"This year, a lady said 'I went to a book signing Richard Dawkins did a few weeks ago, and there were SO MANY young atheists there. We need more young people, and I think the problems is that our services are too theist. How can we make our church more atheist as to attract more people? If we don't, our church is going to die ... '"Chalice Chick made the following comment about this:
"It's been my observation that cold war era kids all had justifications why their hometown, wherever they grew up, was the first place the Russians were going to attack.And Ms. Kitty made the following observation in the comment section of this blog:
I can't help but think "There are billions of people out there who believe what I do, and the church is dying because it has not properly conformed itself to what I believe. If only UUism were more theist / atheist / spiritual / pagan / multicultural / activist, then it might have a chance, but it's not and indeed my people are terribly discriminated against, so it is surely doomed" comes from the same impulse.
Why do so many of us get off on feeling so persecuted,while at the same time believing that our message will be salvific for UUism?"
"I'll bet the ministers in the porch chat just quietly and internally sighed at the shortsightedness of this questioner."I think that there is a kernel of truth the congregant's concern about Unitarian Universalist churches becoming less friendly and welcoming for non-theists (Atheists, Agnostics, and other non-believers).
I think we're in danger of losing Will's "Denomination of Last Resort" market niche because church attendance as a behavior and the expectation of church attendance is dropping in North America. There is no need for a "Denomination of Last Resort" if there is no community pressure to attend church weekly.
Prior to the baby boomer generation, there was a community norm that everyone should be at church on Sunday morning.
Perhaps an exception would be made for Jewish folks and Christians who held their sabbath on the 7th day of the week.
But the idea that a person would sit at home or do something else other than church on Sunday morning would be a violation of community norms.
I suggest that this may have been a reason for many older Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanist Unitarian and Unitarian Universalists joining our congregations.
If your neighbors expect you to go to church, you're going to find the one that is most Atheist-friendly. We didn't require a belief in God -- because of our non-creedal nature, we were a welcome home for Atheists and Agnostics.
But our society has changed. Sunday church attendance isn't a community norm any more.
40% of Americans (according to social science survey data) SAY they attend church weekly. When behavior is observed, the actual figure is a two-fold over-estimate. Observed weekly church attendance is closer to 20%. See the information on the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance web site for details behind this change.
To further complicate this, Christianity is shrinking relative to the US population (7.3% between 1990 and 2001 according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). The "No Religion - Atheist - Agnostic" category has grown by 6.6% during this same period (8.4% of the population in 1990 vs. 15.0% of the population in 2001 according to the ARIS data).
(1) Church attendance isn't a social norm anymore.
(2) Because of changes in social norms (item 1), we shouldn't assume that our Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanist friends will always be in our congregations.
(3) Christianity is losing "market share" in North America.
(4) The "No Religion - Atheist - Agnostic" is gaining market share.
Given these trends, can Unitarian Universalism adapt to a North American culture that is becoming less traditionally religious and can we provide a welcoming home for the growing North American non-religious demographic?
Or will we compete over a shrinking theistic market share with our Mainline Protestant church neighbors?
What we can offer as a religion is salvation for a world badly in need of salvation here-and-now and not in the afterlife (see my blog posts here about Unitarian Universalist salvation).
How do we survive as a religious community that offers salvation in a world that is becoming less traditionally theistic and less traditionally religious so we can continue to provide this salvation?