The newest sociological trend in North American religious culture is the rise of the ‘Dones’. It’s an interesting phenomenon to look at. We’ve been thinking about the increasing number of ‘nones’ when it comes to signifying religious faith, but we’ve barely begun to think about the ‘dones’.
But the truth is that as blogger Bill Muehlenberg points out on his Culture Watch blog, there are many Christians who have stopped going to church. Not that they’ve lost their faith in a loving God who is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but they have washed their hands of the institutional church. “I’m done”, they declare.
A pioneering and insightful observation on the growth of this trend comes from the pen of “Holy Soup” blogger, Thom Schultz. Schultz presents the example of “John” whom he calls “every pastor’s dream”. John grew up in the church, and was active in many aspects of its communal life. Last year, he dropped out. His departure wasn’t triggered by any negative experience, but rather was motivated by a conscious considered decision.
John is now not a ‘None’, but has joined the Dones. Schultz points out that sociologist Josh Packard’s research on the Dones reveals a growing number of young people behaving in a way similar to John. He points out that the very people the church relies on for leadership, service, and financial support are simply going away. And let’s face it, the younger people in the next generation are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.
Two of the major reasons for the rise of the Dones suggested by Packard include (1) a weariness with sitting in pews and going through the same routines every Sunday and being preached at – the “I’m tired of being lectured to, I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do” syndrome. (2) fatigue with the ‘plop, pray and pay’ routine of church services – the “I want to engage meaningfully, participate and interact as I do in other aspects of my busy and stimulating life” syndrome.
Packard indicates that it is not likely that the Dones will return; ie. they’re done. He suggests that “it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return”. Herein lies a great challenge to our Anglican situation.
Some serious listening circles might be in order for us in 2015. Schultz suggests that some good starting points for generating fruitful conversation might be
1. Why are you a part of this church?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?
Schultz leaves a strongly worded challenge for us Anglicans to take up:
“Your church, even it it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Dones, the rise of the Nones and the disappearance of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen. It’s not too late to start”.
The good news is that, as a diocese, we are engaged in listening – through outreach ministries to the most vulnerable among us that are parish, regional, and diocesan based (the Downtown Eastside Street Ministry being one of the latter that deserves our full and unwavering moral and financial support). These “congregations” we minister to may not find their way into church regularly on Sunday, but are example of Jesus-centred ministry. We need to continually build bridges to them so that they remain engaged with us.
We are also listening through specific ministries focusing on English language learners and minority ethnic groups. And we are listening through exploring new ways of ‘doing church’ and engaging people such as ‘pub churches’ and congregations like St. Bridget’s. These efforts and, hopefully, more like them, demand our full support. All these ministries provide us with ready made groups for listening – and perhaps can provide opportunities to challenge “Almost” Done Anglicans to remain in the church through involvement in social justice efforts and what is for them meaningful Christ-centered worship and opportunity for spiritual development.
Many of the Dones are starting families or already have growing families involved in all kinds of community groups and organizations that supplement demanding work lives. If we continue to believe that “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless, sea” we can’t afford not to take up the challenge put before us by the Dones. We don’t need any more Anglicans becoming Dones. End of story.
See Thom Schultz’s full analysis at HolySoup.com.
Josh Packard’s book Church Refugees will be published early in 2015. Watch for it.
See Dr. Steve McSwain’s article “NONES!” are Now “DONES”: Is the Church Dying?” in the Religion section of the Huffington Post.
Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. One of his hopes for 2015 is that we face head on, as parishes and as a diocese, the challenge of the Dones. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.