This week I encountered a fascinating article that described new religious communities. These groups thrive on community building, accountability, ritual, and self-growth. They provide space to process and communicate life’s joys and pains in the midst of a spiritual walk. Often these communities are filled with members of the millennial generation, of which 1/3 self- profess as religiously unaffiliated. These communities are reaching an overwhelmingly young, progressive, and spiritually open population looking for elements of religious experience.
Casper ter Kuile, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School shares about some of these new spaces in his report “How We Gather.” He admits being surprised by the results. Millennials are finding religious community at… the gym. CrossFit and SoulCycle classes have become ways millennials are finding religious meaning and community in secular spaces.
“It was not what we expected,” writes Casper ter Kuile. “We heard people say, “Well, CrossFit is my church,” or, “SoulCycle is like my community of meaning.” The SoulCycle class for example was described by participants as having a kind of “liturgy” in the workout through use of light and sound. Class members would reveal that they registered initially to improve their body but stayed for the life breakthrough. What they experienced was a release of stress or a new insight and clarity about what’s important to them or a renewed commitment to the goals in their life or an experience of sanctuary, amid anxiety and pressure from their job. One participant shared, “If I want to pray to Jesus, I can do that on my bike while soaking up the good energy in the room, and focusing on my breathing which brings peace. That spiritual release is possible here.” Through these exercise classes, athletes are also developing rich and meaningful relationships while seeking out instructors as resources for discernment.
As more and more millennials disaffiliate with organized religion will more and more people move to these types of alternative “spiritual communities?” Casper ter Kuile responds. “How do we feel truly connected to ourselves and to people around us? How do we become the person that we feel called to be? Environments that that can help people answer these questions while providing transformational experiences and space for reflection are going to thrive. It’s not that religion is dying; it’s just changing. Who is going to be the providers of content and wisdom and community that is going to help people belong and become?”
What are the lessons for us church? We have a powerful story of the one who made us, restores, us and reforms us? We find respite and renewal in a space designed for reflection and life change. How can we go about telling our story, the story of our lives in Jesus, in a way that helps others belong and become?