Spiritual but not religious?

Alban Institute takes up the question of being spiritual but not religious. Rather than bemoan the trend of people to leave the institutional church, Larry Peters sees it as an opportunity:

Loyalty to religious congregations may seem to be waning among some people and many articulate their concern as a suspicion of the “organizational” aspects of religious communities or their leaders. This outlook might get expressed in a variety of ways, including the statement “I am spiritual, not religious” or checking “none” on a religious affiliation survey.

Rather than bemoan this apparent trend, I believe we can listen more deeply and learn from it. The fact of the matter is that not all of those who say they are “spiritual but not religious” are outside of our congregations. Some of them are sitting in our pews. I like to think that those who say they are “spiritual but not religious” at least have one oar still in the water. I also like to think that those who don’t have a current religious affiliation may find pathways to a religious community at some point in their lives. In fact, research shows that many do.

If we listen to folks who claim to be “spiritual, not religious” we may discover that some of their critique may be useful to hear. In particular, our forms of doing things, our way of organizing may be inhibiting rather than facilitating belonging.

So here are some suggestions for what your congregation can do to nurture the “spiritual” in the religious:

1. Ask, what are we offering that explicitly responds to the spiritual needs of those who are searching, questioning and/or want to have meaningful experiences of encounter with God, with others in an atmosphere of dialogue and discovery?

2. Do an audit of your programs and the times that you offer them. Does your schedule make it difficult for different ages and lifestyles to participate? …

3. Are you an intentionally “practicing congregation”? Have you found ways for those who attend to enter into and cultivate practices that can nurture their spirit and that can deepen over time? …

4. Ask, who owns our congregation? Is one generation in charge or do you have a cross-section of generations and perspectives that are allowing you to look at your congregation through multiple lenses?

5. Can you enrich your own offerings by joining with other congregations for some joint programming that you collectively sponsor? …

Do you see this as something for despair or challenge?

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