Attending the Willow Creek "megachurch" outside Chicago on
Sunday is like going to Soldiers Field to watch the Bears: Get
ready for a crowd. Or, for that matter, don't expect to find easy
seating next time mind-body guru Deepak Chopra gives a local
Set against a 30-year decline in traditional churchgoing, two
very different popular religious movements are emerging in
contemporary America - causing a mixture of curiosity and concern.
Today, many of those turning to faith and spirituality are
finding themselves part of either a sprawling evangelical movement,
like Willow Creek, which routinely draws 15,000 worshipers on a
weekend, or are locating themselves somewhere in the spectrum of a
set of "new
age" alternative beliefs and practices.
The movements underscore a shift in what many people today
define as religion - and are drawing people for a variety of
Jeff Twane, a lanky baby boomer, was an "unbelieving Catholic"
until a few years ago. Now, inside a packed auditorium in
Framingham, Mass., where he has traveled from Connecticut with two
friends he met as part of the "Promise Keepers" Christian men's
movement, he looks forward to three 10-hour days of intensive
singing and praying and "feeling the power of the Lord."
Judith Reed stopped going to her Protestant church after
exploring a variety of "new age" ideas. She read H. Scott Peck's
"The Road Less Travelled," and Joseph Campbell's "The Power of
Myth," and now attends a variety of workshops in the San Francisco
Bay Area that "put me in touch with a variety of spiritual
traditions. I don't think God exists in just one faith."
Many believe, few attend
Mr. Twain and Ms. Reed point up a dichotomy in contemporary
culture: While Americans say in large numbers they believe in God,
most mainline denominations have been experiencing a decline in
membership for decades. Recent surveys show that 70 to 90 percent
of Americans have some faith in God; 40 percent attend church or
temples on a regular basis.
The result is a confusing picture of the religious scene. Much
of the change is among the 76 million baby boomers born between
1946 and 1962. A 1993 study by Wade Clark Roof of the University of
California at Santa Barbara showed 60 percent of the nation's baby
boomers were on a spiritual search that often left their
traditional faith behind. "New age and evangelical are the terms
we're using to describe what has essentially become a culture of
spiritual quest," he says. "People today are on a quest rather than
in search of faith. They are walking, exploring, experimenting;
they want to know the options. The quest itself has become in a
sense a religious style."
Today's evangelicalism is not the "holy rolling" Southern
Pentacostals of the 1950s, the "Jesus people movement" the more
conventional Southern Baptist strain.
Rather, evangelicalism, which stresses expressive services,
strong fervency, and close-knit communities, has become more
mainstream. Followers include both "unchurched" Americans, and
those in many large mainline "megachurch" congregations, also known
as "seeker churches." A number of mainline churches ranging from
Presbyterians to Episocopals, have, in response, transformed their
services - using rock music, video, and theatrical shows to appeal
to a younger audience.
Growth is also found in new evangelical subcultures, such as the
Vineyard Movement and the Calvary Chapel churches, both charismatic
movements spawning "plantings" nationwide.
The new age movement, which originated in the 1960s as a blend
of Eastern and Western mystical traditions, has evolved into a host
of holistic healing, natural child birth, new physics, and
"earth-centered" alternative approaches. Unlike even the loosely
organized evangelical faiths, such alternative forms of
spirituality are manifest more as an influence on religion,
psychology, science, and education rather than as an organization. …