Why so many Christians are “done” with church.

walking away

A couple of weeks ago, Thom Schultz posted an article called “The rise of the Dones“. I suggest you read it. It is an acknowledgement of a very real process taking place across churches – the best and most reliable church-attenders are getting tired of the system and leaving for good.

Churches have worried for some years about the rise of the “nones” (people who are reject traditional faith and decide not to associate with formal religion), but the “dones” are a different category altogether – sincere believers who are walking away from the institutional church after decades of faithful attendance and service. Schultz says these people are leaving and aren’t coming back. This strikes a blow to the future of churches, who rely on this group to serve on rosters, pay the bills and fill the pews. It’s enough to fill a pastor’s heart with fear.

I’ve been watching this phenomenon play out amongst my peer group over the past few years. People I grew up in church with are taking more and more Sundays off, until they stop attending altogether. Often, these are people who were actively involved in ministry and committees, sometimes even pastors. They feel a little guilty, but also experience a sense of relief at no longer having to turn up each week, sit passively through a service, and pay for buildings and salaries. They still love Jesus and try to follow him, but regular church attendance is no longer important to them.

Some are leaving to create transformational, Jesus-centred communities who engage in their neighbourhood and impact the world around them. Others don’t have the energy to build or find groups like that. They’ve given up on finding purpose and meaning within the wall of a church building. Their spiritual needs can be met elsewhere, and they’re ready to move on.

What can we do to reverse this trend? To be honest, I’m not sure we can. Even if we tweak the service, or change the model, we may not be able to re-inspire these people and attract them back. It’s worth using this time to ask hard questions, and listen closely to the answers – whether we like them or not. The culture and society around us are shifting, and the church is not sustainable if it cannot shift as well.

41 thoughts on “Why so many Christians are “done” with church.

  1. It seems many people are reacting in fear to the reality you are talking about. Yet Jesus said he would build his church. If we are seeing a demise of what we have called “church”, is it possible that what is dying is only man-made? And is it possible that when we concentrate on living as Jesus called us to, we’ll make room for him to build HIS church?

  2. Hi Kathleen

    George Barna predicted something like this. And many years ago Pete Ward wrote a book called “Liquid Church” about what he wondered might be one of the ways christians might live out their faith in the future – in a “liquid” way – getting fellowship where they could, online, in coffee shops, over dinner, etc.

    There are lots of advantages to all this – no building and pastor salary overheads, no separation from the world, no church politics, no over-weaning pastors, etc. But I do wonder what will happen to the excellent community welfare and social justice projects that require big organisations and decent funding to run.

    I think the way forward for institutional churches may be to move halfway towards liquid churches.

    • Hi Eric,

      I love the idea of “liquid church” (as opposed to a solid state) – it speaks of the movement and flow of particles within a state of unity. It also fits well with the great social unifier – catching up for a cup of coffee. Thanks for the link to Pete Ward’s book.

      I agree with you that churches can and should become both/and – harnessing the power of organisation, but liberating the potential of organic. I see this happening within some communities.


      – Kathleen

    • “But I do wonder what will happen to the excellent community welfare and social justice projects that require big organisations and decent funding to run.”

      You can still have large organizations that do great things for people.

      You could have projects/groups that address areas of social justice such as homelessness, food, housing, and so forth.

      The more “liquid” groups would work with these larger organizations to help address the issues that their community is facing.

      • Trust me when I say that organized churches do almost nothing for the homeless. Parachurch organizations do but churches only do enough to advertise.

  3. I guess my wife and I are on the leading edge of the ‘Dones’, having left deep iinvolvement in an institution 15 years ago, although (like many I am getting to know) the ‘done’ just has to do with the institution – not the sharing with others in Jesus’ life. There’s much opportunity in this process. I’m hopeful for an increasingly real expression of Jesus.

  4. the reason I haven’t attended a church building for quite a while….has many reasons…but the main reason is a result of when the pastor asked some visitors if they would like to be “members” of God’s church…..I believe being a part of God’s church has nothing to do with a building…..I now attend bible studies and pray with people in a very active Jesus centered community online, where I actually serve God along with several people from all over the world….not just from a small clique who has potlucks once a month….

