A survey of 2,000 Americans, who represent a sample of the US population that opted to respond to a national poll, indicated that spiritual fulfillment may be the key to happiness. The poll was conducted in November 2022 by the market research company, One Poll.
The poll found that 76 percent of the respondents believe it’s possible to be spiritually fulfilled without participating in a specific religion. The finding raises more questions than answers about the changing views of Americans, including rural and agricultural people.
Like the general population, rural church-going residents know that keeping their churches alive and functioning requires more than funerals, weddings, and holidays. Leadership of the congregations falls on ever fewer active members as church attendance declines in most of the US; many congregations share pastors with other congregations, and still others are shuttering their doors.
A 2014 Pew Research Center study of weekly church attendance by state in the US showed Utah was the highest (53%), where 66 percent of the residents affiliate with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, followed by Alabama and Tennessee (both at 51%), then Mississippi (49%), and several other southern states. Church attendance was lowest in Vermont (21%), New Hampshire and Maine (both at 22%), and followed mostly be other northern states, except Alaska.
Another study by the nonpartisan, nonprofit, and religiously independent Pew Research Center, conducted in 2022, indicates that 31 percent of US Christians become religiously unaffiliated before reaching age 30. A shrinking share of unaffiliated young people are joining Christian churches.
Explained in simplified fashion, participation in a Christian church is declining. The congregations that are growing are evangelical churches, many of which are loosely affiliated with a denomination, and whose members describe their personal philosophy as conservative.
Covid had little effect on the faith practices of Americans. A March 2023 report by Pew indicated that participation in religious services in July 2020, compared to November 2022, dropped one percent, from 41 to 40 percent.
Worldwide, church attendance by professed Christians remains highest in African nations, such as Nigeria, followed by Latin America and then Asia, according to data collected mostly during the latter half of the past decade. Catholicism is the main religion practiced in these parts of the world.
Persons who consider themselves Muslim, regardless of where they live around the world, tend to be faithful participants in their religious practices, according to a number of studies I reviewed. Avowed Hindus are increasing; Sikhs, and Buddhists are declining fairly rapidly.
Church attendance in European nations where the residents are primarily Catholic or Protestant has already dropped significantly. However, culturally-engrained practices such as prayer before meals continue, while spiritual practices, such as meditation and mindfulness, are increasing in many Western European Nations and the US.
There is little recent research data which describes the faith practices of US farm people and other rural residents. I located several anecdotal reports that bemoaned the gradual closing of small town and country churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Very few other traditional religious affiliations exist in these areas.
Gradually, more rural Americans, including farm people, choose to affiliate with evangelical churches. Opinion polls reported by the popular media indicate that an increasing number of members of these congregations, and some pastors, express strong conservative political stances and make their views known on social media and in public activities. Fewer evangelical churches shun taking stances that involve ideological and/or political views.
An article in the April 8, 2023 edition of The Economist points out that the number of practicing Evangelicals may soon rival Catholics in Latin America, even in rural parts of their countries. Evangelicals are flexing political power in similar fashion to what is taking place in the US.
The growing movement of spirituality is not the same as the evangelical movement, but there are some similarities. Spirituality is personal, and recognizes a Higher Force, as do 84% of all people, and as would those who affiliate with an evangelical church.
Spirituality doesn’t purport to be, nor deny, any religious or denominational affiliation. It is not agnostic or atheist. Spirituality entails intensely searching for understanding and carrying out “what” its practitioners perceive the Higher Force (also called God, Supreme Being, Elohim, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, and many more names) wants them to carry out, as well as “why” and “how.”
Spirituality brings people closer to understanding their life purposes through habitual practice of meditation, prayer, contemplation, mindfulness, and similar activities. The phrase, “Not my will, but Thine” embodies their purpose in life.
Most everyone knows people, including themselves, who say “My church is the outdoors, because that’s where I can contemplate best.” I have written periodically, “I do some of my best thinking in the raspberry patch.”
What is your raspberry patch? Is it in church, outside a building, when going for a walk, something else, or all of the above?