In the latter portion of the 20th Century America seemed ripe for a new message. Writers like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay and others found a vast audience, hungry for their interpretation of the teachings also being taught in religious science churches. Their fame skyrocketed in part due to the culture of self-help that was being promoted on venues like the Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey shows. At the same time, technology was exploding into everyday life, its capacity multiplying almost daily.
After the world realized that Y2K was not the end, technology’s pace picked up and by 2006, the names Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others were on everyone’s lips. Access to information of every kind had become accessible to anyone who wanted it. Chopra, Dyer, Hay and others built their empires around these new tools and in no time, access to the teachings of Holmes, Emerson, the Vedantic traditions and more were available to everyone, at any time.
Not long after the entrance of technology disrupters Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, two religious science organizations with roots in the same philosopher’s writing (Ernest Holmes) merged back into a single organization becoming the Centers for Spiritual Living. Traditionally, Centers for Spiritual Living operate like churches, with services on Sunday mornings and sometimes mid-week; classes and community events. This traditional church model works well for some Centers, while others struggle with some of the same issues facing America’s mainline protestant churches.
Between 2007 and 2014, all traditional religious organizations in America saw declines in membership while the group claiming a status of unaffiliated rose dramatically: +6.7%
And yet, in the midst of all this decline, books by spiritual luminaries continue to sell in record numbers; people clearly still want the content, but they are soundly rejecting the traditional format.
While I still value some of the traditional vestiges of religious experience, I find myself embracing more and more the experiential flavors that millennials are demanding in the economy. Millennials don’t want to buy things; they want to share experiences and their preferences and buying power has fueled the sharing economy that brought us services like Uber, Lyft, AirBNB and others. This impulse to share experiences with others instead of stockpiling stuff is spreading out across the generations. The manufacturers and retailers that “get it” will be successful, while those that stick to the old playbooks will become history book lessons.
New Thought religious organizations need to wake up and smell this organic, fair-trade coffee while we still have some infrastructure left on which to build. The old school model of driving to church to hear someone talk and some good music is moot. I can sit at home on Sunday morning in my fuzzy slippers and find a YouTube message from someone that speaks to my needs, instead of gambling that the talk across town will be interesting and relevant. I can learn the principles of Science of Mind and Spirit, AND get the perspective of 3 or 4 master teachers in any number of online webinars, classes and workshops. I can share my abundance (tithes) with organizations and people that move me and sign up for daily or weekly inspiration from any number of spiritual sources, and if I need prayer support; there’s always Silent Unity’s uPray app for my iPhone or the CSL World Ministry of Prayer.
(so is she suggesting that we just close the doors on Churches and Centers and throw our hands in the air?)
No. I am suggesting that the time for a radical look at how to “do church” is here.
In Centers that are struggling to grow, why not take 1 Sunday a month and hold a traditional service and the rest of the month get out and serve the community? Sometimes that service could be in-house; packing lunches, hygiene kits for shelters or school backpacks while at other times it could be out in the community serving meals, cleaning up local parks or reading to children in the public libraries.
What would membership rosters and finances begin to look like if we became PART of our communities; showing up, working and giving back while living the principles we teach and hold dear? BEING the prosperity we teach; BEING the love and ONENESS; BEING the peace, beauty and joy.
If we look to the path our children have laid out (the millennials) we will see the answer to the declining numbers in our pews and chairs on Sunday morning. Spirituality is a verb – not a noun. The most effective way to teach the principles of a spirituality that supports a world that works for everyone is not from a lectern or a pulpit. The best way to teach these principles is to model them and grow the movement from the middle of the experiences we share with the world.
There’s no better time to start over than the New Year, and it’s right around the corner!
How would YOU re-vision your church or center to meet the needs of the 21st century member?