Faith Matters

How millennials gather

Peer-led discussions among young Muslims, Christian experiments in communal living, and pop-up Shabbat meals embody common yearnings.

Four years ago, two former students of mine began writing and publishing dispatches from the spiritual landscape of religiously unaffiliated millennials. Casper ter Kuile and Angela Thurston, neither of whom grew up in the pews of a church, have a gift for seeing communities of belonging, practice, accountability, and service emerging in the cracks in our culture—communities that those who did grow up in the pews might miss. (You can read their reports at

Casper and Angie were led by their interest in the new ways members of their generation have found to accompany each other through their significant losses, cultivate new spiritual disciplines, and be of use to others. They described communities forming around dinner tables, in gyms, and on trains whose members listened closely to each other and pursued personal and social transformation together. Were these communities “religious”? Were they “secular”? They did not easily map onto the usual divide.

What Angie and Casper did see were patterns shared across a diverse range of communities: a desire to belong to something larger than oneself, a yearning for “something more.” Rather than defining these communities as religious or not, they began looking for the family resemblances among them and tracing their genealogies. They asked, Who are the ancestors of these communities, and who are their siblings? How have they drawn from the practices of 12-step meetings and block parties and church services and running clubs? How are they related to yoga studios or the AIDSWalk community or programs like On Being?