Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I Smell Millennial Spirit


Over the past few months I have visited a variety of synagogues and churches across the country. Each of them had one thing in common: a dearth of young people in attendance. Researchers Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are shedding some light on why this may be so in their new book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.
According to the numbers, Millennials (people born between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s) are leaving religion behind in record numbers. Why? Because while 64% Millennials are absolutely certain God exists, 72% describe themselves as more spiritual than religious. Add to that number the fact that Millennials don’t use religion as a criteria for choosing their mates, and have no objection to inter-faith marriages, and you can see American clergy pulling their hair out in frustration. What can they do? Nothing. Organized religion is too tribal, too brand-dependent, and too small for spiritually oriented Millennials.
What we need are new forms of spiritual community anchored in shared questions rather than shared answers; communities with many different teachers; communities that invite people to celebrate holy days from many traditions all recast to reveal their universal messages rather than to promote their parochial pieties. These would be independent centers of spiritual exploration where the question of who’s in and who’s out—the question that still dominates conventional religions—is mute;  where children and adults can study the texts and teachings of the world’s great spiritual systems; where individuals and families can practice chanting, meditation, yoga and tai chi; where people of different backgrounds can gather to share their hopes, dreams, tragedies, life-cycle events, and quests for meaning.
Conventional religions can’t do this.  And at the moment I don’t see our interfaith seminaries doing this either. What we need is a training center for spiritual entrepreneurs where they earn a graduate level education in the texts, teachings, teachers, and techniques of the world's spiritual traditions; where they learn to work shamanically with the myths and rituals of the world's religions to tap and release the spiritual energies they contain; where they are taught how to create and manage communities financially as well as organizationally; and where they are then sent out into the world with financial subsidies that allow them the freedom to create new centers for spiritual study and community across the country and the world. There is a need. All we need now is the creative will to address it.

12 comments:

ScottED said...

I know you've been involved in interfaith seminaries. Why do you say they can't do this type of training?

Maggid said...

Thank you so much for this -
Doing my best to catch up to the vision.

love & love,
-g-

Rabbi Rami said...

I'm not saying interfaith seminaries can't do this, only that they haven't so far. My concern is that the kind of training I am imagining would take years longer than most interfaith seminaries require. It takes 5 or 6 years to become a rabbi. It would take just as long to do what I have in mind.

Changeless Chariot said...

If you build it, I will come!

migali said...

The Unitarians have been doing what you are suggesting since their inception but are having the same problem with younger people. All one needs to do is look out over the congregations of many Unitarian/Universalist organizations and see the overwhelming color of hair in the audience –grey. I don’t think it is the subject matter as much as the structure of these organizations/churches which many younger people find unappealing.

migali said...

The Unitarians have been doing what you are suggesting since their inception but are having the same problem with younger people. All one needs to do is look out over the congregations of many Unitarian/Universalist organizations and see the overwhelming color of hair in the audience –grey. I don’t think it is the subject matter as much as the structure of these organizations/churches which many younger people find unappealing.

andrea perez said...

The UUs are trying to make more UUs.They don't really put other religions on equal footing.They've become just as tribal as everyone else.
The problem with attracting more young people is more practical. When you go to seminary aren't you going for job preparation? So how many people just starting out are going to go for philosophy or church leader anymore?
Besides, you see the gray hair in church/other houses of worship for one reason: we are old enough and established enough to look towards the great issues of the day or at least aware that time is running out . Young people have enough stuff to worry about..like getting started.
Whoever is in charge needs to build their congregations based on mutual respect and equality.
Esp. when there isn't this great payoff that so many expect: like heaven or hell.
It goes back to trying to build places where everyone is welcome and there is just simple stuff to do. Most people are just not that esoteric. They are expecting bingo games and pot luck socials. So how do you do that and still create a learning center?
I know this sounds off topic but it really isn't. I think that if someone could create an interfaith place of worship/community center ala Mordechai Kaplan's model for Reconstructionist Judaism..you'd have a hit. Maybe an ex Reconstruction Rabbi(hint hint) could make such a place become a reality?

Bill Graham said...

Many younger people (as well as older ones) get defensive when the words "church" or "religion" come up. I've found that a lot of this comes from bad church experiences when they were younger -- particularly if the experience happened in an evangelical church. Some profess to hate God when the real issue is how they were treated by some church.

Denucho Attarian said...

To echo Rabbi Shapiro I see a need to get back to Religion and address the issue of "I am Spiritual but not...". Religion needs to address the adult education. What is today called Spiritual is a rejection of "downtown" religion. The pull of Spiritual is a need to keep growing and Religion doesnt address this.

LoveDog said...

I think spiritual growth is in the individual mind. Being part of a religion can help feed the poor and as a group take social action. However, rules and dogma do little to nurture spiritual growth.

LoveDog said...

I think spiritual growth is in the individual mind. Being part of a religion can help feed the poor and as a group take social action. However, rules and dogma do little to nurture spiritual growth.

Unknown said...

Posted this on a FB link to this blog in response to Migali's comment:

When I first got introduced to Unitarian Universalism, I was explained it was like church without the religion. And after being forced to attend services during middle school and some high school... I'd concur with the comment.

The church structure just isn't working for our generation, for whatever reason. I've found a real home in the YA community, and before that, youth group (both Christian and UU). I'm not sure that the church structure itself is necessarily at fault so much as the general dryness of services.

Sometimes there's too much music or other material that could be considered filler, but I think the biggest problem is a lot of the people giving sermons aren't energized enough. You can't tell by listening to them speak that they're doing something they love, that they want to share something with you. Most of the UU services I've been to have been almost... academic. And there's nothing wrong with that. But the dressing is wrong.