By Ryan Dunn
2019 is still fresh enough that we are not out of the process of discerning just how this year will move forward. We do have our hunches, though. And following are some trends we see happening in the realm of Christian spirituality through 2019.
1) Church is more than an event.
In a recent survey of young people that we conducted through Barna Research, we found, by and large, people are looking for community. The importance of what a church does on Sunday morning, including their worship style, is diminishing. Instead, young people want to know how church will offer them opportunities to engage the rest of the week.
Some churches are moving towards fresh expressions. The dinner church movement, where churches gather for a shared meal and time of worship, is gaining popularity. So, too, are churches that gather in surprsing venues for more open-ended conversation.
2) Community gathers online.
Where do many of your social interactions happen today? How many people in your que of friends do you only have an online relationship with? It’s likely that there are quite a few – like your second cousin who you used to see at family reunions but now haven’t seen in person for well over a decade. Social media has allowed your relationship to survive. And it’s probably not the only relationship that social media is fostering. Online interaction has become a standard means through which we relate to one another.
A pastor friend recently told me a story of meeting a couple visiting his church. They revealed they were visiting from California. When he asked if they had a church back in California, they said that this church was their church. They watch the services online every week and felt like this pastor’s church, located in Tennessee, was their spiritual community. More and more spiritual communities are fostering relationship through online presence and interaction. The Slate Project has found some creative ways of utilizing online conversations for fostering relationships amidst their members, like Twitter live chats.
People are increasingly looking for access to spiritual mentors. It’s part of our social media lifestyle: we love to look in on those who we perceive excel at area’s in which we also hope to excel. Over the past few years, we’ve found that more and more people are looking to podcasts and blog posts in order to connect with spiritual mentors.
That is definitely one of the reasons Rethink Church invested in creating the Compass Podcast. Other podcasts our followers on social media endorse are: Bearded Theologians, Low Theology, and Instructions for Living a Life. We find that many of the podcasts that resonate are recordings of conversations. We love to hear our mentors process through their spiritual questions, and the conversational format allows for us to be a passive part of the conversation.
4) Spiritual nourishment feeds mental health.
Those who ascribe to regular spiritual practices – or, rather, those who are religious – tend to respond more positively to issues of mental health (according to several studies, including this one from 2013). The reasons are numerous, notably that religious practice enmeshes a person in a community of support and personal spiritual practices provide solace and coping mechanisms for stress. Belief and practices are not fixes for all mental health situations, but can be contributors to balanced mental health.
These positive responses are highest in faith communities that stress God’s love – especially for the individual. Our web site exists to assist people in finding a faith community that will love them. If you’d like some assistance in finding a community, check out our Find-a-Church feature or send an email.
5) Tradition is in.
There is wisdom in admitting that over thousands of years of practice, someone has said what we need to hear and provided a method that just might serve to deepen our feelings of connection with the Divine. We’re finding that joining in practices that are centuries old serve to nourish our feelings of community. This is why so many churches have moved to participate in the Eucharist or communion on a regularly recurring basis. This also links back to our notes about mental health: traditional religious practices can provide comfort and connection. Do you have a religious tradition that offers comfort?
The exciting thing about a new year is that it is an open road. We’re excited to see what actually happens in our developing spirituality this year, and hope you’ll join us. Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Or show us your new spiritual trends in action on Snapchat.
Ryan Dunn is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. He loves exploring the space of ministry in the digital realm and can be found on Twitter and Instagram.