    • Welcome to the “Dones”, Mark.

      I think it can be very beneficial to detox completely from many aspects of institutional church. Some of the “dones” are the most spiritually active and effective people in the Church (and they don’t even attend a church)!

      Blessings in your journey,

      – Kathleen

        • Was this ‘done’ thing Holy Spirit inspired? Or, like I’ve been reading, the result of people fed up with how church is being run. Because, if Jesus was actually doing ‘stuff’ in each of your churches, then why would you ever want to leave that? And if your church was dry and dead, why aren’t you who are called to be holy like God is Holy, bringing Holy Spirit in your congregation by fasting and praying? But just know, that this foundation that this ‘done generation’ is being built upon, is an extremely weak foundation. Sorry but it ain’t gonna last if you can’t love people IN their stupidity and boringness. Smh

          • Hi Harry, some of the journeys away from institutional church are Holy Spirit inspired. Many people are “done” with unhelpful systems and structures, not “done” with God’s people and mission. It’s a whole lot messier and uncertain to follow God and find fellowship outside of the traditional structures, but can also be rewarding and deeply missional.

            Blessings in your journey,

            – Kathleen

          • Sometimes Christians in “dead churches” do try to bring Holy-Spirit life back into their local congregation, but the leaders resist, so these Christians leave out of respect for the pastor’s position and also out of frustration.

  5. I am someone of faith whom has disassociated with the atypical current definition of the church. Disassociated to the point of an inability to associate myself as a “Catholic” or “Christian” due to it’s harsh stigma due to extremist groups; I refer to myself as “a believer.” It’s only a simple word change, but it does a lot toward how non-believers respond to the label we receive.

    From the perspective of a “done,” the church is not serving its true purpose. Completely sitting still while listening to a person continuously speak at an audience causes the message to be lost in its delivery, thus making the traditional meaning of church, not what a church should be.

    A church is a place where people worship, and learn about God together, right? That doesn’t happen if the speaker doesn’t have an active audience. No real learning takes place unless the audience is engaged with its speaker. Typical churches now are too constrictive in tradition, often losing the message of God in all the traditional left and right. Not only that, but it also makes everything feel routine, how can someone truly pour their heart into something if it’s the same A-Z, day in and day out… We become machines!

    The church needs to be re-stigmatized, away from the misconception of extremist Christian groups that non-believers over generalize about believers. The church needs to be engaging, the speaker talking with the audience, not just talking at the audience explaining his interpretation of a certain piece of scripture. The church needs to be seen as a community, not a gathering of people. The church shouldn’t be labeled as one, because anywhere can become a church. Even a quick conversation at the grocery store can make someone intrigued about perusing God themselves. Somehow, the church and the religion as a whole can no longer be seen as forceful., real followers of God do so by choice and that can happen anywhere, anytime.

    But what do I know., I’m just an undergraduate student.

    • Wow, thank you for your insights, Andrew. You’ve expressed the situation well.

      I also find myself reluctant to identify as ‘Christian’ because of the baggage and history people associate with that word. I use words such as ‘believer’ or ‘person of faith’ or ‘Jesus follower’. A friend of mine prefers the label ‘God botherer’.

      Blessings in your journey,

      – Kathleen

      • Hi Kathleen
        I think the removal of the name “christian” is taking it a bit too far. In fact somewhere in the book of Acts, the term Christian was coined and the early believers were called Christians. One has to be careful that the baby should not be thrown away with the bath water.

        Secondly, fellowship is important and I am not talking about institutionalized fellowship but fellowship that would lead to the edification and strengthening each other according to Hebrews 10:25. The last part of the verse encourages us to exhort each other as we see that day approaching. Certainly it does not have to be in a building if we are to encourage each other.

        Thirdly, whether we are institutionalized or not, we have the great commission to carry out according to Mark chapter 16 ie to go out and share the gospel and tell others about our experience and that God is in the business of forgiving sins and that the good news is that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins and hence we can be restored in having the kingdom of God within us. I believe one the simplicity of the good news is kept, we are fulfilling our roles.

