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WE’RE DONE: Why Thoughtful People Are Dumping ‘Church’

Here’s an eye-opener.

By Bill Muehlenberg

There are many Christians who have stopped going to church. They have not given up on God, have not renounced their faith, have not denied Christ, and have not become pagans. They simply are no longer going to church. That this is happening is not a matter of doubt, but why this is happening is in fact a difficult question to answer.

One recent article spoke about this trend. Entitled “The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population,” it looks at this scene – primarily in America – but does not offer us any clear indications as to why this is becoming such a problem. The article begins:

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately. But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”
John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. 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. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

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.

Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.

Mindful of texts like Hebrews 10:25 of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” they still meet with others. But often it is just a very small home group. Often it is just a small band of believers who meet in a small community centre.

They are still eager for God, but have been turned off by so much of the church scene today. Many are repulsed by the celebrity and entertainment culture that runs rampant in so many churches today. They just want to worship Jesus and encourage one another without all the worldly rigmarole.

Read more: Bill Muehlenberg

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