Dechurched: "The Done-s"

In Church Refugees, Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope have written a ground breaking analysis of the "dones," those who are done with church but not with God. These folks are not dropping the Christian faith- just their affiliation with churches. The book does introduce us to the Dones, and more importantly, what we can begin to learn from them.  

The study summarizes the themes that coalesced from 100 in depth interviews. Interviewees were of all ages over 25, included laity, former church staff members, and clergy. This is not a book about numbers, but rather, a "description of the processes people go through when they decide to leave the church, what they do when they leave, and what they ultimately want out of church."
Who are the Dones? They are reluctant to leave, and try many churches before leaving church altogether. They are not angry, nor are they driven by one negative experience. Authors discovered, "almost without exception," that they were "deeply involved and devoted to their churches up until the moment they left. They were integrated into leadership structures and church life, often organizing daily life around the church and attending some kind of church function two or more times a week. They're the kind of people who are drawn to activity." 
What do the Dones really want? Community based on authentic relationships is an overriding theme of the dechurched who were interviewed. In fact after leaving the church, the dechurched will go to great lengths to find genuine community, but they will not put up with any of the judgment they may have felt in church. The interviewees consistently said they left church because it's set up to be self-sustaining rather than outward looking. The cause was not theology, the worship service, or irrelevant message. Those are reasons people switch churches, not the reasons why they leave church altogether. (p.135)
The Dones also want:
  • More participation as equals in church decision making
  • More ministry with (not for) others in the church and community
  • Flatter hierarchy, less emphasis on organizational control  
Why do the dechurched matter? Once churches begin to lose their most devoted and engaged members, then they will also lack relevance for anyone who is looking for a more active and engaged faith. The same structures that work for the larger segment of the less engaged folks in congregations DO NOT work for the most active. In fact, this arrangement is what's driving the most devoted away. 
Where do the dechurched go? They move to things that "look nothing like the activities that consume the traditional church. They move onto community gardens, art therapy, meals in living rooms around a communal table, internet chat rooms, and quilting groups. Nobody...mentioned replacing church with a worship service or with a sermon series or with committee work. They are replacing church with meaningful activities that engages their communities and builds relationships, things they find missing in church." 
Suggestions for preventing an exodus take up the last part of the book. Most of the strategies address the need to make room for those who are at risk of leaving, the most active, engaged, and devoted. Working together on short term ministry projects like VBS- things that have a beginning and end (and are not on-going or self-perpetuating) can go far in utilizing gifts of leadership and passion of others. Whatever the parallel to Google's 20% time, "the data about the dechurched suggests that it makes sense to devote some organizational resources to provide an outlet for the church's most ambitious congregants."     
One of the more helpful insights is the critique of how we spend our resources. The dechurched saw the Sunday morning gathering as a huge resource hog. Sacred cow?  "The problem is in claiming a missional and outreach focus, or a teaching and small group focus, when the vast majority of resources are spent elsewhere. From an organizational standpoint, this lack of understanding means, functionally, that it is very difficult to make room for worship, small groups, and outreach." Or it's much easier said- and included in mission frames- than actually done.   
This is an important book because, until now, there existed scant research on the dechurched as a category all its own. While numbers are just beginning to show, most research has lopped the dechurched into the same category of the unchurched, or Nones. See for example, Churchless.

What's more, there's an integrity between the focus and rationale for the book. Instead of one more book about capturing the youngest adult generation to feed the institutional machine, it's more about what we can learn from seasoned Christians on the other end of all our assembly line  like schemes for discipleship. If what we are left with is more dechurched, then there's something inherently misguided in our approach, and with the structures that result in more Dones.

  
   
    

Comments

  1. Scott, this paragraph caused me to stop and think about what our budget says about our ministries: One of the more helpful insights is the critique of how we spend our resources. The dechurched saw the Sunday morning gathering as a huge resource hog. Sacred cow? "The problem is in claiming a missional and outreach focus, or a teaching and small group focus, when the vast majority of resources are spent elsewhere. From an organizational standpoint, this lack of understanding means, functionally, that it is very difficult to make room for worship, small groups, and outreach." Or it's much easier said- and included in mission frames- than actually done.
    Thanks for pointing out what I always notice when we are approving the budget!

    Also, do you have any examples from your congregation of persons who are "dones"?

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  2. It was a very truthful book. I have no names, but just remember the many folks who were very active at one time and, unrelated to age and sickness, left with no forwarding address. This is why the reconnecting work remains so important, I believe. If they went to another church, then they are not really dones though. I can think of one very active younger couple (unmarried) who just left without a word, but they showed up at another church. My guess is they were hoping to get more into church leadership at another church but I don’t know. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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