The “ideal” church among GenZ and Millennial Americans

The findings in the image above are from an October 2013 survey from the Barna organization, as found on page 73 of their publication: GenZ: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation.

Speaking just for myself, I’m a sucker for ‘high church’ liturgy and ritual. “Bells and smells” are my jam. I live for high art, ornate architecture, and stained-glass windows.

The results of this survey, then, were interesting to me. Among my Millennial generation, “classic” and “quiet” (as opposed to “trendy” and “loud”) worship services are preferred by about two-thirds of church-goers, but “ritual” and “traditional” (instead of “performance” and “modern”) is preferred by only about two in five Millennials. GenZ folks are split almost 50/50 between classic-quiet and trendy-loud as well as between ritual-traditional and performance-modern.

It is, of course, natural to project your own experiences and preferences onto others and assume that what seems right, natural, and obvious to you is only right, natural, and obvious to everyone else as well.

I’m glad to see that there are others who share my love for traditional liturgy and ritual, but I also want those who prefer other types of worship environments to have access to those as well. This is an advantage of the contemporary American religious landscape. The U.S. has always been a country of religious innovation and experimentation. It has resulted in the availability of hundreds of different types of worship experiences available to those who desire them in the U.S. As everyone has different gifts and speaks a different spiritual “language,” the diversity of our religious options in America is a boon rather than a burden on our culture and society.

This helps me be more humble when I’m tempted to be judgmental about other types of religious contexts. In other points in my life, I looked down my nose at worship services that feature guitars and fog machines. If these contexts are the “spiritual language” that people speak and are effective mediums to facilitate connection with the Divine, however, we should be grateful that such opportunities exist. As postmodern religion continues to grow in popularity, especially among younger generations, the ability to actively construct a religious identity and practice from a variety of traditions and theologies will become increasingly relevant.

That all said, I do believe that there are religious cultures, theologies, and practices that are spiritually and emotionally harmful (if not downright abusive). So I do not mean to endorse any and all theologies, policies, or ideologies as all equally healthy.

That said, if others are finding meaningful spiritual experiences through contexts and practices that would be suffocating and deadening to me, I am glad that those options are there for them so that we can all collectively grow in our spirituality.

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