Here Is the Church; Here Is the Steeple; Open the Door, and Where Are the Young People?

November 12, 2008

Ian is a Christian who says he is highly spiritual but not at all religious. Unfortunately for churches, there are a lot of Ians out there. A new benchmark survey finds that 55 percent of young people ages 12 to 25 say they are more spiritual now than two years ago.

But nearly one-third of the young people said they don’t trust organized religion.

“If that’s the way they really feel, it means that we have some
serious questions that we need to ask ourselves,” said Terry Dittmer,
the director of youth ministry for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The survey, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, was
conducted by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute and released here
last week at the four-day Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth Conference.
Peter Benson and Gene Roehlkepartain, co-directors of the institute’s
Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, said
that it will take several months, if not years, of serious
number-crunching to figure out all of the study’s implications.

“This work is still in the emergent stage,” Roehlkepartain said. He
said the institute hopes to use the data as a baseline for follow-up
surveys that will be conducted every two years. “This is our first
coming-out party.”

The survey included 6,853 subjects. The first question was, “What
does it mean to be spiritual?” There were nine choices, running from
“believing in God” to “being true to one’s inner self.” They also could
say that there is no spiritual dimension, and there was an “I don’t
know” option.

The good news for faith communities is that 93 percent of the young people surveyed believe there is a spiritual aspect to life.

But the disconnect between spirituality and religion was clear in
the comments from Ian and other young people interviewed for the survey.

Gaurav said he is “practically religious” in that he follows his
Hindu faith’s traditions but he’s not “spiritually religious.” Amneh
has rejected many of her religion’s traditions as sexist but said she
still adheres to the teachings of Islam.

Benson said he wasn’t surprised that many young people drew a line between spirituality and religion.

“Spirituality is bigger than religion,” he said. “One of the things
we have to focus on now is disentangling spiritual development from
religious development.”

When told of the survey, Miriam Cameron, a professor at the
University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing, said
the results confirm what she has observed in her classes.

“Many of my students equate religion with dogma and spirituality
with harmony,” she said. But speaking as the daughter of a minister,
she said that she doesn’t think that religions needs to feel threatened
by the growth of spirituality. “Not at all,” she said. “Spirituality
works well with most religions. The only ones it doesn’t work with are
the angry people who say that everyone else’s image of God is wrong.
… The spiritual view of God is much more inclusive.”

If the youth don’t feel spiritual in church, where do they?

“Spending time in nature” topped the list of responses. “Listening
to or playing music” was No. 2, and “helping other people or the
community” was third. “Attending religious services” was ninth on the
list of the top 12 most-frequent answers.

Many young people are turning to meditation — so many, in fact,
that the Mindfulness Meditation Club at the University of Minnesota
soon might be forced to find a bigger space for its weekly introductory
yoga classes. None of the students at Friday’s class was surprised by
the news that spirituality is growing or by the finding that there’s a
line being drawn between that and religion.

“For me, that’s very true,” said junior Jon Delperdang. “I’ve developed a strong belief in the interconnectedness of the world.”

That theory that everything and everyone is part of a larger whole
is what sets spirituality off from most religions, senior David Horn
said. “It doesn’t make distinctions, and religion is all about making
distinctions,” he said.

Junior Ava Rostampour said her quest for spirituality is fueled by
an increase in knowledge. “As you meet different people, as you are
educated in different kinds of cultures, it opens your mind beyond what
you were taught as a child,” she said.

So, how do faith communities respond to this trend? The Center for
Spiritual Development stopped short of offering specific advice for how
churches can reach more young people, but it did conclude its report
with the suggestion that the place to start is with conversations. The
report recommends asking young people open-ended questions, such as
“What does being spiritual mean to you?” and “What is most important in
your life?”

“We’re not paying enough attention to what our kids are saying,” Roehlkepartain said. “We need to listen more and talk less.”

Source: Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul

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