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Organized Religion and the Rise of the ‘Nones’

Rabbi Eric Yoffie published a commentary on Huffington Post outlining what he sees as an over-exaggeration of the impact of the rising number of people — particularly young people — who report having no religious affiliation. Rabbi Yaffie explains that many American congregations remain strong. He writes,

Also, American congregations are remarkably strong. (Robert Putnam and David Campbell demonstrate this in their book “American Grace,” and there is other evidence as well. A recent study conducted by Leadership Network in Dallas shows that megachurches are thriving in hard times.) There is a reason that American congregations have always been at the center of American religious life: Americans search out congregations because they want community, help in raising their children and a connection to the sacred. In an era of intense cultural confusion, when so much is possible and yet so little is certain, Americans need their congregations more than ever before.

He continues,

Yes, young people don’t like institutions, and they are reluctant to “join” anything. They are skeptical about hierarchies and don’t want a religion that is overly bureaucratic. And they question creeds — as young people always have.

But they also crave community. In a world where we understand less and less about our own lives, they yearn for the narratives, rituals and practices that will help them make sense of what is happening around them. And most of them need God, prayer and a place that accepts them for who they are, because they can no longer make it alone.

And so Americans will do what they have always done: Church and synagogue will not be abandoned but reconfigured. Religious authority will not be discarded but rethought. And a restless, changing America will, yet again, create a synthesis between religious tradition and modernity that will reshape our religious institutions but leave them at the heart of American life.

In what ways do you, as religious leaders and participants, see that “churches and synagogues will not be abandoned but reconfigured?” How do the organizational processes within churches and synagogues need to be reconsidered to make way for young people who are wary of institutions and hierarchies? How do churches begin to think about ways in which to establish religious authority in a way that is not overly bureaucratic?

Perhaps more importantly, how do congregations bridge the gap between the community who are satisfied with the current institution and the generation wanting a new model? What sorts of conversations need to take place within religious communities, across generations, to discuss needs and desires for congregational development and recruitment?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org