According to Gallup analytics, American membership in houses of worship declined in 2020, dropping below 50 percent for the first time in its eight-decade study of the trend. Only 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50 percent in 2018 and 70 percent in 1999.
I’m sure numerous spiritual leaders noticed the decline first — but weren’t famous enough to be quoted! Clergy members don’t need politicians or research analysts to confirm what they already know: The number of people in the pews has decreased, and interest in religion has taken a backseat to habitual overworking, social media addiction and modern-day fatigue brought on by the stresses of a 21st-century lifestyle.
Dr. Eric Sandras has a Ph.D. in human development and family relations, has spent nearly a decade as a human sexuality instructor at various universities and colleges, and has led churches for over 20 years. “Dr. E,” as he is affectionately known, is the pastor of Sanctuary Church on the Westside of Colorado Springs. I asked him if he believes religion is still relevant.
Who remembers that massive book we used to wait anxiously to be dropped on our doorsteps? It was the go-to resource for business referrals and last names. Wanna get some pizza? Look it up in the Yellow Pages and choose between 30 pizza joints (shout out to my childhood Fargo’s Pizza here!).
Hardly anyone uses the Yellow Pages anymore, but does that mean we no longer search for good pizza joints? Sources like Google and Yelp have actually expanded our opportunities to experience pizza. Perhaps people these days are exploring and experiencing religion differently, instead of being locked into certain venues or denominations.
Numerous surveys show a departure from religious affiliation and a rise in “none-affiliation” faith. That may reflect our technology-distracted culture, semi-obsessed with entertainment. Such results intuitively make sense — especially if religion means church-building attendance. Such insight doesn’t make authentic religion irrelevant, but perhaps more necessary than ever. Especially for those who are seeking true religion and meaning in their lives.
Religion comes from the root word “re” (again) and “ligare” (to bind, as in ligament). What if religion’s true purpose was to bind us to God and not to a pew, personality or denomination? If done right, religion helps us connect with God and become the people God desires us to be. If done wrong, religion can feel strained and sprained.
— Ahriana Platten is founder-executive director of In Good Faith, leads Unity Spiritual Center and speaks around the country on the topics of interfaith and intercultural understanding.
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