Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Details 13 Trends & Forces Affecting the Future of Faith-Formation: A Changing Church in a Changing World (Post 1 of 2)

This is my fourth post on the changing landscape for UU and other main line congregations in the coming decade.  Here I summarize the Faith Formation 2020 summary of trends and forces.


1.  Declining participation in congregations.  I devoted two other posts to this one.

2.  Growth in the number of persons declaring no religious affiliation This number has doubled from 1990 to 2009, from 8% to 15% or 16%, depending on which study you consider.  This group is called “The Nones,” as in “None-of-the-Above.”  I’ll talk more about The Nones later.

3.  Growth in the segment of the population calling themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  This portion has grown from 9% of the population in 1998 to 14% in 2008.  The figure is higher –18%– for those aged 18-39.  Of course, different folks mean different things by this term.  For some it means they have spiritual concerns and interests, but no attraction to organized religious communities.   For some it means a traditional belief in God, even in Christ as Savior, but a reluctance to be identified with rules, creeds, “boring” worship services, and the reactionary politics that has been marked by vocal expressions of religious faith in recent decades.  Yet I know UUs who are devoted to their UU institutions and their faith communities, and for them, “spiritual but not religious” means spiritual but non-dogmatic,  or spiritual but unconventionally religious.

In any case, this trend indicates less interest in participation in the congregational structures as we have known and loved them for the past century.  I did a sermon on “Spiritual but Not Religious” a few years ago.

4.  The influence of individualism on religious identity and community life.  Individualism as an aspect of identity and lifestyle  “touches virtually every aspect of American life.”  Choice and freedom are accelerating values, it seems.  As it affects faith communities, it is not just anti-religious individualism, but “privatized” religious experience and personal spiritual seeking.  The Faith Formation document says it “signals a loss of how religion is anchored in a sense of belonging…. [and] a decline in the perceived necessity of communal or institutional structures [for] religious identity.  If you know people in traditional service clubs and fraternal organizations, you may have heard of similar declines in participation.

5.  Increasing social, cultural and religious diversity in the U.S.  It can be tempting to make leaps of conclusions from some of these social trends to explain other social trends, like our declining attendance.  It’s important just to understand the context in which we do our ministries.  Faith Formation 2020 projects that Latinos or Hispanics will double their share of the U. S. population from 2005 to 2050, from 14% to 29%.  By that time, this country will not have an ethnic majority (i.e., 50% or more of one group).  In California we crossed that milestone a few years ago.

As of 2009, this was part of the U.S. religious composition:

Protestant:  51.3%,  Catholic:  23.9%,  Jewish:  1.7%,  Muslim 0.6%,  Mormon:  1.7%,  Buddhist 0.7%, Hindu 0.4%,  Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.7%.   Of course, it is not clear how many of these self-described religious identities include people who are secularized Protestants, Jews, Hindus, etc.

6.  Growing influence of Hispanic/Latino religious faith.  Faith Formation 2020 says that  the rapid growth in the Latino population AND the ways most Latinos express their faiths are “transforming the nation’s religious landscape.”  One effect is the growth of ethically oriented congregations, not only (and not always) in the features of Spanish-language programs or staff, but in a “broader and more lasting form of ethnic identification.”  While 68% of Latinos identify as Roman Catholic, 15% are born-again or evangelical Protestants.  I think this includes Pentecostal Protestants.  There’s been fast growth of Pentecostalism among U.S. Latinos and in other Latin American countries.  Moreover, according to Faith Formation 2020, 54% of Hispanic Catholics describe themselves as charismatic Christians, which means their expressions of faith in their Catholic worship is more spirited, “Spirit-led,” and Pentecostal-influenced than the standard Mass with which we may be familiar.  In other words, their churches are alive!

This is enough for today.  Trends 7-13 will come tomorrow.

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: