More than any other group, millennials (those born after 1982) are not participating in religious organizations: we're not attending church services and do not self identify with any denomination. Does this mean we're a generation of ruined heathens? No.
As I pointed out, lack of religious participation does not equal a lack of spirituality. The fastest growing denomination is "no denomination." Through statistical analysis and a series of interviews I have tried to name what we believe, why we believe, the role of belief in our lives, and what a belief community would look like.
Here are six steps to creating a belief community in the 21st century:
1) Discard the strict hierarchy insofar as it prevents some from full community. Catholics, Episcopalians and Orthodox Christians know about bishops and the Pope, but few Protestants and Evangelicals realize that their religious experience is also defined by an exclusive (men's) club of deacons, pastors, and conventions. These hierarchies frequently block women from leadership roles and nurture political infighting.
2) Discard our nostalgia so that we are free to evolve as a group. Religious communities that are in a tailspin often fetishize the past, which deeply hurts present members who do not share the values and tastes of their ancestors.
3) Discard the judgment that often precedes empathy, comfort, and loving relationships, which are the cornerstones of community. Community is built on compassion, not judgment and exclusion. Duh.
4) Preserve a sense of ritual, remember to recognize the specialness (sacredness) of particular events in our lives so that we can share that specialness together. Part of the joy of spiritual communities is marking time with each other so as to create a sense of personal value.
5) Preserve serious study and expertise in theology, including sacred texts. This also means the recognition and promotion of leaders to inspire and guide communities. From shamans to deacons to rabbis, mature spiritual leadership has always been part of belief communities.
6) Preserve prayer, both public and private, because communication is the hallmark of the 21st century. Prayer is a vocalization of interior desires and emotions that can be individual or shared. When we put words to our fears, hopes, desires, and gratitude, we start breaking down the walls of false security that prevent individuals from connecting. So I think prayer, having been a part of every religious tradition ever, is a significant part of how humans form communities.