Yearnings elsewhere

David L. Odom, at Duke University’s Call and Response blog, suggests taking a deeper look at the motivations and desires of people who don’t go to church:

What would we learn if Christians carefully observed the daily life of those who don’t attend church? What if we watched what people do at ball games, the public park or the shopping mall? What “jobs” are people doing there? Why do they go to these places, and what similar places do they go?

…close observation is followed by careful listening. The goal is to connect the activities and underlying needs of the constituents with activities of Christian community.

You can read the whole thing here.


  1. What very thoughtful words. I attended a wedding this weekend, a wedding that was very sacramental, but not of the church. Many of us who present are practicing Catholics, many others were people in the secular academy. As it happens, my friend and I were seated in a section of the non-churched. It was a most interesting time of observation, as I watched people who were uncomfortable, and yet others who seemed truly moved. My friend and I sang with full voices, although most of those in pews around us were silent.

    Interestingly enough, when we prayed the Our Father, suddenly many voices were raised – the old familiar prayer comes back.

    This all gave me a lot of food for thought about what the 45 minute service was like for the unchurched.

    As a result, reading this today makes me think about what I will call the “observation of the elsewhere.” This is something that I feel very drawn to do, thank you for the nudge of invitation via this post. Imagine what we might learn.

  2. Elizabeth Drescher is the author, with Keith Anderson, of Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012). She teaches religion and pastoral ministries at Santa Clara University. She is currently at work on Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of Religious Nones, a project funded in part through a grant from the Social Science Research Council’s “New Directions in the Study of Prayer” project through the Templeton Foundation. Her website is and she writes regularly for Religious Dispatches

    This belief-based orientation in the study of religiosity, and the study of religion more generally, obscures what is revealed again and again as a diverse and rich spiritual landscape. Respondents to a survey that I tested earlier this year, for instance, ranked “enjoying time with family,” “enjoying time with pets or other animals,” “enjoying time with friends,” and “preparing or sharing food” as among the most “spiritually meaningful practices” in an inventory that also included the conventionally-measured practices of “attending worship,” “studying sacred texts,” and “praying.” Only prayer made it to the top of the list, coming in at number five behind what I’ve come to call the “Four F’s of Contemporary American Spirituality”: Family, Fido, Friends, and Food. This ranking was consistent whether respondents identified as religiously-affiliated or not.

    My work here, again, is only preliminary—a revised survey will be conducted later in the fall.

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