Josh Packard graciously came to speak to our staff today. Josh is a PhD in Sociology of Religion and teaches at University of Northern Colorado Philosophy Department. He recently authored Church Refugees, a sociological study of the “Dones.” The book and Josh’s thoughts are well worth your time. You can also keep with Josh over at www.dechurched.net. This post is long because Josh had so much great content for us.Josh’s thoughts are in normal type, my reaction is in italics.
First a definition of the “dones” – people who are “done” with the institutional church, but not done with Jesus. They honestly believe that the institutional church is an obstacle for their faith in Jesus.
Despite the alarm bells some articles are sounding, belief in God is generally unchanged over time. People still believe in God, still believe religion is important, and yet “unaffiliated” is increasing. If 92% of believe in God, but 20% are unaffiliated, in that space is the “dones.” The story is not ‘decline of belief’ the story is ‘decline of commitment to institutional church.’ People don’t trust organizations, but out of those organizations, people trust religious organizations the least.
Who Are The Dones?
– Disproportionately highly involved in ministry. They are driven by serving, engaging in meaningful service. When I first heard this, I was surprised. My assumption was the opposite – that they were on the fringe, uninvolved.
– Forward thinking entrenpeneurs.
– Consider your core of your dedicated volunteers, core of leadership. These have much commonality with dones. When church plants started closing, I noticed it generating a lot of “dones.” People who have poured tremendous resource into a church, only to choose to walk away.
– Highly educated – better educated than the average Christian. 1/3 of dones have grad school degree or hours.
– We’re talking generally stable, highly intelligent, highly committed people.
– Generally speaking: white, but this will change soon.
– Ave age: mid 40s. Because it takes a few rounds of serving in a church to finally be done. (ouch!) We surveyed 18-84 yr olds. One lady, “I’m 84 and I’m tired of getting lectured at!” LOL
– They have accumulated a series of bad experiences at more than one church and found the same systemic issues wherever they went.
Switchers and Nones
– Switchers change church because of style or preference.
– Dones can be switchers, but often switchers become dones after seeing the same systemic issues each place they go.
– Nones walk away from church AND faith. Dones walk away from church with faith in tact.
– About 30.5 million in USA are “done.” This is a staggering number. Can 10% of USA population really be “done” with institutional church? Mind blowing.
– When people leave the church, about half become dones and about half become nones.
– Too many pastors told us, “If it weren’t for the paycheck, I’d be done too.” If you are one of them and have no one in your relational sphere to turn to, you can visit Steve Brown’s site: poopedpastor.com and get help anonymously.
I love this question from Josh: who can you think of that would fit this category? who do you know that is close to becoming a done? My study isn’t about the 30 million plus, it is about the 8 or 12 people you know who are done or almost done.
– Churches are amazing at developing skill in people. (Josh compared the church to Google. “Imagine me showing up at Google saying, ‘hey i’d really like to be a software engineer and I want you to train me, keep me around forever and never fire me.’ LOL) But churches are poor at setting people loose to lead once they have developed high skill. Churches struggle to maintain vision without tight control.
On the counter side of this, church leaders also feel the burden of protecting good people from unhealthy or ill-equipped people who have very good intentions, but are simply not qualified, or do not have the character to lead others. I wonder how many “dones” are self inflicted because they came to church leadership with an idea that they ought not be launching or are incapable of building? Josh caused me to wonder how to even engage someone on that level of conversation. Rather than a “no,” it is an invitation to dialogue on the gap between their idea and their ability to lead a ministry. We have several well meaning people in our church who are unaware of how deeply they hurt people, or how they never follow through, or who believe that church leadership is blocking their idea rather than the reality that they need to work more at it. I would love to explore this side of the coin more.
What happened to Cause Dones
1. They wanted community and got judgement.
These folks are not anti accountability.
Belief and Belonging. The church has switched it. Belief does not precede belonging. Belonging precedes belief. If you can’t create that community without judgement, you will never get a group of people who believe together.
2. They wanted meaningful activity, but got bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is great for widget making, the widget making aspects of your church should be bureaucracy. But church is in the soul care and life change business and bureaucracy gets in the way of that.
“I’d like to learn about Jesus.” “Ok, well, you have to meet with our outreach department
“The church didn’t like anything going on in the church if they couldn’t control it.”
3. They wanted conversation, but they got doctrine
This is not about compromising biblical truth. They are saying that God is bigger than the person standing up on Sunday morning. They want to dialogue, they do not want lecture.
Relationship and conversation helps people connect with God. Yes! My best learning is an injection of content, followed by dialogue about it. I am rethinking the sermon and how to make it more interactive and perhaps, how to offer time after the sermon for good dialogue.
4. Wanted to engage a meaningful ministry, but got moral prescription instead.
“Too much emphasis on drugs and sex, drugs and sex and I wanted to tackle global poverty.”
The dones don’t have an issue with morality, they have an issue with the monopoly of a few moral issues rather than a broader group of issues.
From one done, “Tell me how ignoring the poor is not a moral failure? Why don’t pastors have to resign for that? It is always sex, infidelity, but why aren’t pastors stepping down because they are mean, or because they don’t care about the poor?” I LOVE that challenge.
Don’t reframe your church to reach the dones. You will unnecessarily alienate the 80 – 90% of your people that your church is working well for. But on the fringe of what you do, or for the people sitting in your churches who are considering an exit, you can take heed of these changes.
1. You can invite participation within limits.
Instead of initiating all the projects from top down, work on someone else’s project like it is your own
2. Be truly relational without a doctrinal agenda.
Find ways to dialogue, stop presuming a homogenous culture.
3. Undermine bureaucratic process, but don’t abandon your system.
Create exploding deadlines. i.e., things will naturally die unless you choose to keep doing it. Keep open to new ideas that can be resourced by the church. Recognize that the majority of people want to make a difference in the world.
4. Impact your community and be impacted by it.
Asset Based Community Development is a great model. rather than filling a hole, find an existing asset and make something more from it. Coming together around 1 small winnable goal is the first step toward systemic change.
Q: Where are the Dones now organizing or getting things done?
A: Americans work for the less pay than they did in 1980. People are resting and spending time with family now. More engaged in civic groups and non profit volunteering. Dones are the biggest bridge to the nones.
Q: Is the internet causing Dones?
A: Technology does not doom society, but yes, people can organize outside the church. If the church is an asset, great, because organizations can bring resources that individuals cannot. But meet up.craigslist etc provide relational networks.
Q: Is your study connected to the movie “When God Left The Building?”
A: Tom Shultz from Group Publishing connected me to that movie.
Q: Earlier you talked about the church being great at creating and developing leaders, but not great at releasing them
A: It is all part of the bureaucracy issue. Church Leadership at some point reigns in the involvement and often respond with “that’s not the way we do VBS.” It is an issue of autonomy and authority
Josh was a fantastic guest today and gave us so much to chew on. I highly recommend digging into his resources