Alternative churches: the future of religion?

By | October 15, 2019

So Lord God send us forth, in love, in hope. What you’re seeing could become the future of church. No pews, often not on Sundays, and much more inclusive. Alternative churches have sprung up in the hundreds across the US in recent years, as institutionalized religion sees continuous decline. The landscape of American religion
is undergoing massive changes. People are hungering for that kind
of authentic, co-creative experience. So what will church become in the 21st century? New Hampshire, America’s least religious state. The temperature in these woods is
sub-zero. So this may seem like a weird place to come look for the future of
church. And yet people gather here, sometimes from across the country, to seek something they don’t find in a regular church building. We will go into the woods. We’ll come back at five minutes of 10. We pick things up to share when we come back and gather
together. So, it looks like a little bit of
lace, like God’s lace. So, rather pretty. When we’re in a regular church, an indoor church, a “walled church” as I sometimes
call it, we are literally walled off from the rest of creation. That, I think, has contributed to the human ability to destroy the natural world around us. Church of the Woods is a church where the land itself is the sacred space. This is just another reminder of what nature really needs from me, in terms of being there to protect it. So I was born, and brought up, baptized in the Catholic Church, and attended Catholic Church. But things started to fall apart for me as time went on. I felt less and less connected. Monica and some other Church of the Woods members have stopped going to traditional churches. And they’re not alone. Religion definitely has a brand
problem. This is a conservative estimate, 3,500 churches close every year in the US. It’s viewed by many, many people as being judgmental, not necessarily inclusive enough, not as well in touch with the environmental or ecological concerns as it should
be. Also, I think people can find
answers to some of their most important
existential questions in other ways. Some of them are going to maker
spaces, or fitness communities like
CrossFit, where there’s a great sense of
community and accountability, there’s a real sense of investing in your
personal transformation. And so this boundary of, what is religious, what is secular, is really challenged by the way
young people are living a lot of their
lives. And so friends, what is this space
going to be for us this evening? Learning. Non-judgmental, always. Challenging. Challenging. Hopefully challenging, wait till you hear the sermon. A potluck dinner slash spiritual discussion, Simple Church is one of the new churches that brings religion into secular spaces. All the bibles up. Everybody’s in. The group meets on Tuesdays instead of Sundays. A lot of our folks are what we call
“nones and dones.” People who didn’t grow up with a specific faith, and don’t necessarily claim a
specific faith. And then other folks who did, but now they’re done with it. It’s a cafe, not the pews. There are no memories from the past that are making it harder to get here. No one here has batted an eyelash, if Iet’s say, I have a chronic illness so I can’t
show up some weeks, or I’m not straight. Your most prized possession in the
whole world, who would that go to? And what’s their relationship to you? It’s easier to build community when you’re at a dinner party rather
than sitting at a pew. And so Instead of following a step-by-step liturgy that’s laid out for you in a bulletin, you’re just at a dinner party, and you’re invited to have
conversations with the people around you. And so, why not go into cafés? And also it’s very cost-effective. But is alternative church even church? If you’d like to join us for prayer,
we’re gonna pray now. This is Laundry Love, a national network that offers
low-income people free laundry, free food, and an opportunity to gather and pray. Here you go my dear. The Worcester branch meets monthly, and for most people here, the initial draw is financial. But for some, God does show up. The love of God should be
demonstrated in a very practical way. So as they’re paying for the
laundry, they’re really meeting the practical needs of people. When the machines are going, there’s enough white noise that you can have very private
conversations in a public space. And I would hear about people’s
lives and begin to build some connections. Is there anyone we need to pray for
tonight? The homeless. There’s also sometimes a perspective that thinks that these
new, emergent communities are somehow
watering down the tradition, that it’s like Christianity lite, or religion lite, when actually what we’ve seen is
that often they’re really creative at taking something very old and very traditional, and re-mixing it with something very contemporary. The Bible is filled with stories of Jesus in particular going for his prayer time alone into the wild places. So in many ways, what we’re doing is
going back to the earliest traditions of the church. But it’s been forgotten. With institutionalized churches in decline, the growing alternative church
movement could one day become mainstream. But there is a catch. For something to survive and last a long time, it has to become an institution to some degree. But it’s precisely the absence of that that drove people to these kinds of things anyway. They may have a short shelf life. We see that a lot in the studies of
them. But I think slowly we are seeing
more and more attention being paid here, purely because this is what’s
attracting people who would never enter the buildings on this side. The church isn’t going to be reinvented from the middle, but from the edge.

One thought on “Alternative churches: the future of religion?

  1. Carol Teicher Post author

    Very interesting to know this is going on! I can see why people are drawn to this new way of experiencing spiritual growth.


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