It is very popular today to say that you are “spiritual but not religious.” It is one of those over-used phrases that I am not sure has a real meaning. I think it means that people want to have experiences with the Divine, but they don’t want to have those experiences in a structured religious settings.
This is a dynamic that churches need to get their heads around. I heard a lot of church people who claim that the world is not spiritual at all. In fact, there is a narrative in the church that the world is becoming more secular. In fact, the opposite is happening. The world is becoming more sacred. In fact, everything is sacred. People talk about their pets, their sexuality, their gun rights, and their conservativism as holy. And people are more open to spirituality than ever before, they just find it in other ways.
I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber describe this with a helpful metaphor. She talked about phone booths. You never see them anymore. In fact, I recently had to describe what they were to my kids when we saw a random one that was still up (but out of commission). It would be easy to conclude that since we don’t see phone booths anymore people must not be talking on the phone anymore. But that would be a wrong conclusion. If anything, people are on the phone way more now. The phone booth is just outmoded now.
This is what has happened in the minds of most Americans. The church is the spiritual phone booth of a culture that is on the phone more than ever. They are just not using our phones.
As I learned from Graham Standish, when people say that they are “spiritual but not religious,” they are really saying something about the church. They are saying that the church is “religious but not spiritual.” They are saying that we are not the places they go to have spiritual conversations.
Unfortunately, I fear they are often right. Too often we go through the religious motions without genuine and life-changing spiritual transformation.
This is not all doom and gloom in my opinion. I think this is a great opportunity. You understand–the world is searching for what we have. The problem is twofold– 1.) we don’t know we have it and 2.) they don’t know we have it. Perhaps the place to start is to breathe new life into our current religious structures.