Friday, 6 February 2015

"Are we 'done' yet?"

A few months ago, I read an article by a writer named Thom Schultz on "The Rise of the Dones".    A number of my colleagues have also read this article, shared it, and commented upon it on social media.

The basic premise of Schultz's article is that there is a group of people leaving active involvement in their congregations (and active involvement in the Christian church generally) who haven't lost their faith, who haven't changed either their religion or their denomination, who are not actively alienated from their congregation or their denomination, and who are not leaving their church as a result of a dispute of any sort.

They have a great deal of continuing good will for their churches, but they're merely moving on.  They are "done" with the church, as in the phrase "Been there, done that."  They are not alienated, really, from their churches but they are "done" with their churches.

I have many friends and acquaintances who are "dones".
  • Most are Christians.  Some are members of other faiths.
  • The Christians come from a wide variety of denominations, but the ones I know are more likely to be from middle-of-the-road "Protestant" denominations than other backgrounds.  
  • They were active in their churches (both locally and sometimes denominationally and ecumenically), serving on committees, singing in choirs, leading youth groups, and all that.
But now they're done.

I believe that a big part of the issue, here, is the fact that so many churches, particularly among the middle-of-the-road "Protestant" denominations (i.e., Uniting Church in Australia, United Church of Canada, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist churches in other countries ....), so many churches operate from a strongly "teaching-learning" model for the times the congregation gathers for worship. 

In today's world, if a person wishes to attend a worship service in a church (or other faith community), it's not because she/he wishes to learn things about religion.  People attend worship because they wish to experience the Sacred, because they wish to encounter the God worshipped by the faith community.  In my experience, the churches which are declining the fastest are also the churches that are the most wedded to the teaching-learning model for church life, and this applies to congregations of a variety of theologies and worship styles.

A congregation can be so conservative in its faith as to be almost "fundamentalist", so "progressive" in its faith as to be almost agnostic in any practical terms, or (preferably) somewhere in the middle.  If there is nothing more in its Sunday morning gathering than a teaching-learning event under the guise of worship, that church is probably producing more than its share of "Dones".  This applies whether the teaching-learning gathering takes the form of a 1950s "preaching service", a 1970s "all-age family service", or a 1990s "fresh expression".

Part of the issue is that, even though our learning never ends, our schooling does end.  People transition from Kindergarten to Primary School, from their Secondary Education to University.  But whether you're a high school drop-out or a PhD, we all conclude our formal schooling at some time in our lives.  Churches with a strong teaching-learning model for what happens on Sunday morning will produce plenty of "church drop-outs" and "church graduates".  Many of these will continue to view their former church with great affection, returning for major celebrations in the same way that they would attend a high school or college reunion.

I believe that the way to prevent good church members from becoming "Dones" is to ensure that there is far more in their Sunday service than merely teaching and learning, and a greater opportunity to actually encounter God.   For some denominations such as the Uniting Church (for example), this could mean that some of their congregations "feel" Russian Orthodox while neighbouring congregations may "feel" Quaker or Pentecostal.  If that's the case, I think this may be a good thing.


  1. Spot on. A lecture about God - NO!

    Come meet God present in ..... YES!

  2. Succinctly put, Bob. My family and I have been done with "The American Church", "The Corporate Church" , "The Institutional Church" or whatever you want to call it for about 3 years now. In that time, we have grown to love Jesus and each other more and continue to meet regularly with the ecclesia to serve each other and the community as well as spur one another on to love and good deeds and sharpen one another through the Word. Our giving to the poor, widows, orphans and missionaries has increased dramatically because we finally quit writing one check to be used for building funds, golf carts, sports centers and church vans, so our youth could go to summer camp "in style". If that is the definition of done then, yep, we are done and will remain so.

    1. Actually, in the way Schultz uses the term "done", it's more about people who left active participation in their congregations while retaining a high level of good will toward the congregation. From what you say, you seem to have a few more issues with your church than would be the case with many "dones".


Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.