Twenty-First Century Spirituality and Religion
Our answer is God. God's answer is us. Together we make the world better.
Puzzled about God, spirituality, and religion? Losing your faith? Want to grow spiritually? Transitioning in your life or religious organization? Lost your way? All religions respected and welcome. Sound scholarship - no hype - no doctrines.
Copyright © 2007 Dorian S. Cole
Mainstream churches are mostly declining in attendance. When young adults move on to college, they discontinue going to church at the rate of around 80%. They don't come back nor do their children ever come. It isn't that religion becomes unimportant - on the contrary - the church simply doesn't minister to their needs - it doesn't seem relevant.
In a recent radio spot, I put the need for church in this simple way:
Parents give consistent messages to their children, and some of it actually sticks. Habits form which eventually become attitudes that are tested in the fire of life experience. Parents help build character.
Churches help build Christian character through historical and individual experience, for a more satisfying life.
Problems in life aren't resolved in 30 minutes - it's a journey.
Those of us who attend regularly, believe in the church - it isn't just a habit. Sometimes we don't know why something is good until someone points it out. For example, "Why are good tires good?" "They are round. Round is good." Many times we don't think beyond roundness - the tire works. Why else are tires good? They last a long time (over 50,000 miles), have a material and groove structure that doesn't slip much, and they have a groove pattern that channels water through the grooves instead of the tire hydroplaning on top of water.
So what does the church have to offer? Or to be more precise, "How is the church relevant in people's lives?"
On the backside of that question, the church continuously wrestles with these questions:
The concern is always that we focus on our primary mission, which is spiritual matters, and not get sidetracked into things that supposedly have no spiritual or religious relevance and which rob the time and energy from our efforts. In other words, not to substitute packaging for message, in the quest to be relevant. But do we need to consider anything beyond "roundness?"
What is relevant to people? Basic research into people's interests and concerns indicates the following:
What do people want? People want to feel alive and dynamic, and see this vitality blossom in things that they do with family and friends. This is the primary aspect of our quality of life.
Specifically fundamental to people who express their wants, somewhat in descending order is: love (familial - not in the theological sense), money, security, freedom of choice over things that are relevant in their lives, housing, travel and transportation, food (qualitative), recreation, adventure, spirituality and religion, hopes and dreams, and empathy with others.
Religion may play an important part in most people's lives, but it isn't a daily concern, and may not even rise in importance to the level that it gets addressed. Food has a higher priority (and Christian groups always love to eat). In the Western world we are in countries that consider themselves primarily "Christian," and our cultures display Christian values and regularly portray Christian actions on TV and in movies. It is easy to believe that we are Christ like, whether we really are or not. We are in a daily struggle to compete with the other demands and choices in life, and in our hectic lives there is very little time available for religion.
What does the church do to help people feel alive and dynamic, especially with family and friends?
Without community, in this highly mobile world of ours, the sense of identity, belonging, shared values, and learned values breaks down. People lead disparate lives of isolation and loneliness, and feel that they are struggling alone with their problems. Shared values fail to get passed on to children, and we find children and young adults looking more to peers and the media for their ideas of how to live. Violence among children of all ages is on the rise, and during the last survey period teen pregnancy jumped up by 3%, bucking the thirty-year downward trend.
But as much as we can see that the church is needed, we are too often failing to retain and attract people. The church can be a very bright place in people's lives. It is a challenge to not let it drift into complacency and tradition, and then into irrelevance. The church has to stay relevant.
Sometimes we look at goals, such as "spiritual matters." and forget about the journey toward reaching them. Everything in life is an opportunity for interaction with other people, and those interactions are opportunities for the ten points above.
The church can't be, and shouldn't be, the activity provider for everyone. That only creates an isolated community that is only interested in itself, and what it produces goes into creating activity. I have seen churches in which their chief product is simply more church attendance, and little else of practical value is accomplished. But the church can be a community of sharing the things that are important to everyone by including them in the mix. Those things could be love, money, security, freedom of choice over things that are relevant in their lives, housing, travel and transportation, food, recreation, adventure, spirituality and religion, hopes and dreams, and empathy with others.
I often ask a very relevant question about business: The goal of business is to make money, but for what purpose? Money is simply a means to an end. What is the end. To name a few things, money feeds families, pays for housing, helps people become educated, and helps people retire. So the real goal of business is not making money, but enriching people's lives through paying money.
So what is the the purpose of increasing church attendance? Just to have more money, or more church? Or is it to be involved in people's lives in a meaningful way? In John 10, Christ compared himself to those who come with empty messages that promise much and delivered nothing, stealing away lives. In contrast, people will listen to his message (v10) "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." How are we helping make their life more abundant?
