Are People Disinterested or Uninterested in Church?
Interest in church and organised religion is going down. But what does this mean? Are people disinterested or uninterested?
In a recent Out of Ur piece, the following comment was made,
“Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.”
As a bit of a grammar geek, this immediately caught my eye. Surely the writer meant uninterested, not disinterested?
In case you are not familiar with the difference, disinterested means not swayed by personal interest or potential personal advantage (e.g., no conflict of interest), whilst uninterested means indifferent, or not concerned (e.g., tuned out).
To say you are uninterested in church or religion means you don’t really care for it; church doesn’t command your attention or focus. Those who are uninterested aren’t curious about religion.
But to be disinterested means you might be curious about and even involved in church. However, you are impartial, non-partisan, open-minded in your views about the specifics of how the religion is organised. You have no axe to grind, so to speak, because you can take it or leave it. You’re happy for things to go one way or another.
To say that many people, especially younger people are uninterested in religion is neither a startling nor groundbreaking statement (as is saying they are uninterested in programmatic church even if they are interested in spirituality). But to say they are disinterested, is something else altogether.
Consider the recent article on the role of Christianity in US politics in the Foreign Affairs journal. That was an example of religious disinterest. Mead is trying to say, “let’s suspend our educated, liberal bias against evangelicalism for a moment and look at the strengths and weaknesses of the situation.” It’s also the kind of piece what would have been hard to find in the secular press 15-20 years ago. When I was growing up the mainstream media was somewhere between disinterested and disdainful of religion. Isn‚Äôt that one of the features of our postmodern moment? The shift in media coverage of religious affairs from uninterested to disinterested?
We live in a post-denominational age – or to put it another way an age of denominational disinterest. How many times do we hear words I may be in your church, but I have no stake in your church’s infrastructure, it’s denomination.
There is also an aspect of this in my generation’s disdain for building programmes. How can we really decide what building this congregation may need in 20 years time? I will have probably moved several times by then and for all I know, what we build today will be obsolete by then anyway. I like your community, I belong, but I’m disinterested in the long term future of the building.
One of the things I found quite compelling from my experience of expat Christianity in Delhi, was feeling disinterested with the leadership issues of the church. In fact, when I got there, the sense of unity was in part because few people had any real long term stake in the church, it was much more focussed on practical people issues. This felt immensely liberating.
Maybe the writer made a simple grammatical mistake, but there’s a little genius in what that mistake might be revealing to us. It seems, to me at least, that the future of spirituality means being at times uninterested, but more often disinterested in things that consumed defined Christianity for centuries.