The statistics describing religious activity in the U.S. and Europe today are confusing, at best. On the one hand they describe a tremendous increase in spiritual beliefs and membership in some denominations and religions, and at the same time describe an equally tremendous decrease in participation in some of the same denominations and religions. To understand the pattern, we need to look at the historical dynamic.
The tradition of attending church on Sundays (or temple on Fridays or Saturdays) is one that most Americans have grown up with and believe is necessary for our spiritual well-being. We plan our weekends around it. We have special clothes that we set aside to wear for the event. We learn special songs and prayers to be used then and there. We teach our children to behave in certain ways then and there. In short, our weekly visit to the sacred sanctuary has been a significant part of our lives.
Unless, that is, we’ve grown up in a family that doesn’t—as some babyboomers did and many have chosen for their children. Or we’ve turned away from a family that does—as many babyboomers and their children have. Or, in more and more cases, we’ve realized that what is done every week in the sanctuary is a nice beginning but is not sufficient to keep us spiritually nourished—as many people in their senior years have, for centuries.
It’s clear that, following the Viet Nam Era of the late 20th century, and into the early 21st century, many Americans are joining these latter groups, as did many Europeans following World War II in the mid-20th century.
When asked why, such people will have one or more of several responses, they say that they:
- Don’t see the relevance of the services to the life they’re living;
- Don’t accept (or understand) all the things being said in the services;
- Don’t see the need to create a separate sacred space when everything, everywhere is sacred;
- Don’t believe it’s necessary to dress up and go somewhere to commune with the divine;
- Don’t think observing someone else read and speak and sing adds to their spiritual life.
These explanations are worth paying attention to, and a number of churches and temples on both sides of the Atlantic are doing so. They’ve created a more casual atmosphere, where dress is no longer considered an issue. They’ve involved more people in the service, so the focus is on what’s being shared rather than on who’s standing up in front. They’ve updated the language and music so people can see that the ideas being presented really do apply to life today. They’ve refocused their message to be upbeat and entertaining. They’ve created programs that extend beyond the weekly services to engage people in other ways. Continue reading What’s happening to churches and temples in the world today?