Jana Riess: For many Latter-day Saints who question, Faith Matters is a spiritual lifeline

With a podcast, a magazine, a publishing imprint and a major in-person gathering in Salt Lake City in October, the young Faith Matters organization is on the move.

(Patrick Semansky | AP) The Angel Moroni is seen past trees atop a steeple at the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Kensington, Md.

Faith Matters, an independent organization that helps Latter-day Saints explore “an expansive view of the Restored Gospel,” has quickly become a popular hub for those seeking new ways to engage with their faith.

Founded in 2016 by two couples (Susan and Bill Turnbull and Kristin and David Turnbull), Faith Matters dares to raise honest, uncensored questions about Latter-day Saint life and belief.

It celebrates truths that can be discovered in many places, including in other religions. And it honors the messiness that can happen with a faith transition as people wrestle with what their religion means to them.

This candid, optimistic approach is resonating with a growing audience.

“For a lot of people, having faith questions is isolating,” says Aubrey Chaves, who co-hosts the “Faith Matters” podcast with her husband, Tim. “We can ask the deepest, scariest, most authentic questions. And then we get this feedback from people saying, ‘I have this question, too.’”

The podcast under their leadership has grown significantly, more than doubling its audience in each of the past two years. The podcast has a 4.8-star rating on Apple, with reviewers consistently mentioning how they were struggling with their Latter-day Saint faith but found hope, and like-minded community, through the podcast.

Tim Chaves sees community-building as a major part of what they do. “When you start to feel a longing to move to a different place in your faith, you can’t really do it alone. Aubrey and I had each other, because we were both asking questions. That was a huge blessing. But not everyone has a community where they have that sense of belonging.”

So Faith Matters has expanded into new areas to help people articulate their questions and find community. It has begun publishing books by authors such as historian Patrick Mason (“Restoration”), writers Fiona and Terryl Givens (“All Things New”), poet Kathryn Knight Sonntag (“The Mother Tree”), life coach and podcaster Jody Moore (“Better Than Happy”) and sex therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife (untitled, forthcoming).

It’s also launching a magazine called Wayfare this December, with plans to publish original essays, book and film reviews, poetry, art and more.

Zachary Davis, executive director of Faith Matters, will be the editor. “I was interested in a magazine where Latter-day Saints could be in conversation with other Christians,” he said, moving beyond “left-right battles” and the culture wars to embrace “new framings for what a Latter-day Saint life can look like.”

In addition to the podcast, the publishing line and the new magazine, Faith Matters is moving into in-person gatherings in a major way. Next weekend, it will host an unprecedented gathering of speakers, musicians and artists on Oct. 7 and 8 in Salt Lake City.

Called “Restore,” the event was originally slated for 1,000 attendees, but advance registration exceeded the planned space.

It has been expanded to 1,500 registrants, and “it will be sold out,” said Tim Chaves. There will be a digital registration option for those who aren’t able to make the in-person gathering, with details to come about how to access the content.

But there’s something compelling about being together in the flesh, Aubrey Chaves noted, so that sensibility defined how the team planned the event. There won’t be breakout sessions that divide the audience into smaller groups. Instead, everyone will be together in plenary sessions over the full two days, hearing speakers, singing and worshipping through music (with performances from the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir and the contemporary Christian music group Bethel). There will even be group meditations led by Thomas McConkie.

Planners promise that the speakers will be dynamic — no podiums, no academic lectures and several live Q&A opportunities. The “Sunday dress” ideal that characterizes Latter-day Saint religious meetings has been set aside in favor of casual dress from presenters and attendees alike.

“We’ve banned ties,” quipped Davis.

The planners are particularly excited about a pop-up art exhibit that’s been curated by Writ & Vision bookstore and will feature the works of popular Latter-day Saint artists like Brian Kershisnik (who is also speaking) and J. Kirk Richards.

“So between the music, the art display and the group meditation, it will be a really different experience than a usual conference,” Aubrey Chaves said. “Electricity is in the air” whenever these musical groups perform, and she’s excited to bring new worship styles to Latter-day Saints who may not have much experience with what evangelical Christians call “praise music.”

“We just wanted people to branch out, to create experiences that were maybe a little bit new. That can create the feeling of being expansive and wanting to explore. A different music style was one more way.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s conference, this time at a larger venue.

Author disclosure I was involved with the advisory board when Faith Matters first launched in 2016 and have edited two of the books in its publishing line.

(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)