        • Hi Hilton, you’ve raised some great points and I think we are on the same page.

          I have no objection to the label “Christian.” I am happy to be identified as a ‘little Christ’ and linked to 2000 years of godly people authentically following Jesus in their context.

          However, as a Speech Pathologist and a writer, I believe communication only takes place when the listener has clearly understood the speaker’s intent. If I call myself a “Christian”, and the listener has baggage associated with that word, it isn’t useful for either of us. That’s why I look for other words that may communicate more effectively.

          Thanks for your comments, and blessings in your journey,

          – Kathleen

    • Steve, that is literally what our “church in a circle” model is about. We work with recovering addicts in a medical treatment model, but we believe Jesus and Jesus-centred community is what will make the biggest difference in each other’s lives. It started out as “church for addicts”, and we quickly learned that ‘the least of these’ are powerfully able to minister to the rest of us. What a blessing this group has been in our personal journey, and in transforming our understanding of church. We also participate in a “regular church”, but primarily to see if we can bring some of these principles into that environment and find a balance.


      – Kathleen

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  7. 1John 2: 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

    • Random verses are meaningless, please look at the context! Are you seriously trying to imply that people who love God and yet leave a man-made institution are antichrists!? Maybe you need to be more concerned about the “us” than the “they”!

    • Damon, I think you’re quoting that verse completely out of context. God is doing good things in and through the lives of many “Dones”.

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  10. We are Dones. We haven’t left the church – the church has left us. So much has changed in churches that we don’t feel we have a place. When we were young, we gave what we could, not expecting to get our way, but now the younger folks come in, demand their way, tell us that what we do is “irrelevant.” We have read and studied our Bibles, we want more and deeper things, but we are left with “seeker oriented” pabulum that has no taste, no spark, and hardly any nutrition for us. We are done with the petty politics, the selfishness of pastors who call the church “theirs” and run it to suit themselves and have little or no real concern for the people in the pews. We are done with giving money to an organization that gives us so little. I am done with being betrayed, stabbed in the back, hurt, beaten up because of who I am. I am done with being treated like a half-wit because I am a woman.

    I could go on and on. We are just DONE.

    • Dear Cassandra,

      “We haven’t left the church – the church has left us.” These are powerful words.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your journey. You are not alone. I believe there is a spiritual awakening, a growing hunger amongst God’s people, and it will lead God’s church to better places, deeper places, in the future.

      Blessings in this stage of your journey. I’d love you to share your comment on the Facebook page called “The Dones”.

      – Kathleen

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  12. My “doneness” with the Church is only indirectly aimed at the institution. I’m done because I no longer believe its Creed. As a seminary-trained individual (specifically in Apologetics, ironically), I had many, latent, questions that I have only recently found answers for outside mainstream and evangelical camps. I saw that my faith was just a convenient magic trick, and, once seeing this, could no longer take it seriously. For me, all religions are artistic attempts to understand the spiritual mystery of reality. To say one is better than another, or more “True,” is like picking Monet over Van Gogh.

  13. I left the church three years ago and tried to go back to suit my wife, and now she is seeing what someone mentioned before. Hear I some:
    1. The young demand change.
    2. The leaders believe their “vision” and anyone who isn’t part of it, doesn’t belong.
    3. Worship is based more on feelings than in spirit and truth.
    4. I was no longer relevant because I was “trained at another church.”
    5. Too much emphasis on getting the younger generation and can’t keep what they have.
    6. Very little prayer. If there is, it is for their vision.
    7. I was stuck in a spiritual quagmire where I wanted more, and the rest were satisfied at the base of the mountain.
    8. No Holy Spirit movement.
    9. Selfish cliques.
    I belong to the Body of Christ, not a “church.” Churches don’t grow, they just shuffle different Christians in hope they find someone who follows their vision. I am tired of seeing churches “upgrade their palaces” to attract the world and the leaders only care for the special few.
    My wife wants to try another church but I know this is another “palace.” I wish I could find an old time church where He still resides. We need to return to the way God wills us to be.

