An Alternative Theory on the Dones, Part 2

Last week, I wrote a blog suggesting an alternative theory to the Dones. Dones are those individuals who are no longer engaged in church life. They are different from the Nones because they still consider themselves faithful to Christ but no longer committed or connected to a local church. They are “done.” They’ve found a lot of things to do on the weekend, but church involvement isn’t one of them.

I suggested one of the reasons Dones leave the church is that we never call on them to do anything significant with their lives. We ask them to serve on committees, teach preschoolers, and give to the budget, but we never call them to an adventure of faith that challenges their capacities. They’ll stay involved as long as their children do, but generally, when the children leave home, the Dones leave church. That’s an over simplification, but I use this example to make my point. For some reason, or maybe for many reasons, the Dones decide their church involvement is no longer worth their time.

My point was this: our members do a lot of incredible things during the week, but they’re never asked to engage in an all-consuming way in church. I think a lot of people are bored. We never give them a chance to save the world.

My friend, Scot McKnight, reminded me that according to research found in works like Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s book, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, the Dones were once the most active people in their churches.

True, they faithfully attended every committee meeting and chaperoned youth trips, but they were capable of so much more.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes: “And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11–12)

Churches are going to have to rethink their relationship with their members. Members are no longer consumers to be served. They are ministers to be trained. They are missionaries to be deployed. The role of the clergy isn’t to DO the ministry but to serve as the training faculty for those who do serve. There are some things Jesus will teach you only in obedience. There are miracles you see only as you engage.

As people serve, they see God at work. This drives them to worship. As they are challenged to follow deeper, they are driven to discipleship.

People come to church to be trained and sent out to serve. They return for healing, rest, more training, and then they’re sent out again.

The first Reformation gave the Word back to the people. The second Reformation is giving ministry back to them. When the Dones hear this, they’ll realize they aren’t done yet.

The Gift of Hospitality

I grew up in a little Baptist church that was right across the street from a cotton mill. A lot of the members of our church worked in the cotton mill. I heard my pastor say “I’ll preach in overalls if it will make your friends more comfortable. I had no idea what he meant—none—until I went to work at the cotton mill one summer. (To make sure I studied in college, my dad made me work in the cotton mill.)

I knew a lot of those people because they lived in the area. Overalls were all they had. The darker blue the overalls, the newer they were. My pastor understood that sometimes a coat and tie would be intimidating. Why? Because that’s what the mill “boss man” wore. That’s what the mill owner wore. If you walked into a church as a mill worker and you saw coats and ties, you would think you were in a church for the mill owner. Sociologists will tell you that mill workers and mill owners don’t go to the same church. “I’ll preach in overalls,” the pastor said, “if it will make you feel more comfortable—if it will make you feel at ease.”

We overlook this thing of hospitality. We think it is a gift used to entertain in your home. The gift of hospitality is how you receive someone into your own life, how you accommodate them and how you help them feel at ease and comfortable with you. Then you can begin a conversation to hear their story, and you can have the opportunity to tell them the story of Jesus and how Jesus found you. You know people like this who have this wonderful gift, and you always feel better about yourself when you’re with them. You always like yourself more when you walk away from the conversation.

But too many times in church we think you have to catch “clean” fish. We want the fish already filleted. You’re like the kid from the city who goes on his first fishing trip. The line tugs and he reels it up and the fish isn’t in a box. Now what in the world would you think about an emergency doctor who, when the patient was rolled in, would say, “This patient is sick! Look how bloody this guy is. Clean him up before I work on him”? What would you do if there was a search and rescue team and a diver gets in a helicopter, looks down and says, “Look how wet that guy is. When I rescue him he’s going to get me soaked.”

We put up these barriers to make sure people are really serious, and they become walls that are too high for people to get over. We all have friends who say they will come to church just as soon as they “fix it.” They’ll tell me, “Mike, just as soon as I work this out…”

We forget how lost and confused people are. It wasn’t unusual for me to stay after Kairos and have one of those young people walk up to me and say, “You keep telling me about reading the Bible. Where do I start?” I say, “Start with the Gospel of Mark.” They would hand me their Bible and ask, “Where is it?” “It’s right here.” They’ll flip through, look back and grin, “Good, it’s a short book.” I say, “Yeah. Read it more than once.”

We forget how lost people feel, and we create barriers. Sometimes we are well-meaning, but they are barriers just the same.

What drew you to the faith? Was it not those men and women around you who lived authentically? It’s not that they lived perfectly, but that they lived authentically in front of you.

Sometimes in order to share about Jesus, you have to be willing to wear overalls.

An Alternative Theory on the Dones

We’re told Generation Z, more than any other generation in a long time, is focused on doing good in the world. They just don’t do it in the church.

We’re told Senior Adults, more than another other generation before them, are healthier, wealthier, and eager to stay engaged in the world around them. They just don’t do it in the church.

We see friends fight community hunger, sex-trafficking, illness, and water issues through a variety of non-profits—many they’ve started themselves. They just don’t do it in the church.

Through social media, ease of travel, and the digital empowerment of the individual, people are making a difference in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places. They just aren’t making that difference in and through church.

After a long discussion about the “Nones,” researchers have discovered another category of people leaving the church—the “Dones.” While the Nones are those who claim no religious faith at all, the Dones are those who still claim faith in Christ, but are no longer engaged in the life of local church. They’re DONE. The Dones tell researchers they’re just done with church. They say there’s too much bureaucracy, too much judgment and/or hypocrisy. A lot of the time, these individuals were deeply involved in their church, but after their kids graduated high school or after one of the couple retired, they started doing other things on the weekends.

But going to church is not one of them.

I have a theory. Yes, I know. Everyone has a theory. Church is out of touch. Church is too this or too that, but I think all of these other theories are wrong. Here’s my theory.

I think a lot of people stop coming to church because we never ask them to do anything great. We never call them to a vision that will demand everything from them. We never tell them to sell everything they have and go follow Jesus. We never tell them to head to the far reaches of the world and carry their casket with them because we don’t expect them to come back. We never tell them to leave everything and everyone they love to go start a church in some third world inner city slum.

We simply ask them to come to church and sit quietly. We ask them to give their money, sing reverently, but sit quietly.

Most of us want more, not less, from our faith, and if church can’t help us get there, we’ll get that “more we need” from somewhere else.

No one wants to come to church and sit.

Why would they? It’s just more comfortable sitting at home.