Americans are diverse in culture and religion – this month is slated to be especially filled with myriad reverent celebrations in multiple faiths – but one swiftly growing group is the SBNRs: Spiritual But Not Religious. In January 2016, Pew Research Center authors David Masci and Michael Lipka examined survey data and presented an article titled “Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise.”
One expert meeting the needs of the SBNR sector is Ray Dykes. Formerly senior pastor of OKC’s Central Presbyterian Church, in 1994, he started Personal Pastor Program Inc. and its Personal Faith Program, which provides pastoral services to unchurched households and supplemental services to churched households. Dykes defines the difference between spirituality and being religious as a functional distinction.
“‘Religious’ for most people means ‘church,’” says Dykes. “The concepts, the doctrine, the dogma means church. Spirituality, on the other hand, is an individual meaning; one’s personal relationship with God or whatever one considers holy or sacred.”
“Every person in every household needs to develop a belief system to have a fighting chance of living a quality life,” Dykes states on his website.
According to Dykes, the number of Americans active in an institutional church include 40 percent of baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964); 20 percent of Gen Xers (1965-1983); and 10 percent of millennials (1984-2000).
But that trend isn’t universal: In September, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in OKC opened a satellite church in Edmond. Senior Pastor Bob Long stated that the largest and second largest groups joining the church are 30- to 39-year-olds and 20- to 29-year-olds, respectively. The combined 20-39 group, he explained, makes up 50 percent of people joining the church. Regarding national statistics on church attendance, he commented: “Nationally, 80 percent of Christian churches, regardless of denomination, are either flat or in decline. It does not have to be that way.”
One way St. Luke’s is expanding membership is through delivering universal messages while staying true to the received word of God and focused on the church mission: to share God’s love and bring hope to the world. Religion and faith, Long remarked, can be elements that draw people together – and respect for each other is key.
“We really try hard to lift up some principles that I hope transcend any certain denomination,” Long says. “It is a message that is resonating. That is why people are coming. St. Luke’s is the 13th-fastest growing Methodist church in America right now.”
If you’ve been feeling more concerned with matters of the soul, the Pew Center’s survey numbers revealed you’re not alone: “The growth of the unaffiliated population and their decreasing religiosity have been the main factors behind the emergence of a less religious public overall,” reads the article. “But, interestingly, the rise in spirituality has been happening among both highly religious people and the religiously unaffiliated.”
Respect for all faiths through understanding, tolerance and acceptance fosters a loving world. And love is a common bond among all spiritual beings.
► Season of Reflection
December is packed with holy festivities
Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) in Buddhism
A celebration of the time when Prince Gautama took his place under the Bodhi tree, vowing to remain there until attaining supreme enlightenment. This holiday is honored through meditation.
Dec. 14: Mawlid al-Nabi in Islam
A commemoration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in about 570 CE. His teachings are read and religious meetings are held. Shia and Sunni believers celebrate separate days.
Dec. 25: Christmas in Christianity
This holiday observes the birthday of Jesus Christ. Attending church, exchanging gifts and family gatherings occur to celebrate.
Dec. 25-Jan. 1: Hanukkah in Judaism
The Festival of Lights commemorates the Maccabean recapture and rededication of the Jewish Temple in 165-164 BCE. To honor the holiday, the eight-candle Menorah is lit, and observers participate in readings and songs focused on liberty and freedom.
► Get Connected
For more information: Personal Faith Program | personalpastor.org
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church | stlukesokc.org