Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Diverse and More Secular

That's the finding of a new survey on religious participation in the country. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) shows a continuing decline in religious affiliation with mainline Protestant and Catholic churches and a significant increase in the number of Americans who are opting out of religion all-together. Among the findings:
So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

The percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or "born again," was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.

Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.
In many ways here at Open Circle we are living on the front-lines of this phenomenon. There is very little denominational loyalty. We have a handful of folks who maintain strong denominational ties but the majority are post-denominational. They support the progressive vision of our congregation and are largely uninterested in what is happening in our denomination, or any other denomination.

Among those who are active participants at OC there is what I would call a continuing left-ward drift on the religious spectrum. Most who come to OC are coming in from more traditional or more conservative churches. Church is still important to them but they want to be in a church where scripture isn't read literally, where other religions are respected, and where "spirituality" is more important than "religion." Perhaps most importantly, many of these folks have young children. They want their children to have a religious upbringing and they want it to be in a more liberal environment.

But as their children grow and move on to college they continue their left-ward spiritual drift. (To say this is not to say that they are spiritually adrift, but that the direction of their spiritual exploration, which they take seriously, is left-ward.) Some stay connected to church but experiment with alternative spiritualities: wicca, men's spirituality groups, new age, Buddhism, etc. A few drift further left into Unitarianism, but stay within the organized religion circle. Some drift out of church altogether and join the ranks of the formerly religious.

This is the niche market of a church like ours. We are "capturing" those, many with children, who have left behind traditional and denominational and Christian identities and are moving left-ward on the religious spectrum. It is a challenging and interesting place to be.

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