The Pew Forum has just released a report on religious life in America. Likely you will see a flurry of articles over the next day or two in the papers and then won't hear of it again.
Which is a shame, because this is a major study. It involved 35,000 people from all walks, and there are some major trends that can't be ignored.
We forget sometimes how much of a role religion has played in our nation. Separation of church and state has not meant that faith has not been a shaper of culture and life and even policy. It has been a huge factor, and still is today.
The fact that faith is an influencer has not changed. What has changed is the nature of that faith, and with the change in nature, how it plays out in people's lives, in a changing culture, and in government policies. A move to less formal religious affiliations, to a more inwardly focused faith, and to something akin to "designer religion" has profound implications for life going forward.
Reading articles in papers this morning, the Christian church is up in arms over the results of the report, worried that faith is becoming as one of them called it - "Oprah-ized".
Don't blame Oprah. She's being true to her faith, and is doing what the church has always done - co-opting the language and symbols of culture (including Christianity) to spread her message and spiritual belief of a more open spirituality with verve, conviction and creativity.
I believe that on the whole we in the church have lost that verve, conviction and creativity. We have not lost the message, which we preserve. But somewhere along the way we have lost our ability in the church to adapt and build on the culture.
So to most of the world around us, we look reactionary. Instead of verve, we have programs. Instead of conviction, we have rules. Instead of creativity.... well we don't really have much creativity.
Verve, conviction and creativity are cornerstones of what draws people, and if the church wants to make a difference, we had best reclaim them, or continue our decline in modern culture. This does not mean watering down the message, but it does change HOW we spread the message. There are pockets of creativity and positive energy in the church, and where they are applied, the church is flourishing. Where they are not, the church has plateaued, or languished.
Pardon my rant here. It' the type of thing I used to rant about in my writing for the Faithful Democrats site (before they became more politics than faith) as one of their token conservatives. Now that I no longer write for them, I have few places to say what I believe.
I am NOT wringing my hands over the Pew report. I think it's good news because it tells us what the changes are, and what's working. Show me what works and I can change. The church, both individual churches, as well the universal church, should see this report as an opportunity to strategically look at faith and religion, and then begin to recreate some of the verve, conviction and creativity that was the hallmark of the church in it's times of great growth and relevance in the past.
PS - the picture is of Buchanan Baptist Church in Buchanan, Va. You can click on it to view a larger version.