The New America

The spiritual landscape of America is changing. Are we ready to encounter it? A “Creatives” culture has emerged in America as the fasting growing segment. What does this mean for the church? for spirituality? Of the three cultures shaping America, which culture do you identity with? In 1995, sociologist Paul H. Ray published his “Integral Cultural Survey.” This study revealed an emerging new culture in America, one that could dramatically change the nation’s spiritual landscape.

Three culturesRay’s study measured changing values and lifestyles, particularly among “Baby Boomers,” and identified two historic streams of meaning in America today: Traditional and Modern. But a third sub-culture is emerging – the Creatives.

The Traditionals are 25% of the adult U.S. population and declining. This culture broke off from mainstream American culture during the 1800s. They are characterized by rigid, dogmatic belief systems. Ray also calls them “Heartlanders,” as they embrace a nostalgic image of small towns and the old-fashioned American dream of how things ought to be. Their spirituality is maintained by staying “on the straight and narrow” – the approved path.

The Moderns are 48%, or nearly half, of the adult U.S. population. This culture has left the Traditional world-view behind, but has replaced it with a materialistic/hedonistic orientation, their highest priority being “what works for me.” Moderns are the ‘official’ culture of the U.S. today. They are concerned with personal success, status, and financial gain and value industry and urbanization. According to Ray, their spirituality is maintained by “keeping to the main story” – the established path.

The Creatives are the fastest-growing cultural group, numbering 26% of the adult U.S. population, or 50 million people. The Creatives made their inner departure from Modernism in the turmoil of the 1960s, as millions of young people joined “movements” for human potential, civil rights, peace, jobs, social justice, ecology and equal rights for women. Six out of ten Creatives today are women. Their culture is both inner-directed and socially concerned. Ray sees their spirituality centered on “finding the new story” – and new paths of integral culture.

Two years ago Paul Ray and co-author Sherry Ruth Anderson published a full-length book: The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million people are changing the world (Harmony).

Ray and Anderson found that Cultural Creatives think for themselves. They scan the world and put together their own Big Picture. They are “information junkies,” but they make their own syntheses, eschewing authority. They are thinking intuitives. “On the deepest level,” Ray and Anderson write, “they are powerfully attuned to global issues and whole systems.”

Aren’t Creatives just New Agers? No. Ray and Anderson claim that New Agers “are only a tiny postage stamp on the corner of this [Creative] envelope” – about one-fifth of this population. They also note “half of the New Agers aren’t Cultural Creatives either.” Other researchers have found a similar shift to post-modern values in advanced industrial societies (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/).

Traditionals, Moderns or Creatives – what culture do you fit in? Up until now, Ray and Anderson claim, the Creatives have not been aware of themselves as a social movement in America. To compare yourself either way with the values of the Creative Culture, see the self-scoring questionnaire at: http://www.culturalcreatives.org/

What does all this say about the future of the church in the 21st century? While Creatives are the leading force in America in creating new culture, few claim to be “born again in Jesus Christ.” Most believers find homes in the Traditional or Modern cultures. At this juncture we must be careful, since “a church married to its age becomes a widow in the next.”

Are we willing to allow “Creatives” to challenge our conventional mindset? Are Creatives willing to let the gospel of the Kingdom challenge theirs? The future of faith may well depend on the degree to which we encounter each other.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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