As you know, I’m no stranger to the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) conversation. There’s been a new round of attention to what the Pew Research Center calls the “nones,” or the 20% of Americans who have no religious affiliation.
NPR has offered a series related to Pew’s findings. In their first installment they provided an overview of the research and commentary from Harvard Professor, Robert Putnam, who points out that nones are also not joining non-religious institutions. In their second installment NPR offers testimonials from those who have left or chosen not to join a religious institution.
While NPR provides us with the research and case studies, Lilian Daniel, famous for being bored by SBNR people, turned her article into a book. You can read an interview with her, about the book, here.
I look forward to reading the book, and doing so may change some of my thinking on this, but overall I tend not to lay the burden on SBNR, folks. Religious institutions have given plenty of reasons for folks to be SBNR, whether they be related to hatefulness and abuse or just being downright boring, ineffective or irrelevant. Also, SBNR folks may not be “going deeper” in institutional religion, but they may be going deeper within their own communities, building strong relationships with their co-workers, friends and neighbors. Communities that offer a depth of meaning through art, music, food, sustainability, and searching for the common good, may indeed offer a deeper “religious” experience than a Sunday worship service and a mid-week committee meeting.
We religious folks may have more to learn from SBNR folks about what religion looks and acts like instead of trying to tweak our institutions and changing the window dressing to seem more “relevant” and “authentic.” Instead of pouting (“there’s nothing we can do to reach those people, so why try?”) and throwing hissy fits (“it’s not fair, my church isn’t mean and it doesn’t suck!”) over why fewer people want to go to our churches anymore, lets spend time listening to stories and experiencing communities that SBNR folks identify with.
We may be surprised by what we learn.