People are more interested in religion than we think, but our environment can be misleading. For example, politicians often ask what people's concerns are related to issues, and the answers come back things like war, healthcare, and the economy. But pollsters only put a selected menu in front of people. You won't find chicken on an ice cream menu.
Another example: If you look at magazines at the supermarket checkout counter, people are interested in sex and celebrity gossip. But only certain customers are primarily interested in these - these magazines just happen to sell well at the checkout counter.
My research into all ages for 9000 people's selections, out of over 500 different articles to read, indicated what they were interested in over a one month point in time. War and the economy are political concerns, but very low on this list in the overall scheme of things. High on the list is the mystery of life's meaning and purpose. "Who are we, and why are we here? What does it mean to be human? How do we fit into God's universe? What is our "human condition," and how do we improve our relationships with others?"
The articles included articles about religion, but neither the articles nor the audience are primarily religious. People are wrestling with philosophical questions that set their direction in life, and with the practical problems of life.
Concerns in order of priority:
Lifeway Research conducted a survey among people age 18 to 34 that discovered a major factor causing young adults to leave the church is the church's inability to minister to them in their transition stage. http://www.christianpost.com/article/20061207/23925.htm.
What do church-going young adults find important?
Late young adults have a very difficult time finding appropriate places to meet, make friends, share common interests, and date. There is very little sense of "community" for them. In too many communities the default activity is drinking, sex, and other risky behavior.
Early young adults need activities and the ability to explore and discuss things that are common to them without being criticized (or sense a critical atmosphere).
Child raising years are particularly difficult for families. They are extremely busy with school and extracurricular activities, and they are often looking for practical answers to life's child-rearing and relationship problems. People often lose their sense of identity and time for their own interests and care, and so find life even more difficult. Shouldering the work of the church is almost more than they can bear, except in bite-size chunks, but they have great needs. People are still growing and learning during this time, while greatly expanding their capacity to give to others.
As children leave home and people reach retirement age, there is often a void in people's sense of meaning and purpose in life. Supporting the family is no longer the purpose, so many people often lose their identity and often fall into inactivity, unhappiness, and their health declines. It is a difficult transition for many and the church can assist with guidance in re-architecting their lives. People are still growing and learning during this time, and have much to give if they can find their role.
The early Christian movement was a smashing success. It grew very rapidly. It had not become dogmatic, establishment, and orthodox (right belief). Why the success? In his book, The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries, Wayne Meeks notes that Christianity was not a cohesive community of beliefs. They argued about everything. What was prevalent was their diversity of thought. What characterized the community was a strong sense of community, a strong sense of hospitality, and a strong sense of moral consequence that was illustrated in the narratives of Ancient Israel and Jesus Christ. The individual communities responded individually to the situations and challenges that each group faced.
The early community was a community of dialogue and of collectively facing common challenges in their own way.
One of the major challenges today is the pace of change. Technology changes our world very quickly. The pace of change in the last 100 years has gone on at an exponential rate. People can't keep up - they need something stable to hold on to. If there is nothing concrete, they find something, right or wrong. We see it strongly in political voting trends, and it is difficult for candidates espousing change to overcome. Karen Armstrong, in her book The Battle For God, A History of Fundamentalism, asserts that in a world of changing moral beliefs, people resort to very literal interpretations of their religions. Fundamentalist notions become in vogue, as they are in Christianity and in Islam. This has happened repeatedly throughout history. It is much easier to point to hard and fast rules, than to rethink everything over and over during continuous change.
We each have mental constructs of what we and our world are about. This is how we make sense of our world; how we find (interpret) meaning in the events in our lives. If that construct is challenged or broken, we have to restructure it - this is a growth process. If we are not able to reconstruct it, we remain in limbo, in chaos. Rethinking everything all the time because things change so fast is also chaos. As I noted in my research, people are searching today to understand who we are as humans, and who we are with respect to God. People don't want to be stuck in chaos. They are trying to understand their place and values in a changing world.
What the church offers in changing times can be something concrete:
The temptation is to get caught up in disagreements over packaging and theological statements, as if packaging and statements are the message or the thing that is relevant. The focus has to be on people's needs and how following Christ applies to those needs.
We can't get caught up in arguments over "packaging," such as the use of media, music styles, and worship styles, and even recreation and other shared experiences that aren't primarily "religious." Even God "rested" and commanded us to rest. Every shared experience can be a healing and fulfilling part of a spiritual journey that reconciles the world to God.
Younger generations require more and different stimulation than past generations. They relate to things differently - as different as reading and radio versus the Internet and multi-media as ways of communicating. We may not like the trends, but we have to deal with what is, not what we would like them to be. We have to be versatile, delivering the same basic message of God's love and relevance, in as many packages as appeal to people, and continue to show how people benefit from community and a lifetime journey in Christ. But we have to make sure that we are that community.
