Young Adult ministry has been a challenge for congregations of all liberal protestant denominations for decades but the game is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in the post WWII church building boom. There has been a lively conversation on the UU-Leaders email list about how to address the rise of the “nones,” i.e. people who do not identify with any religious denomination. Many of our leaders believe that this is a fertile ground for UU evangelism. In this blog series I will share why I agree.
The UUA does not have the financial resources to do our own research. However there are plenty of other organizations that do have the resources, and we pay close attention to their findings.
The latest research from the Pew Institute shows that close to 20% of the population and 30% of the Millennial generation (born after 1985) state “no religious preference” i.e. “none.” 40% of those who identify as politically liberal also can be labeled as “nones.”
This is not to imply that these rising number of “no religious preference” means there is a corresponding rise in atheism or even in humanism. Indeed, a year ago, in research published by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, they found that:
that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.
With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
(The study elaborates that many of the social political issues, such as protesting gay marriage and reproductive rights, are the ones that most concern this group.)
Churches have potential to meet the spiritual needs of this group, but they have developed a bad reputation. Conservative churches are too restrictive. And the liberal churches have not been all that compelling (What is the “there” there?) as an alternative. This is changing. Books such as Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael Piazza help congregational leaders to imagine frameworks for liberal religion that allow for transformational ministry, not institutional maintenance.
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant