“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine.” ― George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion link
About two months ago, I read an article that said fog machines were number one on the wish list for church purchases. I cannot find the quote from the article, but I googled fog machines and churches. There is no question that fog machines are the "it" thing for churches which already have light displays, sound machines worthy of a U2 concert, and LED displays that put most concert venues to shame.
Recently, I was visiting a megachurch which had elaborate stage decorations, along with the requisite fog machines, band, and enough sound to blow most people out of the auditorium. Yes, it was church a gathering, but it seemed more like a warm up for Katy Perry and her Super Bowl tiger.
I started giggling because one of the stage decorations, off to the right side, looked like the Crystalline Entity from Star Trek. Surrounded by music with words I could barely understand, a guy on guitar who looked like he was channeling Steven Tyler, along with a pastor entering his elder years dressed like a "beyond cool teen" with requisite tattoos and necklace, I wanted to run out screaming, but I was polite.
I discovered this tweet that said it all.
I am tired of the incessant chasing after young people. They could get a better performance at some rock concert in which the meaning of words is not essential in order to rock on. But I was in church, and I wanted to get the message. Unfortunately, the message, while Biblical, was just the same old repetition of 6 words 10 times. (Did they really have to put the word "whoa uh x5" on the screen?) Frankly, I was tired of the whole show, as was my husband.
Since that time, we have found a liturgical church which actually reads the Scriptures, has a time for confession of sin, takes communion seriously, and sings songs with words I can hear. For now, this is where we will stay. However, we remain quietly in the background, watching. There will be no contracts being signed by yours truly.
Surrounding this church are the same old megachurches with the same old mantras which stress strict gender roles, pastorcentricity, books by Sovereign Grace Ministries, and church plants in upper middle class areas that already have churches. (Note to the Neo Calvinist pastors reading this: You guys aren't putting churches in areas that don't have your theology. You are putting them in any area that has folks with disposable income. I know – I see it all around me.)
When I was in Baltimore, I met with a number of wonderful readers from the TWW community. One woman told me that she has stopped attending church. She is a bright, single mother who raised her children in Christian schools, was involved in church, and has deeply studied theology. She said she was sidelined into children's ministry in which she was expected to chase toddlers year after year.
Because she was single, she was not seen as valuable to the church. Her last straw came when she joined a Bible study which was billed as a serious study of Scripture. Finally, it seemed there was a place for her to discuss all that she had been studying. After a few weeks, she was pulled aside by another woman. She was told to stop discussing theology since there were men present and that was what they were supposed to do.
The Faithful Dones
This dear lady looked at me and said, point blank,
I am Done.
Another person told me that she was sick and tired of contributing to ridiculous building campaigns that asked for $30 million for an addition to the church building as well as bigger and louder sound systems and video displays. She asked
Do we really need fancy coffee shops in our church? Starbucks is one block over.
These folks are well dealt with in an article at Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) in which Jeff Cook interviews Josh Packard, who along with Ashleigh Hope, has written a book called Church Refugees. Here is what it says at Amazon.
As millions of church members fall into inactivity each year, they've probably also started skipping church on Sunday. We need answers—not statistics. We need to understand and hear from people who are leaving church so we can find a way to turn around the trend.
This book uses in-depth sociological research to get to the heart of the issue. The data is collected from interviews with real people about why they left and who they really are. These aren’t the “nones” who have no religious affiliation. They’re the “dones” who’ve been faithfully serving in local churches for years. This is their story.
Josh Packard (from Amazon)
is a professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and the well-published author of numerous academic articles, reviews, and the book, The Emerging Church. He's also an active church member and has a deep desire to understand the widespread phenomenon of church decline. He can be found at joshpackard.com.
The DeChurched Project
I visited his site and found the following information interesting. I am hoping some of our readers might like add their stories to The Dechurched Project.
In recent years many people have left religion because of issues with the institutional nature of mainstream religious organizations. Some of the reasons stem from intensely personal experiences.
…Still other people find the institutional structure to be stifling and draining.
…Some of these people never come back to church, even though they maintain a belief in God. However, we also recognize that many of these people do come back to organized religion if they can find the right kind of community. Often, those who do come back view these worship groups as the only viable option in a sea of religious organizations that the find to be otherwise dissatisfying.
…In this project, The Dechurching of America, we are looking for stories to help us understand how the institutional religion in the United States is creating its own discontents. We want to put these stories together so we can find a way to provide more religious spaces for people who feel like traditional religion has cast them aside.
If this resonates with your personal story, or you would like to know more about the study, we would love to talk with you.
If this is of interest to you, go to the Dechurch link and read more.
What are their concerns, and what can be done with Dones?
Back to Packard's interview on Jesus Creed.
Packard says that the results of his quantitative study will be released shortly through Group Publishing. We will post those results when they are released. However, he hints that the numbers are significant.
1. Do we really need another parking lot?
We were surprised to find that people are not burned out on God. If anything, they want to do MORE, not LESS. What they’re tired of is working to serve the kingdom of their church rather than serving the kingdom of God.
2. Practices from the 1980s and 1990s which still linger drive people away. These include:
Extreme political and social stances. Passive worship. Lack of true conversation about theological issues.
3. The bureaucracy involved in church hierarchy is contributing to the problem.
I think the general idea of approaching structure more as a collective than a bureaucracy is a good place to start. I wouldn’t advocate for swinging the pendulum completely in that direction, but a general nod in that direction would do a lot to make churches more like the kind of place where Dones can reengage.
4. The *Dones* are an opportunity as opposed to a threat.
Packard makes the very, very, very important point (this is important!), that the *Dones* still takes their faith very seriously. I stress this point because there are a number of authoritarian churches which teach, erroneously, that those who have dropped out of church are no longer believers or were never believers in the first place.
