Friday, May 15, 2015

The Rise of the Unaffiliated

All week, I've been hearing about the new study from the Pew Research Center which shows that more of us have no religious affiliation.  In the U.S., fewer of us say we're Christian, while the affiliations with Judaism and Buddhism stayed steady. The increases in those who say they're Muslim or Hindu were small:  .5 and .3 respectively.

No, the big jump comes from those who are atheist, agnostic, or who profess not to know.

If you want to read the whole study for yourself, you can find it hereThe Diane Rehm Show devoted a whole hour to discussing the implications, and it was interesting.

I've read many reactions to the story.  I thought I'd hear more expressions of shock and outrage, but either I don't move in those circles or there's not much shock and outrage.

I greeted the information with a shrug and a "Tell me something I don't know."  In my closer circle of South Florida friends, I have precisely one who has what I would consider a regular spiritual practice--and she's Hindu.  I  might should add my Wiccan friend to that tally too.  As I think about my work colleagues, I am the only one who attends church almost every Sunday.  Maybe others do, and they're quiet about it; I know that I'm quiet at work, because I was raised to believe that talking about religion and politics at work is rude.

I have a wider circle of family and friends, and many of them have regular spiritual practices.  Many of them live in places where church attendance numbers in the hundreds on an average Sunday.

That is not anything I have experienced as an adult.  When I was in grad school, I worshiped with a student group--tiny.  Most Sundays in South Florida, we rarely have over 100 at any given service, and most Sundays, we worship under 100 when we count all three services.  This statement holds true at several other Lutheran churches in the eastern part of the county.  I've heard that some of our western county Lutheran churches see more people at worship, but I'm not sure I believe it.

I know some people who believe that these low numbers portend the death of the church, but I don't believe that other.  It may be the end of church as most of us have known it, but that's likely to be O.K. too.  That model of church clearly hasn't been working for many people.

Of all the reactions to the Pew study that I've read all week, this one makes some important points.  My favorite:  "The people sitting in my church every Sunday morning really want to be there.
It is hard to form passionate, thoughtful, and transformative communities of faith when people attend church to fit in, or because it’s the only socially acceptable activity for Sunday morning. I love it that in my sweet little Pacific Northwest congregation every person there is fully aware that their neighbors are hiking, sleeping in, or doing yard work. They know they could be doing that stuff and no one would judge, but they choose church, God, and each other. There is vast potential in this gift."

I'll try to remember that when I'm one of 50 sitting in the pews this Sunday.

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