Over the past few months I have visited a variety of synagogues and churches across the country. Each of them had one thing in common: a dearth of young people in attendance. Researchers Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are shedding some light on why this may be so in their new book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.
According to the numbers, Millennials (people born between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s) are leaving religion behind in record numbers. Why? Because while 64% Millennials are absolutely certain God exists, 72% describe themselves as more spiritual than religious. Add to that number the fact that Millennials don’t use religion as a criteria for choosing their mates, and have no objection to inter-faith marriages, and you can see American clergy pulling their hair out in frustration. What can they do? Nothing. Organized religion is too tribal, too brand-dependent, and too small for spiritually oriented Millennials.
What we need are new forms of spiritual community anchored in shared questions rather than shared answers; communities with many different teachers; communities that invite people to celebrate holy days from many traditions all recast to reveal their universal messages rather than to promote their parochial pieties. These would be independent centers of spiritual exploration where the question of who’s in and who’s out—the question that still dominates conventional religions—is mute; where children and adults can study the texts and teachings of the world’s great spiritual systems; where individuals and families can practice chanting, meditation, yoga and tai chi; where people of different backgrounds can gather to share their hopes, dreams, tragedies, life-cycle events, and quests for meaning.
Conventional religions can’t do this. And at the moment I don’t see our interfaith seminaries doing this either. What we need is a training center for spiritual entrepreneurs where they earn a graduate level education in the texts, teachings, teachers, and techniques of the world's spiritual traditions; where they learn to work shamanically with the myths and rituals of the world's religions to tap and release the spiritual energies they contain; where they are taught how to create and manage communities financially as well as organizationally; and where they are then sent out into the world with financial subsidies that allow them the freedom to create new centers for spiritual study and community across the country and the world. There is a need. All we need now is the creative will to address it.