Part 3 of this three-part series describes Scenarios #2 and #3—both of whom share a resistance to organized religion and Christianity, but differ in people’s hunger for (and commitment to) God and the spiritual life. I will offer questions to help you identify how your church is responding to the spiritual and religious needs of people in these two scenarios, and suggest several practical ideas and resources for responding to each scenario.
Scenario #2. Spiritual but Not Religious
The second scenario describes a world in which people are spiritually hungry and searching for God and the spiritual life, but most likely are not affiliated with organized religion and an established Christian tradition. Some may join a nondenominational Christian church focused on their spiritual needs, while others may find an outlet for their spiritual hunger in small communities of like-minded spiritual seekers, in local or global acts of service, or in online spiritual resources and communities. The Spiritual but Not Religious reflect a growing minority of the American population, especially among the eighteen- to thirty-nine-year-olds. Congregations are challenged to engage people where their live (physical and virtual communities), build relationships, engage in spiritual conversations, and offer programs and activities that nurture their spiritual growth.
Scenario #3. Unaffiliated and Uninterested
The third scenario describes a world in which people experience little need for God and the spiritual life and are not affiliated with organized religion and established Christian churches. The Unaffiliated and Uninterested reject all forms of organized religion and reflect a steadily increasing percentage of the American population, especially among the eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds. Congregations are challenged to find ways to “plant” themselves in the midst of the cultures and worlds of the Unaffiliated and Uninterested, build relationships, and be witnesses to the Christian faith in the world today.
If the statistics are accurate, the growing numbers of people reflected in Scenarios #2 and #3, especially people in their 20s and 30s, present the greatest challenge to congregations and to their faith formation efforts, now and into the future. The challenge presented by these two scenarios is expanding the congregation’s vision of faith formation to embrace the life worlds—and spiritual needs—of people in Scenario #2 and #3 who see little need for church, and the need for God and the spiritual life. Congregations need to develop strategies and approaches for moving faith formation from the church campus into the world.
Viewing the Community through the Lens of Scenarios #2 and #3
Use the descriptions of Scenario #1 and #4 to reflect on the people in each scenario and your congregation’s responsiveness. Answer the following questions for each scenario:
- Who are the people in your community in Scenario #2 (Scenario #3)? How would you describe them?
- What are their religious and spiritual needs of people in Scenario #2 (Scenario #3)? How would you describe one or two aspects of their religious and spiritual hopes or desires?
- How is your church addressing the spiritual and religious needs of people in Scenario #2 (Scenario #3) through faith formation today?
Strategies for Faith Formation
Reflect on your current faith formation initiatives for Scenario #2 and begin to envision the possibilities for the future. Here are a few examples:
Invest time and resources to develop specialized faith formation around the life situations and spiritual needs of the “Spiritual, but Not Religious” who are in their twenties and thirties.
- Provide faith formation programming for spiritual seekers that is conducted in “Third Place” settings outside of the church facilities (e.g., Lifetree Café).
- Develop faith formation around marriage and baptism to respond to the potential for (re)engagement in church life of the “Spiritual, but Not Religious?”
- Provide a guided process and program for spiritually hungry people to investigate the Christian faith and join in small communities with other seekers for spiritual growth and support (e.g., the Alpha course).
Reflect on your current faith formation initiatives for Scenario #3 and begin to envision the possibilities for the future. Here are a few examples:
- Establish a “Third Place” gathering site as a platform for reaching the “Unaffiliated and Uninterested” through a variety of spiritual and/or life-centered programs, conversations, and activities?
- Develop a “web-presence” that is inviting and attractive to the “Unaffiliated and Uninterested” so that they can investigate and experience the Christian faith online.
- Sponsor programs, such as service projects and mission trips, that are designed so that people from the wider community can participate, interact with church members, and come into contact with the Christian faith in action.
John Roberto is the founder and editor of Lifelong Faith Journal. Learn more about Faith Formation 2020 and review strategies and resources for each scenario.