Today’s teens and twenty-somethings have put their finger on a great divide in discussions about faith: religion is one thing, spirituality is another.
Religion is a system of beliefs and practices; spirituality is a relationship between an individual and God. The way we relate to God (and, therefore each other) leads us to particular religions.
The Pew Research Center just released a study showing that Millennials (ages 18 to 29) are less likely to belong to a particular religion/denomination than their parents, but still are spiritual. They pray (although not as much as their elders), they believe in God. They just don’t regularly attend a house of worship. The study says:
Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation — so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 — are unaffiliated with any particular faith.
… Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than Generation Xers were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.
Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today.”
Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades.
And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.” (For the full story, click here.)
Believing in God but staying out of worship houses isn’t new. If I had a nickel for every person who has told me that he or she believed in God, but didn’t go to church, I’d be a rich lady. I’m not. Here are the top three reasons people have told me they don’t go to church:
- “I’m not ready” — they don’t believe that people really can approach God “just as they are” (from hymn 137, Lift Every Voice and Sing). Jesus really did mean it when he said, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.” Worship is the activity that helps free you from whatever it is that makes you feel “not ready” or “not right.” That’s part of the point of it!
- Churches are full of hypocrites. Well, yeah, if by “hypocrites” you mean people who make mistakes, commit sins. We’re all imperfect people, working on being made perfect through the grace of God and some hard work and soul-searching. What happens, though, is that some of us, in our imperfect but pretty good state, look down on those who are even less perfect. Someone who walks into a church with dirty clothes, needing a shower, etc., may not be greeted as warmly as someone well-groomed and wearing a designer suit. This is a real problem. Churchgoers often get caught up in a battle between their desire to (a) be respectable people – decent people — the kind of people someone in need of a shower wouldn’t dare come near — and (b) appear welcoming to all and compassionate. We sometimes solve this problem by offering food and free meals to the down-and-out on one day, but reserve worship on Sunday to ourselves. This all flies in the face of the example of Jesus, who regularly ate, drank and prayed with people the mainstream of society considered unsavory. If we really are followers of Christ, we have to be open to the idea that we are brother and sister to everybody. Houses of worship are for everybody. That means risking that the strange person you let come inside might be dangerous. Or might not. When you think about it, Jesus himself probably looked pretty dusty when he came into town. (For more on this topic, please see Radical Hospitality series.) And then there are those who “act all holy” on Sunday but cuss and carry on Monday through Saturday. Beloved — these are people who are fooling themselves, but not God. They need to be in church, too.
- I don’t need other people to find God. They’re absolutely right about that. We don’t need another person to bring us to God. The impulse to seek God is built into our hearts, sort of…it’s what we do. What we need other people for, however, is encouragement, increased understanding, solidarity in an ongoing struggle, doing the work of heaven here on earth. We need the corporate body to get things done, to witness to God’s love and grace in ways that are effective. We need the corporate body to affirm what we think God is calling us to do, because the Holy Spirit generally doesn’t tell something to just one person, but to several people who find each other and work together. And also — and these are my last words for this article — the overwhelming nature of the love of God automatically causes us to turn toward “the other” to act. It oveflows, our cup runs over — and goodness and mercy spill into the world.
see also the CNN article on the same study: www.cnn.com/2010/US/02/17/report.millennials.faith/index.html