Yours in Christ,
- Dorian Scott Cole
What is this thing called sin? Is it the same today as in 1200 BCE? Are all sins equal? Sexual morality. Sin and the future of the church.
What is the Bible about? Politics? Economics? What? What? What?
Transitioning: Five-part series explores coping with and embracing change. Includes why changes are normal but difficult, the courage to change, staying oriented, rediscovering ourselves, and rearchitecting our lives.
Freedom in Christ: Trapped by apocalypse and Rapture?
Spiritual Growth series: This series is well researched and looks at many aspects of spiritual growth from the point of view of faith. Topics include: Are spiritual and religious different? What is a spiritual journey? Are there signs of maturity and stages of growth? Spiritual development in Ancient Judaism. Spiritual development among the disciples. Discerning the path. My personal spiritual journey. Moral, Ethical, Legal - If it's legal, is it right?
Prophecy series: Seven secrets others don't tell you. This series is well researched and looks at many aspects of prophecy from the point of view of faith. Prophecy is explored in its cultural, historical, and eschatological context. Topics include: What does prophecy mean? What is the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord about? What does apocalyptic "trembling in our boots" prophecy mean? What does modern prophecy mean? What are our defining issues today, and can our values save us?
Series are excellent for group discussion.
The Bible and Religion in Context series Five-parts. Religion can become about being an institution or about what we want as individuals. For those who have their own agenda when reading the Bible, perception is the path to insanity and ruin. Before drilling down into the nitty gritty details of religion and doctrine, we need a good grounding in the nature of God. We can start with, “God is love.” We have to prove the truth of the way God has shown us is right and other ways are wrong. We learn from both. The really important thing to believe is that love is the right way. God breathes life into the words as we read.
What Does God Ask Of Us? Six-part series explores if God needs anything from us. The prophets tell us what God wants us to do. Jesus demonstrates God’s love that we’re to show others. The Apostles tell us explicitly what love is and isn’t. God loves us more than we can imagine.
Meaning and Purpose series – What is meaning? Six-part series explores what we find meaningful in our lives, how to guard against illusions and false gods, how to feel deserving, how to find purpose, and how to reinvent ourselves after change.
Working with new generations (Gen Z). Fourteen-part series explores 2000 years of endless change, church eras, the need for change, seven parts on LGBTQIA+, era of conscience and reassessment.
False Religion, True Religion. Eleven-part series on worshiping in spirit and in truth, and things that divert us from our path such as a focus on money and power, End Times prophecy, and how two churches spoken about in Revelation got distracted.
Don’t worry, be happy. Nine-part series explores things that make us unhappy, such as change, things that make us happy, and how to stay on top.
Why Pray? Series. Eleven-part series explores: What is prayer and who can use it?” (everyone). Unrealistic expectations. And criticism – can it be subjected to scientific studies and philosophical inquiries?
New Generations Walk with Jesus: The missions in a changing world. How do you minister to new generations who won’t step foot in a church because they can’t satisfy their spiritual needs there? You understand their needs and respond to those. This book by the author is available on Amazon in both print and ebook.
Author's Books - Nonfiction
New Generations Walk With Jesus How to minister to new generations age 15 to 30 (ebook, Kindle, Paperback)
The Prophetic Pattern. Guide to ancient prophecy - are we all going to die any day now?
Careers. Preparing For The Future Of Work And Education. (One year of research and writing.) Free.
Christian plays. and Childrens sermons.
How To Write A Screenplay Free.
Appease The Volcano. Nature of God - What Does God ask of us. The development of religion.
Death By Christmas
Liars Truth Fantasy. Second chance in Hell means rescuing others.
Nowhere Man Thriller. Pandemic. Waking nightmares, distorted time perception, comas with no cure.
Unauthorized Access (series of 3) Legal mystery. People with endless problems hide the truth to protect others.
Total Immersion New Adult. Romantic Comedy. Mature themes. Romance strikeout compels a man to fully immerse himself in a 3D environment.
Service and Aid Opportunities
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” - John 13:35 (NASB)
Youth Service Projects
Build Homes for Others
Religion sponsored missions
Peace and Conflict Resolution
Copyright © 2008 Dorian Scott Cole. Produced by TechGenie Media, LLC
Material on this Web site is meant to be used in sermons, teaching, etc. You are welcome to make standard size quotations from this article with proper attribution (Dorian Scott Cole, One Spirit Resources Web site). This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole.
Dove: Original File: Teetaweepo; Conversion to SVG: JustMyThoughts, CC BY-SA 3.0
Background Abstract Colorful Smoke Colorful: https://www.maxpixel.net/Background-Abstract-Colorful-Smoke-Smoke-Colorful-5638229 By Maxpixel.net on Maxpixel.net
Compositions by Dorian Scott Cole
Book covers: Compositions by Dorian Scott Cole. See inside books for credits.