The Dones

In a recent column on Thom Schultz described the growing number of “Dones” in the United States. If this is not a term you are familiar with, you are not alone–I had never heard it either. In fact, it may be a term Schultz coined himself, but it references a group of people that are common enough that they are the subject of research by sociologist Josh Packard. The “Dones” are those individuals who are done with church. Say Schultz, “They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones.” Instead, the have just up and quit, deciding they have had enough of church and they are not going to take it any more.

According to Packard, the “Dones” are often from the most dedicated and active people within their congregation. This begs at least one question in my mind immediately, in light of the oft-repeated assertion that in most churches ten percent of the people do ninety percent of the work. Are the “Dones” getting tired of doing all the work? In other words, are they getting burned out? Apparently not, according to Packard’s research cited by Schultz.

In his upcoming book Church Refugees Packard suggests that the “Dones” simply feel like they have heard it all before. Others are tired of being told how they are to live their lives. According to one of Packard’s interviewees, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.” Therein, of course, lies part of the problem. Effective preaching and church ministry has nothing to do with “some guy” telling anyone what to do, unless that guy is Jesus Christ. If the pastor is insisting that he has the authority to tell those in his congregation how to live their lives, then he is wrong and leaving the church is probably wise. If, however, the pastor is faithfully and consistently preaching and teaching the entire Bible, he will, necessarily, be touching on many areas that pertain to how Christians are to live their lives. This would not be coming from him, though; rather, he is simply communicating and explaining what the Bible says. If the issue, then, is not liking the idea that God both cares about how we live our daily lives and has a right to care about it then the real issue is the heart, not the church.

Schultz also writes of another reason the “Dones” might be done. “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.” This is an interesting idea and one that requires additional investigation. Perhaps Packard’s book will shed more light on what Schultz is getting at here. On the one hand, it seems to contradict the idea mentioned above, that the “Dones” are often coming out of the most active members of church congregations. If that is true, the suggestion that they do not get to participate does not make sense. On the other hand, if these individuals are tired of listening to “some guy” tell them how to live–in other words, if that is their heart attitude and their mindset–then having them become more participatory within their churches could be dangerous to the spiritual well being of the church. There are, after all, specific biblical requirements for church leadership and additional reasonable requirements for church volunteers and ministry leaders.

Packard, says Schultz, explains that churches are not likely to get the “Dones” back in church, and would be far better off focusing on not losing them in the first place than on getting them back. He suggests seven questions that church leaders should ask church members in order to help the church understand the needs of their congregations and meet those needs before their congregants flee.

Here are his questions:

1. Why are you a part of this church?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?

These are actually good questions. Much to my delight they are not focused on what would make anyone more comfortable. The last question is particularly poignant, but I would caution churches implementing this approach to couple it with another question: What would need to change in your life to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others? After all, there may well be things that the church could do differently in order to more effectively minister to its congregation and spur on their spiritual growth. At the same time, there is nothing any church can ever do to accomplish that growth if the real issue is within the heart and mind of the individual congregant and he has no interest in changing. If, in other words, he is tired of “some guy telling him what to do.”

If there are previously committed and active members of churches making a beeline for the exit and quitting church, we do need to be concerned. We do need to seek to keep them if they have not left and reach them if they have. Let us now, however, confuse ourselves into thinking that the fault is solely with the church.

Your Love Never Fails

Your Love Never Fails
A Meditation on Psalm 51

Be gracious to me, O God, my Father
Because Your love never fails.
Your mercy abounds—it cannot be surpassed
Because Your love never fails.

You will wash me completely
And cleanse all my sin
Because Your love never fails.
My sin would remind me of how bad I’ve been.
You’ll scrub every stain and make me feel new
Because Your love never fails.

The wrongs I have done have been against You
You know every thought, word and deed.
You would be right to condemn, and yet You forgive
Because Your love never fails.

