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.