I got an email yesterday.
“Tim, I read your blog, and used to more when I was in Chicago. My daughter and her fiance are now living there, and I’m wondering if you can recommend any progressive churches that they might be welcome to join.
Her fiance is Hindu, and isn’t interested in converting. Where can they go?”
Last night someone popped in my office from an event being held here as I was burning the evening oil,
“Hey,” they said, “could I come to this church even if I don’t know what I think about God or Jesus? Like, would I be able to be a part of it even if I’m not sure about the whole thing?”
There are two poles at play here, folks: people, especially those under 30, aren’t interested in religion as it has historically been practiced. They are, though, interested in spirituality, connection, ritual, change, and belonging.
So what’s a church supposed to do?
Vox has a recent article out noting that places like Crossfit and Soulcycle are replacing churches in the lives of many. Notice those names, by the way…I don’t think it’s an accident that they use the symbols of traditional religion and squeeze them in such a way that they speak something new. The article is a spin out of a new study done by Harvard Divinity on where people are gaining their spiritual groove in the age of declining denominations.
Your fitness instructor becomes your pastor, whether they’re qualified or not. The bike becomes your pew, the strobe becomes your candles, and your sweaty shirt smell is now the incense rising as an offering to the God keeping your breath from running out. I say this with no mockery, by the way. All of that ritual act is absolutely what is happening, and the problem for the church is that it is speaking clearer and better than what’s usually happening on Sunday morning in most churches.
Some might read the above paragraph and say, “Well, the church needs to speak clearer, then!”
But, I’m finding that it’s kind of like speaking sister languages, actually: they sound the same, have the same root words, and you can understand some of what the other is saying…but the translation isn’t the problem.
They’re similar, but different.
And so the question for the church isn’t how to speak louder or clearer, but the question is actually: are you willing to learn a new language?
The Vox article notes that people want two things these days: belonging and becoming.
The church has historically said that the belonging portion of Christian activity has to do with belief subscription and faith affirmation. Well, at its best it does. At its worst it has to do with transferring your membership and giving an offering…
And becoming? Layers upon layers of issues have stacked up on this particular point for the church. Doctrines like “original sin” and rituals like “the sinner’s prayer” have all emphasized how bad you are, and how reliant on God you are to become anything different or new. The actual affects of such repentance and forgiveness cycles are hard to see, though.
The effects of Soulcyle though? Look in the mirror.
The problem with Sunday morning isn’t that people aren’t interested in the topic. They certainly are!
The problem with Sunday morning is that people aren’t interested in the medium. They don’t trust the outcome because they can’t see the results. They don’t feel like they belong, at least not in a way in which their whole selves can be present.
So, what’s the church going to do?