Generation Z keeps the faith. Don’t expect to see them at worship.

(RNS) – At 18, Sam still identifies as Catholic. But if that defines him in part, it doesn’t limit him. “I regularly practice centering prayer and was involved in a centering prayer group, which was not technically Catholic,” he recently told us as we researched Gen Z attitudes towards the faith.

“But through that, I discovered a lot of other types of inner spiritual traditions,” Sam continued. “I like to say, when you find God in silence, it doesn’t matter what you call God: that’s the same God. The Sufi tradition in Islam, I find, resonates with my experiences. Also, the contemplative tradition and the different Indian practices of non-duality and mindfulness, Buddhism, all of those things.

Considering the drop in attendance at places of worship and the so-called increase in nuns, it may be surprising that the majority of young people say they are spiritual and / or religious. According to those who participated in the Springtide Research Institute State of Religion and Youth 2020, 78% of 13-25 year olds consider themselves to be at least slightly spiritual, including 60% of unaffiliated young people (atheists, agnostics and not). And 71% say they are at least slightly religious, including 38% of the unaffiliated.

This might surprise their elders, as their spiritual or religious life often does not take place in a temple, synagogue or church. Take weddings, which historically have led even religious people to adopt the rituals of a traditional faith. Although 75% of Generation Z interrogates by The Knot in 2019 reported having a religious background, only 18% said they planned to observe formal religious traditions when they got married, while nearly 87% had their own traditions created – including by modifying religious practices.

RELATED: Study: Gen Z Doubles Spirituality, Combines Tarot And Traditional Faith

Instead of having religious ceremonies led by ordained ministers To places of worship, Generation Z offers more personalized wedding rituals, inviting friends to officiate in beautiful outdoor decors. Often, these ceremonies weave secular or cultural sources – poetry, music, family histories – and religious: biblical readings, broken glass, blessing.

This eclecticism is also manifested in their daily practice. Young people are discovering how to rely on religious and spiritual support to overcome life’s challenges and celebrate its joys, but increasingly they do so outside formal structures and places of faith.

And even though they find their religious identity or community in a cohesive source, like Sam, more and more GenZ are drawing on various traditions, family lineages and sources of wisdom. New data we released recently showed that 51% of young people of various religious identities engage in tarot cards or other divination practices.

The next generation may invest more in the faith because of the stress and loss. After a year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020-2021), more than a third of young people (35%) said their faith had strengthened, while only 11% said their faith had weakened (half said their faith remained stable). Even more, 46% started new religious or spiritual practices during this time, far more than the 27% who stopped certain religious or practices.

The caveat for anyone hoping to make Gen Z the Gen Z that has returned to church is that if today’s youth take what they find useful in religious traditions, this group has trust issues. important for formal religious institutions. When asked to rate their trust in organized religion on a 10-point scale, 63% of young people answered 5 or less, including 52% of those who said they were affiliated with a religious tradition.

You read that right: more than half of young people who claim a religious affiliation have little confidence in the very religious institutions with which they identify.

Where trust in religious institutions is low, however, trust in dealing with people in those institutions is extremely high.

Religious leaders who want to appeal to Gen Z need to focus on gaining trust through relationships rather than relying on their institutional authority – their title, role, or accomplishments. Granted, Gen Zers respect expertise, as long as it comes with genuine concern and concern for their well-being – an approach Springtide calls relational authority.

RELATED: ‘Millennial OK’: Don’t Blame Baby Boomers For America’s Decline Of Religion

Religious leaders will also have to make the effort to come out and find Generation Z. Many religious leaders today are wondering how they can. reach this generation, but few actually do. Only 8% of young people say there is a religious leader to turn to if necessary, and only 10% of young people say that a religious leader has reached out to registration during the first year of the pandemic.

But in meeting Generation Z, pastors, rabbis, imams and gurus would be well advised to make room for this generation’s organic and fluid approach to spirituality, in their communities and their liturgy, by resisting the temptation to see it as some sort of selfish spirituality. path. Gen Zs do this vast and curious work of building their faith, whether or not religious leaders come forward to guide them – but when caring adults walk by their side and invest in their lives, there is makes the difference.

The question is not whether Gen Z will abandon religious institutions – they are already well advanced. The question is whether religious leaders will walk alongside them when they encounter the divine in new ways.

Josh Packard, left, and Casper ter Kuile. Photos courtesy of Packard’s LinkedIn and Sacred Designs website

(Josh Packard (@drjoshpackard) is executive director of the Springtide Research Institute and author of “Church Refugees.” Casper ter Kuile (@caspertk) is the co-founder of Sacred Design Lab and author of “The Power of Ritual.” Opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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