors of Millennials SuckI recently read an article which attributed the decline to some degree upon the lack of education among youth workers.  While, I acknowledge the men and women whom I pastored have left the church and I will take ownership.  It was not due to my lack of education.  Please resist the urge to once again throw the youth workers under the bus, haven’t they been through enough?

The Parents of Millennials Suck.  While parenting styles definitely affects the religious views of children, it is not the only factor.  The weight of guilt and grief that parents bear when their children walk away from the church can be overwhelming.

The Churches in America Suck.  If you are a conservative church, then you might be pointing the finger at liberal churches.  Difficulties give us the opportunity to either unite or fight each other; unfortunately, the church has often chosen to fight.

Christians can play the blame game.  We can point fingers and decide in our own mind who is to blame, only to go about our own lives as nothing has changed.  Or we can acknowledge the changes that are happening within our country, and become like the men of Issachar who “understood the times, and knew what they should do.”  (I Chron 12:32)

David Boyd 1 (1)EA Resources is committed to helping parents, institutions, and churches understand the times and discern how they can better minister to emerging adults. If I can serve your community, e-mail me at gdavid@earesources.org.

America’s Changing Religious Landscape – Are Christians in Denial?

2015RLSpromo640x320

http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/05/2015RLSpromo640x320.png

New research was released this week from the Pew Research Center confirming trends that we already knew were true.  In the last seven years, the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percent.

Millennials are leaving the church, and they are not alone as they exit.  The article states, “While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages.”

Generational Replacement and the Rise of the Unaffiliated

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly-are-driving-growth-of-nones/

 

Some people respond to these statistics with a shrug of shoulders, while others feel as if the sky is falling.  Rather than ignoring the problem, I believe that these statistics should cause Christians to act as the men of Issachar who, “understood the times and knew what Israel should” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

EA Resources is committed to providing resources to parents and churches working with emerging adults.  If you are passionate about seeing Millennials return to faith, and seeing churches equipped to change their community, join our team!

David Boyd 1 (1)Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources.  If you would like to invite him to speak for your community, you can contact him at gdavid@earesources.org.