There’s a sobering fact being recognized right now. All denominations in the United States of America are in decline. In a time as dire as the Church of England experienced in the mid-18th century, we are starting to see a collapse in the formal structures of religion as it has been practiced in the last century.
Diana Butler Bass writing on the Huffington Post site today says in part:
“The religious market collapse has happened with astonishing speed. In 1999, when survey takers asked Americans “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious,” a solid majority of 54 percent responded that they were “religious but not spiritual.” By 2009, only 9 percent of Americans responded that way. In 10 years, those willing to identify themselves primarily as “religious” plummeted by 45 percentage points.
In the last decade, the word “religion” has become equated with institutional or organized religion. Because of crises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Americans now define “religion” in almost exclusively negative terms. These larger events, especially when combined with increasing irrelevance of too much of organized religion, contributed to an overall decline in church membership, and an overall decline of the numbers of Christians, in the United States.
There may be hope, however, regarding the future of faith. Despite worry about the word, “religion,” Americans are extremely warm toward “spiritual but not religious” (30 percent) and, even more interestingly (and perhaps paradoxically), the term “spiritual and religious” (48 percent). While “religion” means institutional religion, “spirituality” means an experience of faith. Large numbers of Americans are hankering for experiential faith whereby they can connect with God, the divine, or wonder as well as with their neighbors and that lead to a more profound sense of meaning in the world. Maybe Americans once called this “religion,” but no more. Americans call it “spirituality.””
But she ends by finding hope in this new spirituality. And calls on the Church to embrace it rather than dismiss it as insufficient. As we move into a post-Christendom era in the West, there’s a lot to think about. Diana has a new book out, linked from the article above where she lays out her thinking more fully. There’s a lot of chatter online about the ideas.
Have any of you heard of any denominational or regional level voices engaging with these ideas, or especially with this book?