As I think about the future of Christ United, I think back on articles I have read over the last few years.
In a paper I wrote at the end of my first year of seminary, I included an article from 2015 from Pew Research about “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.” It found that from 2007 to 2014, the number of those who are ‘unaffiliated’ with any religion grew from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population.
Last December, Pew Research conducted a similar survey and found that that number has grown even more: “about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious ‘nones’ – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or ‘nothing in particular’ when asked about their religious identity.” At the same time, the share of people who identify as Christian went down, from 78% in 2007, to 63% in 2021.
Many times in seminary I heard the fact that, every 500 years there is a major reformation in the church. This is based on the fact that over 500 years ago, in 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to a church door in Germany. This set off the Protestant Reformation that the Lutheran church traces as its beginning. My seminary professors and classmates discussed how it seemed like we are in the midst of another major reformation in the church.
One way to see what the future will be, is to look at the next generation coming up, Gen Z (ages 13-25). An article in USA Today this past March referenced a survey conducted by Springtide Research Institute about Gen Z. USA Today reported that Gen Z do a variety of other activities for their spiritual lives. In looking at the Springtide Research Institute survey, the USA Today reporter “found that when asked what activities they pursued as a religious or spiritual practice, young people were likelier to engage with art (53%) than prayer (45%); more likely to seek out nature (45%) or do yoga or martial arts (40%) than study a religious text (28%); and more likely to practice meditation (29%) than participate in religious groups (25%).”
In an article a few weeks ago, the monthly publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) found similar results about Gen Z: “they’re engaging in other ways [outside of a church building]. It’s still within the ecology of the ELCA, even: working with immigration, advocacy, climate justice and more.”
I can see this in my own life. Among my friends, many who are millennials, it’s the exception to go to church, not the rule. They do still identify as Christian, but they no longer attend a church service regularly.
Over the last few years I’ve heard the term “spiritual but not religious” many, many times. Some people use this label to describe themselves. It is articles like these, and my own experience, that I turn over in my mind as I think about those who are “spiritual but not religious.”
The question then is, how do we at Christ United be the church of the future?
Do we try our hardest to convince people to come back to church? Do we continue to do our own thing and continue to do what we’ve always done, not caring about what is happening in the world outside the church doors? Do we change everything that we are doing to bring people back to church? Do we do a combination of all of these questions?
These are the questions I ask myself as I try and answer the question of how we be the church of the future.
There is one thing I do know: people need to gather together to seek answers from and be in communion with the divine. That is one thing that I don’t ever see changing.
As we are planning for the future of Christ United, I’ll continue to turn all of this over in my head. I hope you all will as well. I invite all of you to join me in prayer, asking God to show us how to be the church of the future.
Peace and blessings,