Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

Spiritual but not religious

First slide

With the latest Gallup poll, the apostolic challenge is stark: every Catholic ought to be meeting the stunning SBNR/A ("Spiritual But Not Religious/Affiliated") explosion with a plan. In case you missed it, the "unaffiliated" have soared to 21 percent of Americans and formal membership in a specific house of worship has cratered to a new low of 47 percent.

First, I hope you will agree that if our SBNR evangelization game plan includes so much as a hint of apathy, cynicism, triumphalism, contempt, judgment or despair, then we should confess it at the next opportunity and start fresh. To that end, I propose eight elements to draw from as you craft a missionary disciple strategy — or "little rule" — that sustains you in your witness to friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. 

1) Examination. Looking into our own SBNR-infected hearts is the first step. Let’s ask the Lord in prayer, "In what ways do I personally see my own ‘spiritualizing’ and distancing move away from the embodied local church? Lord, replace my lukewarmness with a love and zeal for your body, the church."

2) Prayer. Next, let’s resolve to pray daily for two groups: the visible flag-bearers of the institutional church — our seminarians, priests, bishop and pope; and yes, for our many SBNR family and friends, asking the Holy Spirit to move their hearts and inspire us to be more faithful witnesses to them.

3) Study. If we’re flatfooted and have nothing to say to the unaffiliated, we’ve lost the mindset of a disciple entrusted to "go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" with a confident understanding of the faith. Whether it’s Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron videos, Formed.org, the Institute of Catholic Culture, an online Catholic Distance University seminar, or other resource, it’s time we roll up the sleeves. 

4) Friendship. To win the right to be heard and respected as authentic friends, we must show up in the lives of those around us. Instead of distancing ourselves from the unaffiliated, let’s move toward them.

5) Curiosity. As we get to know our SBNR friends more, perhaps the moment will come to ask, "How’s that working for you?" The unaffiliated project is a go-it-alone, DIY spirituality that arguably represses our inbuilt hardwiring for communion. Created in the image and likeness of our trinitarian God, a community of divine persons, we are made for affiliation in — yes — the institutional church, our local parish.  

6) Invitation. In a recent conversation, an evangelical Protestant neighbor invited me to his church as he handed me a card with the church’s address, website and worship times. I keep it in my wallet as a daily reminder that I need to be more generous in my invitations to others not only to visit our parish, but also our home. As the "domestic church," our homes are evangelical outposts of our local parish, genuine expressions of the church that can offer our guests loving hospitality and even a chance to glimpse our beautiful prayer corner or home altar. 

7) Generosity. Are we credible and integrated disciples who are generous in sharing our time, talent and treasure with our parish, diocese and Catholic organizations that provide direct relief to people in need? Alongside our financial support, our volunteering in the community can be a powerful expression of the kind of love available when we are spiritual and religious, grateful for our affiliation with Christ’s body in our local parish.  

8) Sabbath. Imagine if we reclaimed the joy, worship and rest of the Sabbath — based in our affiliation with our parish with actual people at an actual time and address. Our obedience to the Third Commandment can provide a jaw-droppingly beautiful counter-witness to the hollow loneliness inherent in the SBNR credo.

Living in a "missionary key" compels us — in our loving effort to share Christ with our unaffiliated family and friends — to ever-more selfless steps in examination, prayer, study, friendship, curiosity, invitation, generosity and participation in the Sabbath. We have nothing to fear, and nothing to lose. Our unaffiliated family and friends may seem happy, but at some level they are looking to us, curious to know if all our fuss about affiliating with the institution of the local church makes a lick of difference. May they see Christ in us.

Johnson and his wife, Ever, are cofounders of trinityhousecommunity.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021