  14. Ray Beeson and I have just written a book to be released by Whitaker House in February called, “Wounded in the Church” – Hope beyond the pain. Hopefully, we address the problem and some redemptive solutions. Together we have had over 70 years of pastoral experiences. The pain is experienced by both leaders and non-leaders alike.

  15. I realize this thread is old, but it applies to me now. I must post anonymously.

    I am fast approaching 61 years old, born and raised in church. I was even a church planter for a while. In the 80/20 rule I was part of the 20%. I poured my time, treasure, and talent into volunteer church work all of my adult life. But in August 2016 my wife and I found ourselves at the proverbial fork in the road, and we took it.

    1) I’ve learned that the grayer your hair, the more you are pushed to just sit down and shut-up, but made to feel guilty if you don’t joyfully fund everything. Your decades of volunteer or leadership experience is magically out of date, and you stand convicted of making the church unappealing to the all-mighty 20 and 30 somethings. You are increasingly pushed to stay out the visitor line of sight, but HEY BROTHER! The nursery and pre-school sure need help!! Make no mistake – that message was received loud and clear.

    2) The constant push into manufactured small groups over the last few years. I absolutely despise being coerced into groups where I am expected to give up precious personal time to reveal my innermost thoughts to people I have NOTHING in common with. My schedule is packed full, most of it with things I have no control over. Successful life groups occur organically. Please STOP coercing people into them.

    3) I’ve seen and heard more than enough propaganda from the unhinged “Love Wins” or “Love Trumps Hate” reich that so many churches have subscribed to. I see ZERO evidence of either ‘winning’ or ‘love’ from these intolerant, hate filled “social justice” bullies. Yes, I said bullies.

    4) The daily life struggles that my wife and I deal with now are as different from the 20 – 30 somethings as the East is from the West. We seek support from people with the same struggles – elderly parents, job insecurity, financial burdens, health issues, medication expense, doctor visits, life and death matters.

    In 2011 our long time home church was taken over by a hostile church cartel and the new regime put my entire family out to pasture in the most humiliating and heartbreaking way. Our grief was overwhelming. We tried earnestly to fit in at two other churches, but sadly, we found the same issues stated above.

    In August 2016 we officially joined the DONES and we have no desire to ever return. My Sunday mornings are now coffee on the patio with my beloved spouse, with our favorite worship music playing softly in the background, and we are enjoying our stress free Sunday mornings for the first time in many years. We give our weekly tithe to local community groups and specific individuals that need a helping hand. God provided us with a circle of friends with very similar experiences, and they have become our life group.

    Sunday morning has become a quiet time of healing and we are convinced that we made the right choice for our physical, mental, and spiritual health at this point in our lives.

  16. The reason people feel that their needs are not being met, I feel, (at 63 years of age) is the first comment exactly. I was at this position until I met for coffee with a young friend tonight actually.
    He gave me a prophetic word that was revealed to him for me. I am trying to give up smoking and I’m really angry about the rejection and abandonment I feel with my wife and others around me. It stems from being wounded by grief and loss at seven years old. It is the wounding of the soul that needs healing.
    My friend said that smoking was the band aid but my heart had been wounded by a bullet. God told him to tell me not to worry about the smoking as I will overcome this but the bullet is going to be removed by Him.
    I hope this may help some people. We need to confess our sins and the iniquity of our forefathers so that the Holy Spirit can remove the bullets. We cannot do this on our own. We need others to recognise the grief that has been hidden so that it will come out into the open. Once the wound is laid bare it can be cleansed and we help others in our church move on and become a real blessing to others. Too many people are busy doing rather then just being in order to try and make the pain go away. Blessings John.

  17. When my wife and I became empty-nesters a few years ago we began to prepare for our future. We downsized our home, and we assessed all the time and money commitments in our life. Over the years we had become terribly over-extended and it was the perfect time to close that chapter and begin a brand new one. So we resigned from all civic and volunteer positions, including everything ‘church’. We only have one weekly volunteer commitment on our schedule now, which we do together, and it’s wonderful. We made the healthiest choice for our lives and we couldn’t be happier as we rediscover our relationship as husband and wife, and recently as grandparents!

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