Religion, along with politics and other unmentionables, is generally accepted as one of those topics to avoid in order to reduce interpersonal conflict. Seems like a good rule of thumb for my blog, since I’m not seeking to alienate people, particularly in light of the aura of mild intimidation that I’m told I convey. I don’t mean to unnerve others, but it must happen because I’ve been hearing that scoop for a long time. I have my theories about why that is, but that’s a different post.
This post, inspired by an article I read in the local paper, is about trends in religion. Zing! I know that most who frequent this blog won’t be terribly interested in this topic, but I’m aware of at least a few who might. Caveats stated, now I’ll bravely continue.
Let’s start with an excerpt from the article:
A trend to watch in the field of faith is a decades-long increase in Americans who say they have no religion, said Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religion and divinity. From about 3 percent of people in the 1950s, that group has grown to 15 percent to 20 percent in the last decade, according to a long-running survey by the University of Chicago.
“It’s unambiguously growing,” Chaves said. “It’s one of the most striking trends.”
The National Congregations Study, a survey Chaves released last summer, showed an increase in the 2000s of predominantly white churches with some minority members.
“I would expect that to trend further in that direction,” he said.
Congregational growth has increasingly occurred in larger churches for decades; Chaves’ study showed that the largest 10 percent of churches contain half of all churchgoers.
“The interesting question is, have we hit a plateau or are we going to continue to see that increase?” Chaves said. “It can’t go on forever – we can’t all wind up in one big church.”
So it looks like people are moving either to mega-churches or to no church at all. Go big or go home. The fact that I’ve seen at least 3 megachurches built within 5 miles of my home over the last 5 years supports the validity of the megachurch trend.
This is pretty interesting and has me wondering what common thread (or combination of factors) might be the cause of both leanings. Stated another way, what variable(s) are resulting in so many people leaving small to midsize religious organizations?
I view this topic as performance mentoring related because I see connection to source (or commitment to a larger purpose or meaning) as a key aspect of a stable performance platform. By grasping population-wide trends in spiritual motivation, perhaps we can better understand our personal agendas in spirituality and source connection. What does our source connection solution need to have in order to meet our needs?
Now I don’t claim to know the answers to the questions I’m posing here because I’m not smart enough to pull that off. I’m more interested in starting a discussion with those who have their own ideas about the why’s so I can learn something.
Here are a couple of starter theories based on other peoples’ models to get us rolling:
- Seeking Requisite Spiritual Leadership. Maybe Elliot Jacques‘ Requisite Organization Theory can inform these trends, or, at least the movement to mega-churches part. Just as in organizations, more of us desire answers from a context level we can’t provide on our own. If we are, for example, having a fundamental struggle regarding which of a variety of interacting systems in our lives offer meaning or require attention at any moment, we are unlikely to get the context we need to make the best decisions from a rules-based, single system approach to spiritual leadership. However, megachurches, like mega-corporations, will have leadership functioning at a visionary, long-term directional capacity with a hierarchy of influencers at each level of capability. In a requisitely organized megachurch, there’s a place for everyone to get their meaning with the level of context that they need it. In a smaller church, fewer people will feel satisfied. Maybe those abandoning the church structure are doing so for similar reasons and finding their answers in other ways.
- Societal Progression of Thought Systems. That awkward title refers to the Spiral Dynamics Theory. To be overly simplistic, the idea is that our Western society is evolving it’s framework for meaning over time. As we change frameworks, we seek different things out of our religion, spirituality or source connections. In fact, my lay-person’s observation is that more and more people over time seem to prefer applying the word spirituality to describe their meaning seeking over the word religion. Rightly or wrongly, the word religion has associations that make it lose a sense of personal fit for increasing numbers of people. Those are likely the people leaving the churches. Those with the megachurches probably have guidance on redefining what religion means that keeps them engaged.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got. I hope I can engage a few of you in this discussion.
For what it’s worth, my subjective view of what’s better– smaller churches, big churches, no churches– is highly personalized. What I mean is that what works for you is best for you. Finding larger meaning in life is healthy and stabilizing. How you do it doesn’t matter so much. To me.