Faith trends to watch

LinkedIn recently published 50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead. The list is full of interesting predictions regarding the economy, workforce, tech, leadership, and a couple on social movements. Underlying many of the predictions are issues of values, ethics, and inclusion. As society seeks better solutions to the challenges that confront us - climate change, the potential effects of artificial intelligence, inequality, political polarization, shifting workforce trends, and more - what role will faith communities and institutions play?

And what would these predictions look like if offered by faith leaders rather than business leaders? We’re going to find out in the coming weeks by seeking the input of our network. We’ll report back on what we hear, but in the meantime, here are a few recent faith trends that we expect will continue to grow in 2019. What are your predictions for faith and its institutions in the coming year? And how will they interact with looming societal challenges like climate change, AI, and a shifting economy? Tell us in the comments or on social media or by email at info@innofaith.org.

  1. Religious institutions better leveraging their assets for social impact

    In different ways, religious institutions have been rethinking the uses of their assets, from how they invest their money to how they use their property. Some faith institutions have started to take up impact investing to put their money to use for social good. Some congregations are using their land to build affordable housing. A new organization, Good Lands, is using geo-data to map the land of the Catholic Church globally so it can be stewarded for maximum social and environmental impact. The United Church of Christ’s Building and Loan Fund—no longer focused just on building churches but on building God’s economy— launched the Adese Fellows program to invest in leaders applying theology to enterprise to eradicate poverty. Similarly, EDGE within the United Church of Canada is catalyzing innovation across the denomination. Other organizations have emerged to help houses of worship re-imagine the use of their spaces. In some cases, this trend is fueled by dwindling congregations and a need to rethink the use of unused assets. Perhaps it will be what ultimately renews these institutions.

    Thinking big: Could religious institutions become more significant partners with the public and private sectors not just in helping meet unmet social need, but in designing solutions to urban, rural, and global challenges?

  2. A wave of faith-rooted start-ups serving both spiritual and social needs

    With all the technological, financial and service tools on the market today - plus the wealth of information available to anyone with an internet connection - the barrier of entry to entrepreneurship is lower than ever. And for better or worse, “disruption” has become commonplace in almost every industry and sector. Though perhaps slower to catch on, the faith sector is increasingly seeing its share of entrepreneurs launching faith-rooted businesses, social enterprises, and non-profit organizations. With a growing number of faith-rooted incubators, accelerators, funders and crowdfunding platforms - such as Glean, Praxis, Upstart, Do Good X, Ministry Incubators, Pillars Fund, Opus Prize, GHR Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Prize, and LaunchGood - serving these entrepreneurs, expect to see more people launching new organizations. And in the vein of Innové Studios, look for more congregations directly engaging with social entrepreneurs in their communities.

    Thinking big: Could this diffuse collection of entrepreneurial efforts ultimately catalyze an ecosystem of innovation that engages more and more faith communities and institutions as leaders in tackling some of the deep spiritual and social challenges of today’s world?

  3. More emerging communities rooted in spirituality but outside traditional religious institutions

    Religious institutions have historically been a place people turn to for meaning, rootedness, and community in a changing world. But as that change becomes more and more rapid, and as fewer young people find relevance in religious institutions, we’ve seen the growing emergence of alternative spiritual communities. Perhaps more than ever in our digital and fast-paced world, people are desperately seeking purpose and meaningful non-digital connection with others. Wherever religious institutions fail to respond to the spiritual needs of the younger generations, those generations are creating new forms of community that may or may not have a tie to traditional religion. This trend has been extensively documented by the How We Gather project at Harvard Divinity School. It may be a trend primarily in the white, middle-class, millennial demographic in response to social isolation, but we expect it will grow in the new year as more and more “nones” (the demographic that does not associate with a religion) seek places of authentic connection and meaning. And don’t discount religion just yet, many similar communities are emerging within faith traditions (see Kenissa, which supports such “communities of meaning” in the Jewish tradition).

    Thinking big: In the vein of initiatives like The People’s Supper, could these communities ultimately be a place for authentic conversation that enables us to overcome, or at least mitigate, the polarization, enmity, and anger plaguing our public dialogue?

  4. More theological education focused on innovation and social impact

    Theological schools may be in decline generally, but several are adapting to new models of impact by offering innovation programs, such as the Ignite Institute at the Pacific School of Religion, the Center for Innovation in Ministry at San Francisco Theological Union, the Wesley Innovation Hub at Wesley Theological Seminary, the innovation-focused Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, and others, including some being offered by secular institutions, such as the Certificate in Spiritual Leadership and Social Impact at NYU, in partnership with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. With religious institutions and their associated schools trying to remain relevant and interesting to today’s young people, we expect to see more institutions following suit.

    Thinking big: In the vein of the Graduate Theological Union, which has selected its first rabbi as president and is exploring the addition of Muslim liberal arts college Zaytuna and the Institute of Buddhist Studies as members, could theological schools find renewal in inter-religious (and secular) collaboration, particularly around shared values and commitment to social impact?

  5. More interfaith collaboration

    Ok, to be honest, we’re not sure we’re seeing enough of this to call it a trend, but we hope to see more of it in 2019. That said, the Interfaith Youth Core, through its work on college campuses, continues to be a force for the development of interfaith leaders, many of whom go on to develop interfaith initiatives of their own, such as World Faith, or to lead in interfaith ways. And we see some exciting interfaith collaboration in the environmental space, led by organizations like GreenFaith and their Living the Change initiative. We expect that people, if not institutions, of faith will continue to step out of their silos to work together with people of other faith traditions to tackle some of society’s big challenges.

    Thinking big: Could the interfaith movement as a whole follow some of these innovative initiatives to prioritize interfaith collective action? And could faith-specific funders collaborate to support interfaith innovation?

Tell us your thoughts on the faith trends of 2018 and predictions for 2019 and we’ll share them out in the new year.