As worshipers packed churches on Easter Sunday, Rodman Armas crowded into the AmericanAirlines Arena with his 6-year-old son, Anthony, to cheer for the Miami Heat as its NBA playoff series began. Armas said he and his son had been looking forward to the game all week. “Going to church is not a big deal for us. We pray in our home,” Armas says.
While the lives of many Americans today are filled with going to sporting events, running kids to activities and answering email, studies suggest we’re squeezing in religion how and when it’s convenient — if at all.
“People are very busy, but it’s a matter of what they prioritize,” says the Rev. Tim Lozier, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Jacksonville.
Clearly, in our hectic, time-crunched society, religion has become less of a priority. Study after study tells us that Americans are less religious than we used to be.
Just last week, a survey of 804 children by the Bible Society found that young people had little understanding of the true meaning of Easter, or of the Bible itself. The research triggered the Bible Society to launch a “Pass It On” campaign, challenging parents to help keep the Bible alive for future generations by telling stores each night over the Easter period.
Yet, a survey by the American Bible Society found a huge drop in the number of adults reading the Bible, most citing a lack of time.
For many of the worshipers who jammed churches on Easter Sunday, it was a rare appearance. The percentage of Americans who say they “seldom” or “never” attend religious services has risen in the past decade — to 29 percent from 25 percent a decade ago, according to Pew Research Center surveys.
Pew Research also has identified a movement toward Americans leaving religion in droves. One-fifth of all Americans — a significant number from anyone’s perspective — claim no affiliation when asked to state their religious preference. The number of people without religious affiliation has doubled in the past two decades. This is particularly true of millennials, our young generation and the nation’s future parents.
Some blame the Internet for Americans losing religion. Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, says the increase in Internet usage since 1990 has a significant correlation with the drop in religion.
Others point to factors such as the rise of working mothers, the increase of organized activities and homework, the 24/7 culture and the struggle for work/life balance.
Cristy Gutierrez says that for her family, all those factors are at play. She works full-time and has two kids on travel sports teams. She spends most weekends on the fields or courts. Although she is affiliated with a church, she rarely attends Mass: “I just don’t get enough out of it to make the time to go.”
Meanwhile, some religious institutions are trying to evolve — offering young adult services on Saturday nights, live streaming of services on the Internet, integration with social media and contemporary worship music.
“People are not too busy for religion if organized religion adapts to the way in which people are living their modern lives,” says Eric Stillman, president of the Jewish Federation of Broward County. “They don’t want the obligations that come with membership. They want to pick and choose what’s convenient and to do so in way similar to going to restaurant and ordering à la carte.”
For example, Stillman says the staying power of the Passover Seder is its informality and flexibility: “The exact time is not prescribed, and there’s no obligation for temple membership associated with it.”
Indeed, this year, to accommodate busy work and travel schedules, more American Jews held their Seders — the elaborate ritual meal at the heart of the eight-day holiday — on different nights, not only on the traditional first two nights, The Washington Post reported.
Lozier says people no longer feel compelled to build their personal schedules around attending religious services. They no longer feel “expected” to go to church on Sundays, nor compelled to go for a sense of community. Still, his Jacksonville church has a congregation of 700 families, many of them minorities, whom he continually coaxes to participate: “Even in our day to day busy-ness, we need God at some level.”
In South Florida, Cantor Debbi Ballard says she identified the change in attitude toward religion several years ago and has catered to it: “If you want people to affiliate, you have to show them how religion can fit and be balanced in their lives.”
For a decade, Ballard ( mypersonalcantor.com) has run a “virtual” synagogue, meeting at hotels or community centers for families who find it easier than a bricks-and-mortar environment. She has served almost 500 families in Broward, Aventura and Boca Raton. This fall, she will launch a mobile Hebrew School concept that she hopes will attract even more families — taking religious learning directly to those who want it.
Ballard says churches and temples that are inclusive, with engaging programming and welcoming attitudes, are flourishing. Across the country, nondeminational churches are springing up, attracting young couples and families with promising messages that appeal to those in search of fewer rigid rules and traditions.
“People want their religious institutions to be accepting and tolerant,” Ballard says. “They come for positivity, not to hear words of guilt. That’s the inclusiveness people are responding to.”
As work, too, has become more central in our lives, the younger generation (ages 18 to 34), the one that prioritizes work/life balance, is finding spirituality outside organized religion, research shows.
Mike Smalley, a religion expert with Worldreach Ministries in Dallas, believes many millennials are reading scriptures online or watching sermons on their mobile devices or simply talking to God: “They just don’t like to be told have to go to church. They don’t see it as necessary for their Christian life.”
Some working adults believe religious participation should be a priority, regardless of its intrusion on our work/life schedules. Boo Zamek, a small-business owner and busy mother of two, makes time for Sunday morning Mass most weeks. She says she makes a conscious effort for her daughters: “I want them to have a religious foundation. I appreciate that my parents gave me that.”
Meanwhile, Armas enjoyed the Miami Heat’s victory on Easter Sunday, and says he never felt compelled to go to church to be religious — even as a child. Instead, he says he has another priority that gives him fulfillment: “being together with my family.”
Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, provider of news on work/life issues. Connect with her firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.workinglifebalancingact.com.