It's common and I think important to recognize that people who are not connected to a local congregation as a context to practice their faith describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." They see a real dichotomy between these terms. Perhaps, we need to think of “spiritual” and “religious” not so much as polar opposites. Maybe the task before us is to recognize that there is something to cherish in each. So here are some suggestions for what our congregation can do to nurture the “spiritual” in the religious:
1. Ask, what are we offering that explicitly responds to the spiritual needs of those who are searching, questioning and/or want to have meaningful experiences of encounter with God,with others in an atmosphere of dialogue and discovery?
2.Do an audit of your programs and the times that you offer them. Does your schedule make it difficult for different ages and lifestyles to participate? I’ve noticed more and more creative programming in congregations these days. A parents group can be held during a children’s choir rehearsal, adult programs during religious school. Programs like “Messy Church” allow parents and young children to experience liturgy together.
3.Are you an intentionally “practicing congregation”? Have you found ways for those who attend to enter into and cultivate practices that can nurture their spirit and that can deepen over time? Many who seek meditation, yoga or other experiences are seeking to develop a practice that speaks to their whole person. Some of our congregations are reviving centering prayer, experimenting with different ways of doing Torah study, or including service projects as reflective religious practice.
4.Ask, who owns our congregation? Is one generation in charge or do you have a cross-section of generations and perspectives that are allowing you to look at your congregation through multiple lenses?
5.Can you enrich your own offerings by joining with other congregations for some joint programming that you collectively sponsor? When appropriate, can you sponsor interfaith programs that allow the seeker to learn various perspectives on some common human dilemmas and issues (ethics, parenting, dealing with transitions, etc.)
These are only some of the questions that allow us to bridge the dichotomies often created between the “spiritual” and the “religious.” (Adapted from an article from The Alban Institute)