A possible shift by Americans toward spirituality—”measured by self-reported experiences of being connected to something larger than oneself”—and away from religiosity—”measured by frequency of religious attendance and the personal importance of religion,” as indicated in a recent study, produced mixed reactions from Christian leaders.
The study finds 29% of Americans are both spiritual and religious; 18% are spiritual but not religious; 22% are not spiritual but religious; and 31% are neither spiritual nor religious.
“The survey finds less overlap between Americans who are spiritual but not religious and those who are religiously unaffiliated than is often assumed,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, who leads the organization dedicated to research at the intersection of politics, religion and culture. “Notably, most Americans who are classified as spiritual but not religious still identify with a religious tradition, even if they are less likely to attend services or say religion is important in their lives.”
However, Min Lee, 32, a Los Angeles pastor who studies church trends, especially in the area of millennial participation, said the study, more importantly, reflects the need for people to understand that neither focus should stand alone.
“The shift of being ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’ is reflective of the secular worldview that is growing in the US,” Lee told TogetherLA. “In one sense, it shows that Americans have not entirely rejected the supernatural, but are holding onto subjectivism, or ‘following their hearts’ to find meaning and spirituality.
“Religion isn’t the answer, but neither is spirituality without absolutes. The Gospel is an absolute truth demonstrated by the love of God through the cross.”
When asked about the “state of Christianity,” in light of the survey, Lee answered: “Being ‘spiritual but not religious’ shows that people are seeing the need for meaning in life, and that institutionalized religion by in and of itself cannot fulfill that.
“As Christians, we are called to preach the Gospel that at its core says that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It is a grace-based relationship and not a religious self-effort. However, being spiritual but not religious is also a form of self-salvation effort, based on individualistic, subjective morality.”
The national survey of 2,016 American adults, designed and conducted jointly by Florida State University and PRRI and funded by the John Templeton Foundation, provides an in-depth profile of Americans who are spiritual but not religious, a PRRI representative said. The survey was conducted between February 28 and March 29, 2017.
Results as reported in the survey show:
Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, only about three in ten (29%) can be categorized as spiritual but not religious. Two-thirds (65%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are neither spiritual nor religious, compared to five percent who are not spiritual but religious and one percent who are both spiritual and religious.
Nonreligious Americans—including those who are spiritual but not religious—are significantly younger than religious Americans. A majority of Americans who are spiritual but not religious (56%) or who are neither spiritual nor religious (62%) are under the age of 50. Fewer Americans who are not spiritual but religious (50%) or who are both spiritual and religious (46%) are under the age of 50.
There are significant educational differences as well. Forty percent of spiritual but not religious Americans have a four-year college degree, including 17% with post-graduate education, well above other groups. A similar number (39%) of Americans who are spiritual and religious have a four-year college degree. Three in ten Americans (30%) who are neither spiritual nor religious have a four-year college degree. Only 24% of Americans who are not spiritual but religious are college graduates, and 53% have no college education at all.
Spiritual but not religious Americans are significantly more liberal (40%) than the general population (24%). Yet these Americans mostly avoid partisan labels, as 44% are politically independent. However, spiritual but not religious Americans are more than twice as likely to identify as Democrat than Republican (36% vs. 16%).
“The spiritual but not religious segment of the population in the United States may be growing, yet they are still largely participating in our churches,” Mark Tidsworth, a South Carolina-based church and leadership consultant, author and president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates, told Baptist News Global.
“So those in our congregations who trend toward spirituality over religiosity largely do not flee for the exits,” he said.
Should churches change strategies in reaching people for Jesus in light of a “spirituality” movement?
“We are in dire need for another Gospel movement in this generation,” said Lee, who is part of a church plant in downtown L.A. “I’m confident that God is on the move today, through His people, to reach this generation with the unchanging message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Should we learn to contextualize? Absolutely. Do we need to compromise? Absolutely not.”
He added the below Bible verse to his answer:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” — Romans 1:16
What are your thoughts on the subject? Is it more important for you to be spiritual or religious? Or, be honest, are you struggling with where to start in your faith journey? Leave your comments below.