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Living faith: Believing without belonging

Created date

June 19th, 2012

An independent spirit is a virtue when a nation wants to institute a new government to protect the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But is rugged individualism a good approach to developing living faith? Apparently more and more Americans think so. Researcher George Barna projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current membership, not because they all abandon their faith, but because many construct their own individualized paths to spiritual growth as a substitute. They will believe without belonging, turning to small groups, marketplace ministries, and the Internet. Alan Teperow, executive director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, observes that, On balance, statistics show that there is enhanced interest in meaning and spirituality, while synagogue attendance is slightly down, as compared to a decade ago. Only about 4% of Los Angeles-area Muslims regularly attend Friday prayer, estimates Jihad Turk of the Islamic Center of Southern California. Individualism changes one s approach to the scriptures as well. In the days of sola scriptura in Europe, the most important question for interpreters was what does the passage mean? in the historical context of the author and recipients. Americans, according to author Keith Mathison, are more inclined toward solo scriptura and determining their own private meaning based on their personal context.

Independent streak

Why the spiritual declaration of independence? One obvious factor is the independent streak that is our heritage. This mindset is amplified by today s generational cycle. There is good reason why the 76 million baby boomers who set many of society s trends are called the me generation. Members of what Barna coined the personal church of the individual claim they can weave together a more robust faith experience than a local congregation can supply. Some observers warn of long-term dangers, however. Remember last December, when Christmas fell on a Sunday? Remarkably, nearly 1 in 10 Protestant churches were closed. On Christmas Day! In anticipation of a light turnout! The message this sent to the congregation was, It s all about you and maybe not so much about God. I m interested in your experiences and opinions about spiritual growth apart from a local congregation. Please write to me by regular mail at 703 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville, MD 21228, or email at