When Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston began their research on their fellow Millennials in 2014, they discovered there were a lot of people who were just like them. Like many of the people they interviewed, neither were affiliated with traditional houses of worship. ter Kuile was a former activist who'd grown up in a secular household, while Thurston was deeply influenced by the Urantia Book, a spiritual and philosophical book popular in New Age circles.
They and the people they studied were members of what demographers have labeled "the nones," or people who said they had no religious affiliation. According to some studies, the number of Americans ages 18 to 29 who had no religious affiliation has nearly quadrupled in the last 30 years.
But, as ter Kuile and Thurston discovered, Millennial disdain for traditional religion didn't mean they'd abandoned the search for belonging and meaning. Instead, many were getting their spiritual needs met within secular organizations, many of which served roughly the same function as traditional churches.
But in a larger sense, ter Kuile said, "nothing has changed" in terms of people's need to fulfill their religious or spiritual needs. "The way it's expressed and the cultural context is changing."
ter Kuile here shares his own story, what he and his colleagues discovered in their research, and his thoughts on what traditional religious institutions can do to support this emerging landscape.
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