It seems a lot of people are done and they are done with church. Millions in fact. More to be added after the 2016 election. Many people discussed on social media how the message sent by the church was the final straw. Now knowing how evangelicals (81% of white ones at that) felt, those at the fringes of church, either on the outside or the inside, were going to finally say goodbye to the church. They are done!
As a second time doctoral student, this time going for my Doctor of Ministry and thinking of research for a dissertation, I became very interested in who these people were so much so that I walked away from a traditional church plant model (not the only reason though) and transitioned into The Passion Center as a non-traditional faith community that would minister to these folks and to document my journey on this road. Essentially, church done different.
Don't know who or what "the dones" are? Perhaps you've missed some of the buzz on them.Some articles can be found here, here and here. There is even a Facebook group for "dones" here. In doing my own research, I actually didn't find many dissertations on the subject. However, aside of George Barna's, Revolution book, the only other book I've found "so far" that studies this population of people specifically is the 2015 study by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. The book is entitled: “Church Refugees” where they share how they interviewed over one hundred of what some are calling “the dones”. These “dones” are folks who have left institutional churches searching for much more. Some of the findings were surprising as Packard documents that these folks were some of the most committed people in their churches. Many were in leadership, ministry, and very active in the overall functions and activities of the churches they attended.
But what is it that they (the dones) are looking for? Well, according to Packard’s research one of the features that they are not finding in their organized churches is authentic community. Packard states, “Perhaps more than anything else, what people want out of a church is a community of people who are experiencing God together.” These church refugees are done with church. But they are looking for more. More community and what it means to love one another and the world. But they are also looking for engagement. That is, they want to be engaged in ministry to one another and to the world. They are tired of sitting in the pews, serving on committees, and all of the red tape and bureaucracy that go along with “ministry” in the institutional church. They want to serve and minister but not with all the garbage attached to it. I know many people who are amazing leaders and were once very involved with the church, now just hoping they can connect with just a few people for community. Due to in many cases, what has been a "bad experience" or even "burn out" they have chosen to go to mega churches to "lay low" but still eagerly hope for community. Many times, even after their own personal attempts numerous times, they simply can't find it. Some have given up and now find no reason to keep going. Community matters to keep people engaged. Without it, it may be only a matter of time before people in the pews are also done.
Packard estimates that over 32 million American Christians have left their institutional churches in the last 10 years or so. Again, it’s important that we realize that the majority of these people are not leaving because they are falling away from Christ. Rather, it’s because they want more of Him and are finding that the institutional church system is a hindrance rather than a help in them attaining that goal. The other day I meant with a nice lady I knew when I was pastoring at a local church who mentioned to me she's about done. Three things stood out to me. One was her feelings that she didn't feel she belonged anymore (since most around her were extreme right wing conservatives and she is more of a moderate). Secondly, the church was not doing anything to encourage and promote community outside of Sunday service and third was that the church was not doing anything to show they cared about their community.
I really think this information should be utilized by "traditional" church pastors who care about this population and also want to make sure they are addressing the needs of those in their pews who are almost out the door. It is also great information for people who are courageous enough to try a new model. Who are willing to do church differently to become a safe place for people who have just had enough of church as usual.
I don't think anyone should dismiss this as just some kind of movement or trend. It is really a revolution. Something is now happening that is truly completely turning over everything regarding the traditional church system. People are leaving and doing something else. The question for those of us who care about people finding God, growing in faith and serving and loving their world is, what are you prepared to do? Do you even care to do anything?
I am going to be sharing more research on this blog. I am also going to be hosting various groups to listen to "dones" in my area and NYC. Let me know if you are interested specifically in this topic or being invited to a discussion if you are or know of someone in this category by sending me an email here.
I am hoping my research will help pastors think of alternative ways to reach out to this population and I am hoping people will rise up to pastor this population by forming non-traditional faith communities.