Question: "What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious?"

Answer: Those in certain religious or Christian circles have more than likely heard someone say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” In fact, over the last ten years, 22 percent of the population—and about 30 percent of those between the ages of eighteen and thirty—have adopted the “spiritual but not religious” label (, accessed 2/9/2023). It may not be entirely clear what this means since religious and spiritual can be interchangeable terms in some contexts.

For those who are not Christians, being spiritual but not religious might mean that they believe in the spiritual parts of life—like the soul—but do not follow any religion as defined by the various belief systems. These people do not follow Christ or Muhammed or Buddha, but they want to experience their own “transcendent” spiritual journey, so they are “spiritual” in a New Age way.

Many people—inside and outside of Christianity—presume religion comes with dogmas, doctrines, and rituals while spirituality is more about the heart, feelings, and experiences. Religion is seen as cold, passionless, and even dead. Spirituality, though, is welcoming, passionate, and bursting with life. Some assert that religion practiced within an established tradition makes people less spiritual, forcing them to go through the motions instead of being genuine or devout in their faith. Thus, believers claiming to be spiritual but not religious are attempting to avoid becoming those of Matthew 15:8 about whom God says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Spiritual people don’t mime their piety in religious services; they are truly pious and maintain intense feelings of spiritual devotion apart from those services.

In some people’s minds, religion has become synonymous with corrupt institutions, organizations, and power. Anti-religious sentiment is growing throughout the world, with people criticizing the Church, its teachings, and its leaders. Public scandals and failures among believers have only fanned these flames of opposition. All of this causes some to distance themselves from religion; however, it is still acceptable to be spiritual. Disconnecting from established religion in favor of a more generic spirituality makes the practice of Christianity seem less controversial. To call oneself spiritual but not religious affirms the desire for the good, the eternal, and the divine while also freeing a person from divisive forms of faith and worship (ibid., accessed 2/9/2023). Being spiritual but not religious individualizes one’s faith, making it a personal matter rather than the corporate business of a church.

It is true that salvation is an individual matter; John 3:16 says, “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Each person must personally decide whether he or she will accept God’s gift of salvation and be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). After one is saved, however, the Church plays a major role in the life of a believer for sanctification. The Church is not an afterthought in God’s plan; it is Christ’s bride and body (Ephesians 5:25–27). Accordingly, gathering in a community of believers is commanded: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). In Philippians 2:2, Paul asks believers to be of the same mind and same love since we are all in the same Spirit. A church that follows these commands will not spread the dead religion so many people criticize; this type of church will be alive and bursting with love for Christ and for people. Forsaking organized faith to be “spiritual but not religious” does not align with the Bible’s teaching.

Striving to be spiritual but not religious addresses some perceived problems within Christianity—like emotionless worship or the presence of nominal believers going through the motions—but it ignores the purpose of the Church and God’s commands to gather in community for mutual growth and encouragement.