In Part One I described two of the four spiritual profiles—people who were actively engaged in the life of a parish community and those who participate occasionally. Now we turn to the next two profiles—people who are not affiliated with a parish community or with organized religion.
People Who Are Spiritual but Not Religious
The third profile describes people who are spiritually open, and many times deeply committed, to the spiritual life and a relationship with God, but not affiliated with organized religion and an established Christian church. Some may join a nondenominational Christian church, while others may find an outlet for their spiritual hunger in small communities of like-minded spiritual seekers, or in local or global acts of service, or in online spiritual resources and communities. The spiritual but not religious reflect a growing minority of the American population, especially among the eighteen- to thirty-nine-year-olds.
Evangelization efforts for the spiritual but not religious need to connect with people where their live in both physical and virtual communities, build relationships, engage in spiritual conversations, and offer programs and activities that nurture their spiritual growth. Parishes need to design new initiatives that are developed around the life situations and spiritual needs of the spiritual, but not religious—most of whom are in their twenties and thirties.
Very few Catholic evangelization resources target this profile and this age group. Parishes need to offer opportunities for people to investigate the Christian faith and join with others for discussion, spiritual growth, and support. One of the most successful approaches for connecting with the spiritual but not religious has been the Alpha course which originated in the UK (www.alphausa.org and www.alphausa.org/Groups/1000042056/Alpha_for_Catholics.aspx).
This group is reachable! Consider this: in every parish community there are grandparents who care deeply about the faith of their children and grandchildren who have stopped participating in a parish but are spiritual people. Parishes can equip grandparents as faith formers and missionaries to their own families, as well as design outreach efforts to establish relationships with the spiritual but not religious, discern their particular needs, and fashion evangelization efforts around them.
People Who Are Unaffiliated and Uninterested
The fourth group describes people who experience little need for God and the spiritual life and are not affiliated with organized religion and established Christian churches. The unaffiliated and uninterested reject all forms of organized religion and reflect a steadily increasing percentage of the American population, especially among the eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds. This group represents the greatest challenge to a parish’s evangelization efforts because they are very hard to reach and so few projects and resources are designed to connect with the unaffiliated and uninterested.
Parishes need to use the internet, digital platforms , and social media to connect with the spiritual but not religious, and the unaffiliated and uninterested. Parishes need to develop strategies and approaches for moving faith formation from the church campus into the world and online. They need to find ways to “plant” themselves in the midst of the cultures and worlds of the unaffiliated and uninterested, build relationships, and be witnesses to the Christian faith in the world today.
Parishes can establish a “Third Place” gathering space (think of a café in the community) as a platform for reaching both the unaffiliated and uninterested, and the spiritual but not religious through a variety of spiritual and life-centered programs, conversations, and activities. Parishes need to develop a web-presence that is inviting and attractive so that people can investigate and experience the Christian faith online. Parishes can sponsor programs, such as service projects and mission trips, that are designed so that people from the wider community can participate, interact with church members, and come into contact with the Christian faith in action. This is evangelization out in the world—connecting with people around their life tasks and concerns, being present, building relationships, offering Good News.
Assessing the Situation
A good place to begin re-envisioning evangelization is to assess the current parish efforts. Use the descriptions of the four profiles to reflect on the people in your community and your parish’s evangelization efforts with them. The following questions can guide your assessment and identify areas that you want to develop. Be sure to visit www.21stCenturyCatholicEvangelization.org to find ideas and approaches that you can use in your parish.
Roberto, John. Faith Formation 2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation. Naugatuck: LifelongFaith Associates, 2010 (www.LifelongFaith.com).