This week’s E-votional comes from our King Speaker, Diana Butler Bass. Diana will be with us tomorrow at 4pm and Sunday at 10am and 4pm. 

The Cottage

Trend Lines and Lifelines

I turned off the television on Monday feeling depressed. The ever-present political stories were bad enough, but the trending coverage of the falling stock market made the already anxiety-inducing news broadcasts even worse. Graphics of the plunging line on Wall Street appeared on every cable station. Breathless journalists and experts speculated, moment-by-moment: How far would it go down? Could it recover? Will this last a long time? What does it all mean?

Panic over decline isn’t pretty.

For more than a decade, I’ve written about trends in American religion. Most people now know that the traditional indicators of organized religion – membership, attendance, and belief – have been going down. Americans are less likely to join denominations and churches, less likely to attend regular religious services, and even less likely to believe in God than in generations past. This decline is evident most clearly among white Christians, but there’s a general softening in religion markets across-the-board. If you follow religion trends, there are lots of charts with downward arrows.

Unlike the financial markets, religion trend lines moved down slowly, an often-imperceptible change to all but knowledgeable observers. With slow declines, you often don’t notice what has been lost until it is gone.

I made it part of my vocation to help others “spot” future trends in religion. Seeing trends enables us to prepare for the future – and minimizes the negative surprises associated with unanticipated change. I’ve always trusted that being informed about trends, when well understood and placed in historical context, opens creative possibilities and strengthens the hope of faith communities.

Because of this work in “hope-filled trends,” people often ask me: “What trends do you see now in religion and spirituality?”

What do I see now?

People are sick of trends.

Like me. On Monday – turning the television off. The downward lines were making me crazy.

We are searching for lifelines, not looking for trend lines.

Sure, thoughtful leaders must understand future challenges as they relate to the religious “economy.” After all, even Jesus instructed his followers to read the “signs of the times.” But among the most important “signs of the times” that I see right now is that people are tired of thinking about future trends and are increasingly seeking ways to actually live lives of faith, goodness, and spirit at the heart of their religious traditions. We know that religion is “in decline” and is changing. The time for analysis is over. We want to know how to live in the midst of it.

People aren’t as interested in trends because the future has, in many ways, arrived. We know more is to come, but we also know that we have moved through the initial stages of massive cultural change. Remember when you first heard the term “paradigm shift” and didn’t know what it was? Now you do. Or “digital revolution.” Or “emergence.” Or “post-modern.” Once we weren’t there. But now we are and we know we are. Some don’t like it (hence the politics of nationalism and nostalgia in the United States and Europe), some love it (spend some time in Seattle or Silicon Valley), but most are just trying to adjust to it.

And so the “trending” question: How do I – or we – live now?

Faith and spirituality speak directly to this question. Faith is the capacity to see beyond what is immediately perplexing into the deeper realities of existence. Spirituality is our connection with those deeper dimensions, our lived sense of awe and compassion that empowers us to act on what we see. Faith and spirit open us to meaning and purpose, steady us in the midst of change, and lower our fears so that we can live with imagination and creativity. At their best, religious communities are incubators of faith and spirit, not institutions of dogma or polity.

Almost all our institutions – political, economic, academic – are struggling with change. Most religious institutions have neither successfully understood that the future has arrived nor managed to hear new spiritual questions. Millions are pursuing faith and spirit outside of religious institutions. More typically, folks are ambling through the world with questions of how to live now, sometimes not even sure about the question itself, and seeking guidance from friends or Google.

While I still care deeply about religious traditions and communities, it is obvious that religion cannot afford institutional isolation and privilege. The great stories of faith – from the Bible and other sacred texts – and the formative practices of spirit – like hospitality and gratitude – can no longer reside comfortably within the protective walls of a building. The way to thrive is to understand that religion isn’t about trend lines. Instead, religion is the ancient wisdom of beautiful stories and life-shaping practices. Those stories and practices are our lifelines in the world now.

Oh, I still like trend lines. But these days I’m more interested in sharing lifelines. Not to rescue people from the world, but to help us all live better in it.


The Contract
A word from the led

By William Ayot

And in the end we follow them –
not because we are paid,
not because we might see some advantage,
not because of the things they have accomplished,
not even because of the dreams they dream
but simply because of who they are:
the man, the woman, the leader, the boss,
standing up there when the wave hits the rock,
passing out faith and confidence like life jackets,
knowing the currents, holding the doubts,
imagining the delights and terrors of every landfall;
captain, pirate, and parent by turns,
the bearer of our countless hopes and expectations.
We give them our trust. We give them our effort.
What we ask in return is that they stay true.


My book Grateful will be released April 3, but if you preorder your copy of the book now you’ll receive a special bonus gift: The 7-Day Guide to Gratitude digital download with quotes and prayers that I wrote. Visit to learn more and preorder and get the 7-Day Guide emailed to you immediately.

GRATEFUL is a timely and beautifully-written book. The practice of gratitude has been a lifeline for me in a challenging season, and this wise book articulates both a helpful challenge and a soul-shaping framework.”  — Shauna Niequist, New York Times bestselling author of Present Over Perfect