I was at a wedding two weeks ago and struck up a conversation with one of the friends of the groom. He’s a successful businessman in another city here in South Carolina with a great marriage and outstanding kids. He’s a man who’s serious about his faith with a vibrant and active relationship with Jesus. A man of prayer, of mission of great impact for the Kingdom in his community.
He’s also a man who cares nothing for the church.
After several decades of key leadership in his local church, he bailed out. Just stopped going altogether. He disconnected from the congregation and ministry he had invested heavily in for so long and opted instead to relate with a small group of like-minded men who meet together every other week or so in a home. They pray together, study the Bible together and maintain an independent student ministry that reaches hundreds of young people.
As you can imagine, I spent some time talking with this guy. I was fascinated by his story—by his frustration with the institutional side of church; by his fatigue with church politics; and his need to strike out on his own to fulfill the vision for ministry God had planted in his heart.
I disagreed with him, of course. I continue to believe in the local church. But his story still grabbed my attention because I know so many people like him.
I came across a news story this week that brought all this to light in a new way for me. Jeff Brumley in “Baptist News Global” explores this growing phenomenon in a piece with the catchy title of , You’ve met the ‘nones.’ Now meet the ‘dones.’
You can access the full story here
Brumel defines the “Dones” this way:
Just as churches, seminaries and congregational consultants were wrapping their heads around the concept of “the nones” in religious life, yet another term emerges for yet another category of Americans abandoning the church: “the dones.”
The first group denotes the growing number of Americans with no religion affiliation. “Nones,” which may represent as much as 38 percent of the U.S. population, also are known for generally having had no or very little in the way of religious upbringing.
But sociologists, church historians and congregational coaches have realized for a while that another subset of Americans are answering “none” on surveys about religious affiliations: Those who have grown up in the church and remained active in adulthood — at least until getting tired of church life
I’m seeing more and more of this group. People who’ve been in church life for decades and finally just say, Enough!. They don’t abandon their faith but they do abandon the institutional way of living out their faith, at least in modern American church life.
Brumley later gives an even sharper focus to this growing group, quoting author and blogger Thom Shultz:
“There’s not a whole lot of hope of them coming back,” said Thom Schultz, a Colorado-based blogger and co-author of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.
Schultz posted a blog recently that introduced the term “dones” for those Christians turned off by their church experiences. He told Baptist News Global that it doesn’t mean they are done with God.
“They will tell you they are very faithful, they are strong Christians and are looking for ways to act out on their faith even more so than they did when they were involved” in a congregation, Schultz said.
The man I talked with at my friend’s wedding fit this profile—so do the many others I know. And while there’s a unique story behind each person’s experience, they seem to share a spiritual fatigue with the institutional side of church. By that I mean the organizational, financial and logistical sides of church life that facilitates the church’s functioning. It’s like the old German political axiom: the two things you never want to see being made are sausage and legislation.
I don’t blame them for feeling this way; sometimes I agree with them. It’s just that I think they’re being spiritually myopic and not seeing the full picture. I know that some days, after meeting with committees and groups and people complaining about one thing or another, I have to make myself look beyond the material side of church organization issues to the Kingdom realities that alone make church worthwhile. That vision is worth whatever effort it takes to see it.
As a local church pastor, I don’t know where all this will go. It may be that we’ll see more and more people running from the church for the same reasons as the man at the wedding.
On the other hand it may be that as our culture continues to deteriorate, the historic role (at least in America) of the church as the source of the hope to be found in the gospel will be elevated once more. It’s hard to see the staying power of Christianity if it depends on disconnected groups of disaffected people fleeing from disappointing religious experiences. Surely there’s more to biblical faith than that.
But at the end of the day, I put my trust—as do so many others—not in human religious institutions but in the church as Jesus established it. “On this rock,” the Lord said, speaking of Peter’s faith, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)