Packard, echoing my own observations (or is it me echoing his..?), believes that these people are committed to their faith and need to be re-engaged.
The hardest thing to do is to get groups of people committed to something, and here is evidence of large groups of people committed to God. The church just needs to figure out how to engage that commitment.
5. "Many of the Dones report not missing the music or teaching, does this prove that such elements of church services are overvalued?"
Oh, the Dones miss music. They can find teaching in small communities and online. But they do miss the music, because most of what is out there is not really for them. That’s a big part of the reason we created a soundtrack to go along with this book. This is Why I Left You: Songs for the Dones is a 6 song EP my wife and I funded and produced along with some talented musicians just to explore what music might look like in this area.
6. The church will need to transition in the coming years.
It looks like the church in this country is entering a massive period of transition and upheaval. We’re going to see a lot of churches close their doors in the next decade, and much of the religious activity in this country is likely to be a lot more fragmented than it has ever been. But if history teaches us anything, it’s that the church in America is an innovative institution, and it will respond to these pressures.
Further points from another post
To round out this discussion, Jeff Davis posted his review of this book in A New Exodus Out of the American Church on 6/8/15. Here is how he sums up the main reasons *Dones* give for leaving the church.
- The Dones say they left because of the judgmental posture of church people individually and collectively which assaulted the communal experience they longed for.
- The Dones say they left because they are tired of trying to serve Jesus through the bureaucratic methods of church organizations which often stifled progress and gave little attention to what they cared for most. Many of the Dones wished to build the Kingdom but were only offered opportunities to build someone’s church empire.
- The Dones say they left because they wanted to come to their own answers about God through dialog and struggle, not though prepackaged lectures and the predetermined conclusions of their church leaders.
- And the Dones say they left because their church only understood “morality” in terms of “substance abuse” and “sexual activity” with a common disregard to systemic issues of equality, poverty and unjust economics.
SBC: 200,000 people ditched in 2014 – the biggest since 1881.
Recently, the SBC took a sucker punch to the gut. They learned that they lost 200,000 members in 2014. This is in spite of church plants coming out the wazoo. Are they contributing the the large numbers of *Dones?* (More church plants and fewer attendees should raise a few eyebrows.)
Southern Baptists are adding more churches but serving fewer members who are giving fewer dollars, 2014 data compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources shows.
The number of cooperating churches within the Southern Baptist Convention rose for the 15th consecutive year, but the churches lost more than 200,000 members, the biggest one-year decline since 1881, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. Average attendance, baptisms and giving also declined.
What if you are a *Done* and would like some fellowship, but there are no trustworthy churches in your area?
Back to a reader who told me she is *done*.
She still has her faith. She prays and reads many books, including her Bible. She misses the fellowship but is tired of being sidelined by the church. She asked me my opinion. I reassured her that she was part of a diaspora of *Dones* leaving the local church but still a member of the church universal.
I suggested an alternative for her during this time. Many parachurch ministries need volunteers. There are homeless shelters, human trafficking organizations, prison ministries, disaster relief groups, etc. that are begging for volunteers and financial support. I suggested that she explore what sort of ministry excites her. Within the context of these groups, she will find fellowship of like-minded people who are passionate about the service they are providing. Many of these groups have prayer services and Bible studies for those they serve. I told her that I bet they would love having someone as theologically gifted and service-minded as she is.
A few of my thoughts on why faithful people are leaving the church.
Here are some thoughts on things I think are causing people to become *Dones*.
1. Ill-defined church discipline(You know the type-You are questioning the elders too much so-discipline time)
2. Ridiculous church discipline ala Karen Hinkley.
3. Pastors, aka talking heads, who believe their sermons are the center of the worship time.
4. Pastors who spend more time writing books, going to conferences and making BFFs with other celebrity pastors than they do caring about and being involved in the lives of their church members.
5. Music that is so loud that the words are not understood.
6. Churches which cover up child sex abuse and domestic violence.
7. Constant harping on homosexuality while ignoring child sex abuse in their own churches.
8. Interminable building campaigns for millions of dollars while ignoring poverty and suffering around the world (and even in their own church!)
9. The Internet making it easier to find support and information.
An encouragement for the *Dones*.
Do not listen to those who teach that you must, at all costs, be a member of a local church or you may not really be a Christian. They are far more interested in their authority and your money than they are loving you as Christ loved the church. They studiously ignore every report of abusive church discipline.
Don't listen to churches which claim you cannot be a Christian unless you are in a local church.
(They really mean an approved, 9Marks kind of church anyway.)
9Marks writes consistently about this subject, rarely mentioning people who have been hurt and overlooked by their local church. They are far more concerned about submission to their authority. They rarely mention love and kindness. And when they do, it usually means loving you enough to discipline you. Always remember what they did to Todd Wilhelm. They have never apologized.
Every Christian should join a church because Scripture requires it. Granted, there is no direct command in Scripture that says, “Every Christian must join a local church,” but two factors in Scripture indicate that every Christian should be a member of a local church.
…Scripture repeatedly commands Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). The only way to do that is by publicly committing to be members of their flock, and saying in effect, “I commit to listening to your teaching, following your direction, and to submitting to your leadership.” There’s no way to obey the scriptural commands to submit to your leaders if you never actually submit to them by joining a local church.
I am looking forward to hearing from all of you. Why are you a *Done*? Why might you become a *Done*? Or, what saved you from becoming a *Done*? In the meantime, here is Katy Perry *roaring* at the Super Bowl. Maybe it's time to hear the *roar of the Dones*.