I was going through a pile of papers the other day (one of many such piles around the house and office) and found a couple articles I'd torn out of the June 2006 issue of Health magazine.
The first is a short blurb titled "Read this . . . or the kitten dies." The article highlights a study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research which found that "an ad with a threat" or a message of guilt combined with a message of fear "inspires you to move from intending to act for your own good to actually doing something." So, the study found, an anti-drug message that says "Smoking pot may not kill you, but it will kill your mother" is more likely to deter drug use than one using "an educational or hopeful message." I thought that finding could have interesting correlations to what kind of messages we use in the life of the church. Guilt and fear are more persuasive than education and hope!! Ok, I'm not seriously advocating we use a guilt/fear tactic, but it helps me understand why people are motivated, I guess.
The other, longer article is about metrospirituality. You've no doubt heard the term metrosexual in the past few years. But what is a metrospiritual? Health quotes beliefnet.com as saying "metrospirituals blend hippie values with hipster chic. These trendy women and men combine respect for the environment and other cultures with savvy shopping skills and serious style . . . From charity walks to organic wine, metrospirituals have pure intentions - and deep pockets." James Twitchell, a Phd pop-culture expert from University of Florida, explains that "for metrospirituals, the sensation associated with buying for-a-cause goods can be similar to the feeling of rapture others seek at church." The article then includes, of course, a quick quiz to determine if you are a "maxi metro," a "midi metro," or a "mini metro."
The article may seem a little frivolous, but I think it actually says something interesting about where spirituality is today for many people. I think the article rightly indicates that people want, at least, to believe that they are spiritual, in whatever ways they can make that happen. I hate the often-used now phrase "spiritual but not religious," that many use to describe themselves, but even if I don't like it, many people really do feel that this phrase describes them. I dislike it because it just sounds wishy-washy to me. (Yes, even liberals think some things are wishy-washy sounding.) But I know that many people find the institution of the church so irrelevant to them, but yet desire a spiritual life.
The question, the challenge, is how does an institutional church respond? The answer, so far, is apparently: not very well.