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.

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