According to a Pew Research Center study released this week, in the past seven years, the United States has experienced “a general pivot away from traditional religious identification.”

This will not come as an earth-shattering revelation to most people who faithfully occupy a pew on Sunday. What might be a bit of a surprise is that, at the same time, Rafi Schwartz reports,

those who do identify as religiously affiliated have held relatively steadfast in terms of indicators of faith. For example, among that group, the proportion professing a belief in God remained unchanged at 97 percent. In fact, the number of adults identified as religiously affiliated who claim to “rely mainly on their religious beliefs for guidance on questions about right and wrong” saw a noticeable increase, up seven points from 34 to 41 percent between 2007 and 2014. And while not specifically “religious” per se, American adults who identify with indicators of a less-specific spirituality have increased in number, as well, with a seven-point increase to 59 percent for adults who claim a sense of “spiritual peace and well-being” since 2007. Similarly, the number of American adults who admit to a sense of “wonder about the universe” on a weekly basis has gone up seven points, from 39 to 46 percent in that time frame.

http://magazine.good.is/articles/pew-religious-study-more-spiritual

My experience suggests that exactly the same trend is present in Canada. The general public is less and less committed to institutional religion. But, these same people are increasingly likely to seek some form of spiritual expression in their lives. People may not warm a pew on Sunday; but they may well be listening to MP3 downloads of Adyashanti or Ekchart Tolle, chanting Hebrew mantras in a yoga class, or joining a “spiritual meet up” where

We discuss out-of-body experiences, the spiritual nature of dreams, déjà vu, near-death experiences, seeing an inner light, hearing an inner sound, spiritual exercises,   having a knowingness/sense that you have lived before, karma, reincarnation and different states of consciousness.

http://www.meetup.com/victoriaspiritualexperiencesgroup/

There are an untold number of spiritual counsellors and purveyors of spiritual practices available online and conversations in polite company seem to be increasingly comfortable in the landscape of the landscape of the sacred.

What does all this have to say to the church?

I see at least three lessons in the shifting spiritual landscape:

1. The days of Christian arrogance must end. We are no longer, if we ever were, the only show in town. There are real and legitimate ways of embodying and nurturing a spiritual life that will never be exercised inside the walls of our churches.

Christians may – indeed I would argue must – continue to hold the truths of our faith with passionate conviction. But, at the same time, we must respect and value the different ways other people are finding to embody and express their faith. We need to abandon the tired cynical sneer that labels everything that is not church as just “New Age fluff.” As much as it may make us feel uncomfortable, we need to understand that talk of “karma, reincarnation and different states of consciousness” is touching something real in peoples’ lives.

2. We must be willing to listen to the world beyond the church. For too long Christians have been holed up in the safe protected confines of church-land. We talk to ourselves about issues that concern us. We fail to pay attention to the fact that, beyond the church, people have stopped listening to our discussions and think we are ridiculous for still debating whether or not we should marry people in same-sex relationships.

Much of the world has moved to a more expansive, open, gentle place than the church as a whole has occupied for centuries. If we cannot embrace the lessons of the present moment, we should not be surprised if we continue to be marginalized in an increasingly active and creative spiritual marketplace.

3. No one needs the church any longer in order to experience real spiritual community and fellowship. We need to understand that we will no longer win adherents by merely offering friendship and community. A sense of human connection is profoundly important. But there are just too many other opportunities to fulfill the need for human connection for the church to rely any longer on this as our primary contribution.

If Christians are going to compete in the spiritual marketplace, we need to have a clear grasp of our unique contribution.

Jesus is the reality that distinguishes Christianity from other expressions of faith.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States is issuing a stirring call to his church to return to an awareness that, as Christians, we are part of what he calls “the Jesus movement.” We may do well to heed Michael Curry’s call, and return to a deep commitment to the centrality of Jesus, provided we can do so in a way that remains open, respectful and gentle, like the one we desire to follow.

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