Belief in God… Just Not Church

Last Sunday I provided a quick “youth culture update” to a local group of youth leaders. In this training, I talked about how the majority of this young generation in America is open to God and spiritual beliefs… just not church attendance or organized religion (a fact I discussed in detail in my book about reaching out to the unchurched).

UK opinion columnist Camilla Cavendish draws the same conclusion about people in Britain. In this article she highlights the religious trends report suggesting there will be fewer people attending churches than mosques by 2040. Apparently only 6.3 percent of the UK population attends church on an average Sunday.

But does that mean 93.7 percent are atheists?

Not even close.

Cavendish, a self described “moonlighting agnostic,” gives us a glimpse into the reality that people might be interested in God… they just aren’t interested in church.

There is a fascinating debate to be had about cause and effect. But the only point I want to make is that being a Christian country has always been about more than belief in God and Sunday worship. In the 2001 census, seven in ten people described themselves as Christian, to the astonishment of many bishops; 22 per cent claimed to be still going to church at least once a year.

So Britain is very similar to America in that the majority of the country describe themselves as Christian, but very few attend church. My friend Dan Kimball expands on this phenomena in his book They Like Jesus, But Not the Church.

This coincides with much of what we’re hearing from people in the media (the source where much of this generation are drawing their opinions from). Celebrities make statements frequently that support this kind of thinking. In my Reaching Out to the Unchurched Training I often share quotes from the media preaching “belief in the spiritual” but resistance to “church or religion.”

“I think I find more strength in faith than I do in organized religion.”
– Jon Bon Jovi, Time, August 6, 2007, p. 6.

“I believe there is something out there.  I believe there is an energy, a Karma– you know– what goes around comes around.  And I hope to God that there is an afterlife . . . I don’t go to church that often.  I go for like Easter Sunday.  There is such a short period of time to live and I’d rather spend it ‘living life’ as apposed to sitting down and praying.”
-Hayden Panettiere, Interview, The Source for Youth Ministry

“I grew up in a family that called itself Catholic.  But nobody told me that to pray you have to go to a place.  I’ve always believed in God my own way.”
– Actress Penelope Cruz, Jane, March 2005, p. 109.

Hmmmmmmm.

I always find it interesting to get a peek into the minds of those we are trying to reach.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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One Response to Belief in God… Just Not Church

  1. Joe says:

    thanks for the short yet succinct commentary. You’ve managed to put what I’ve been thinking in such a short writing when I ended up babbling into a novel length gibberish each time I attempted to express this.

    As you’ve described, Media is indeed pushing the youth to believing in “I am spiritual, just not religious” mentality.

    However, I find no solace or comfort in this, and I do not see this as any way of saying they love Jesus but not the church. Rather, it reflects how these people have been brainwashed to thinking that spirituality can be attained without belonging to an organised religion.

    To the mass consumerist media, organised religion is the biggest hurdle in trying to achieve its global domination, as they teach selfless communal living as opposed to selfish spending living which is essential for gaining profit. When media says “You can be spiritual without going to church”, they rarely point the youth to a correct source of this spirituality. Rather, it all seem to be a marketing plot to get more people into the doors of yoga and pilate classes, astrology and aromatherapy shops, these so-called new age spiritualities, which simply does not work.

    It’s come to the point that magazines and media are bombarding the youth with “Sex is spiritual act…therefore why wait till you are married?”. Hence, promoting the promiscuous life in the name of experiencing spirituality…

    In any case, the above celebrities do nothing but reflect on the affluenza mentality they all live in. What Ms Panettiere has said is equivalent to saying, if put in relationship context “There is such a short period of time to live, I’d rather just ‘date’ rather than sitting down and talking about our feelings, goals, hidden issues, etc.”

    I really do think we live in a society way too well-off for its own good that God no longer becomes necessary, and the institutions that bring God to people have been surrogated over by dance clubs, psychologists, pilates and yoga classes, etc.