Ian is a Christian who says he is highly spiritual but not at all religious. Unfortunately for churches, there are a lot of Ians out there.
A new benchmark survey in the US finds that 55 percent of young people aged 12 to 25 say they are more spiritual now than two years ago. But nearly one-third of the young people don’t trust organized religion.
"If that’s the way they really feel, it means that we have some serious questions that we need to ask ourselves," said Terry Dittmer, the director of youth ministry for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The recently released survey, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, was conducted by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute. Peter Benson and Gene Roehlkepartain, co-directors of the institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, said that it will take several months, if not years, of serious number-crunching to figure out all of the study’s implications.
"This work is still in the emergent stage," Dr Roehlkepartain said. The institute hopes to use the data as a baseline for follow-up surveys every two years. "This is our first coming-out party."
The survey included 6853 subjects. The first question was, "What does it mean to be spiritual?" There were nine choices, running from "believing in God" to "being true to one’s inner self." They also could say that there is no spiritual dimension, and there was an "I don’t know" option.
The good news for faith communities is that 93 percent of the young people surveyed believe there is a spiritual aspect to life.
But the disconnect between spirituality and religion was clear in the comments from Ian and other young people interviewed for the survey.
One said he is "practically religious" in that he follows his Hindu faith’s traditions but he’s not "spiritually religious." Another said she has rejected many of her religion’s traditions as sexist but said she still adheres to the teachings of Islam.
Dr Benson said he wasn’t surprised that many young people drew a line between spirituality and religion.
"Spirituality is bigger than religion," he said. "One of the things we have to focus on now is disentangling spiritual development from religious development."