My ways have been wrong since before I was born
As a sinner I entered the world.
And yet you will still make me brand new
Because Your love never fails.

Your happiness comes from the change in my being
That makes me desire Your truth.
You teach me that truth—You transform my heart
Because Your love never fails.

Though the process required to cleanse all my sin
May be painful, unpleasant, severe
Please do what you must to refine my soul
For I know Your love never fails.

Scientific evidence

Business Insider recently posted an article by Emily Esfahani Smith that originally appeared in The Atlantic. The article was entitled, “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits.” Interestingly, the two basic traits the article highlighted were kindness and generosity. “There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. … [A]mong couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

It is always fascinating to me how science continues to affirm what the Bible teaches. Scripture makes it clear that we are to be kind to each other and to consider others above ourselves. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another” (ESV) and Philippians 2:3 says, “be humble and consider others more important than yourselves” (CEV). Those passages are referring to how believers are to behave generally–they are not specific to marriage. If, however, God has called us to that kind of behavior with anyone, how much more so must He expect it of spouses?

The article quotes Ty Tashiro, psychologist and author of The Science of Happily Ever After, as reporting that only three in every ten people who get married “remain in healthy, happy marriages.” As a result of the high divorce rate and the concerns about the impact that these divorces would have on children, psychologists began to study couples in an effort to “determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were.” John Gottman is one of those psychologists, and he has been studying couples for four decades. For a 1990 study he designed a lab at the University of Washington that resembles a bed and breakfast and set about inviting couples to spend the day at his lab so he could observe them. During that time, Gottman made what Smith calls “a critical discovery.”

His discovery was that as they interacted throughout the day the couples Gottman was observing would make what he calls “bids,” which are invitations for the spouse to engage. How the recipient of the bid responds goes a long way in determining how healthy the relationship will be. The example bid in the article is, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” Obviously no relationship is going to thrive or fail on the basis of a mutual interest in bird watching, or lack thereof. The reason the response to the bids is so important is that the response is really to the one offering the bid, not the actual subject of the bid. In other words, if my wife were to say something about a beautiful bird outside (an entirely plausible scenario, in my case), my response–good or bad–is really to my wife. The bird itself is tangential. Responding favorably, either by getting up to look at the bird or, at a minimum, asking her to tell me about it, indicates that what matters to her matters to me–which really indicates that she matters to me.

Gottman found that those couples who had divorced when he conducted a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” one one-third of the time, whereas the couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87% of the time! In other words, nearly nine times out of ten, the recipient of the bid had affirmed his or her spouse through the response to the bid. No wonder these couples were still together.

Smith’s article goes on to explore further what kindness is. Interestingly, she observes that there are two ways of looking at kindness: as a fixed trait or as a muscle. If you view kindness as a fixes trait, your position is that you (or anyone) either have kindness or you do not, and that’s just the way it is. If you view it as a muscle, however, you recognize that while some people may naturally have more of it than others, it is a trait that can be developed in and by anyone, and the more it is exercised the stronger it will become. Of those who see kindness as a muscle, Smith comments, “They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.” The article further examines the fact that kindness includes generosity–the generosity of actual gifts, sure, but more importantly a generosity towards your spouse’s intentions. Do I give my wife the benefit of the doubt, do I seek to understand her perspective or the circumstances surrounding whatever it is that happened–or do I simply get upset when things do not go the way I wanted them to go?

Smith also touches on the fact that while “being there” for your spouse when circumstances are difficult and when trials come, just as important, if not more so, is the reaction when your spouse shares good news. “How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.” The article highlights four possible types of response, called passive destructive, passive constructive, active destructive and active constructive. The best response, of course, is the active constructive one, because it focuses attention on the spouse delivering the good news, celebrates the news and takes a genuine and active interest in it.

I could go on at length in examining biblical passages that are supported by all of this scientific evidence, but I suspect you are familiar with most of it anyway. Once again, science provides support–evidence, if you will–for exactly what God has said all along.