The Rise of the Dones

The Rise of the Dones November 16, 2014

Thom Schultz:

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support, are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says 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.

HT: JS


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  • Quartermaster

    Many are quite satisfied to be pew warmers, but their numbers are not stable over the long run as they tend to get dissatisfied easily and leave for greener pastures. Many, however, are not so satisfied and have to participate.

    Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, but those that are and have the background to do so should be used. We make a big deal of someone teaching a Sunday School class for 20 years, and faithfulness is to be celebrated, but how many others could have been used to relieve that guy for a few weeks, and give the people a rest from that guy as well?

    It’s important to recognize the gifts and callings in a congregation and use them to the greatest extent possible.

  • If it weren’t for the good mentoring my kids receive at church, I would be Done, too.

  • Cosmo

    I think there is something to the “plop, pray, and pay” phenomenon that has played out over the last several decades. I prefer Michael Svigel’s term “sermon-centered worship.” In the Bible Church tradition that I was a part of for much of that time period there was so much made of good, expository preaching (from ThD’s of course) that the other elements of worship slowly receded in importance. I have been one short step away from becoming a “Done” were it not for the new fellowship that we have recently joined. In it, congregational participation is not only encouraged but even necessary at every phase of the service. This has been a balm to my wife and I and likely rescued us from becoming a Done.

  • disqus_9xDKwRFcht

    Could you elaborate on the forms of congregation participation? What is it that distinguishes this fellowship from others?

  • DMH

    Ya, that’s in the ball park of where I’m at… pretty much done with it. To the above I might add that the way we “do church” is broke- it produces more negative results than positive. I still have some hope. I’ve experienced what church can and should be, but for me to get involved again there would have to be some fundamental changes.

  • AlanCK

    What a huge judgment to say no to fellow church-goers, and how sad to not comprehend how one’s presence is used by God in another’s life. And how awful that communities do not manifest a sense of ownership for any and everybody who shows up.

  • Are Catholic Dones different from Protestant Dones?

  • What I sense from the Dones I know is that they don’t want to pour their lives into building an institution; they don’t want all their time, energy, and money going into bricks-and-mortar, salaries, endless programs, rock-concert worship, etc., while ignoring all the broken people just beyond their massive parking lot. “No over-programming” would be rule number one.

    They want meaningful spiritual relationships, solid participatory learning (with well-grounded resourcing/leadership), hands-on mission suited to their own gifts and callings, transformative and authentic worship, genuine outreach to the kinds of people Jesus cared about, etc.

    A network of house churches (or other multi-use meeting places) with

    quality resourcing and oversight, and hands-on mission connections would suit them just fine.

    Worship would be simple, centered on Word and Sacrament–and especially on authentic encounter with God in prayer.

    Some are looking for music that doesn’t try to rev them up, but offers quality, theologically-sound words that encourage them to enter quietly into deepening their relationship with God.

    Some like liturgical worship; some don’t. Some like hymns, some like choruses; some like both. But authenticity and meatiness is big across the continuum and will cover a multitude of differences in tastes.

    The Lord’s Supper and prayer times can be combined into moments of encouraging multi-level encounter with God.

  • Patrick

    I got “done” with the church I was raised in by 18 years old. The reason was what I heard the first day was what I heard the last day. “Get saved and don’t sin”.

    There’s a tad more in the text than that. The Lord hooked me up with a better church later on and I love it.

    We all ought to be like little kids discovering new stuff weekly, in wonder.

  • Cosmo

    Sure. The opening prayer is lead by a congregant, not a staff member. There is then a generous amount of time given to greet people around you. We read a congregational prayer before the offering is collected. The offering is then collected by a team of congregants, not staff members or deacons. The sermon is often interactive, inviting congregational participation. The Lord’s Supper is observed every Sunday and is the climax of the service. Once again, a congregational prayer of confession is read before the elements are served, and there are 5 stations of members who serve (team of 15) and the whole congregation rises to come up front to be served the elements. The service ends with a member reading the benediction prayer. In addition, the worship space is shaped like a “U” so that the congregants can see one another. It offers a much more intimate feel to the gathering as opposed to everyone looking forward. Members light candles in the worship space before the service, bake bread for communion, and the benediction prayers are often written by members. And finally, the music is simple – not too loud and the song selection is usually those that are easy to sing. Hope that helps.

  • Alonzo

    Scot, Thom,

    This article is very timely. This past Sunday, my pastor wrapped up Malachi highlighting the response of the leaders, “‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts?” (3:14).

    I think when we contextualize the point of your article, it boils down to what the leaders said in Malachi’s time. Present congregationalists won’t admit to this, but the parallel is stunningly similar. Those leaders in Malachi’s time could also be saying, “I’ve heard it all. I have labored fruitlessly. I’m tired of being bashed by God. Been there, done that. So bye.”

    Is it not a heart issue for the Dones also? Are they not really pointing their finger at God when the current crowd also seems to be saying, “What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance…?” The current crowd of the Dones may also be saying, “What profit is there in being a disciple and serving God in he church?” The cycle returns.

  • RJS4DQ

    Perhaps, Floyd, it is a heart issue – but not the way you think.

    It isn’t that it is useless to serve God – rather it is useless to continue to be part of a congregation where your role is to “plop pray and pay” and to provide hands (no brain necessary) for the leader’s vision.

    I’m not done – but I understand why so many may be. … especially if their church changed under their feet leaving no opportunities.

  • DMH

    “Those churches” are few and far between.

  • Phil Smith

    Funnily enough my “I’m done” period came at a time when my church organisation was expecting too much of people. Too much participation. It became ridiculous. People were indirectly criticising me for my interest in living abroad, trying to get me to “settle down” and “build with them”… They wanted to “knit” me into their “community”. There was constant pressure to be “meaningful” and “relevant” and to contribute. It was almost pathetic. It all got too overpowering.

    Funny thing is, that church has now grown from around 100 people to many thousands worshiping in about 8 cities. So, I guess the approach works for most people. For me, it was disturbing.

  • Alonzo

    RJ, Malachi expressed that same sentiment about the “churchmen” in his day. “Ploppers” are not engaged in serving God. Of course, prayer is a gift. Samuel prayed for the people daily and even said, “God forbid that I should sin again Him in not praying for you.” But when we become exhausted in our prayers, God becomes a burden. Augustine’s mother, Monica, made it her life-long ministry to pray for her son daily. In God’s timing, God answered that one prayer, and look at what happened. Augustine became one of the most influential theologians in church history after leaving a life of debauchery. As for “paying,” that is turning God’s gift of giving into a “pay to play” situation. Many take that one by offering conditional gifts to the church.

    God is the one who disburses His gifts in His church. Would He then allow those same gifts curl up and die? He also opens up opportunity. Faith sees those opportunities and steps out. Often, it is what we want and not what God wants of us. Opportunity always exists in the church to serve people. It is not always in the big stuff or before a large crowd to be seen. There is the coffee ministry, greeters, ushers and hushers, custodians, money counters, and visiting the sick at their homes or in the hospital. The last one does not need to be formalized. While doing these things, the opportunity to share the gospel one on one with new comers always exists. Nike’s motto is, “Just do it.”

    Again, it is a matter of the heart and not the art of ministry. This past Sunday, my pastor brought up in teaching from Malachi that we should be taking an inventory of our heart. I like what Zig Ziglar once said, “Perform a check up from the neck up to prevent the hardening of the attitudes.”

    Wise advice for all the Dones who are fed up from the neck up.

  • Many of the Dones are done with human institutions projecting their ideas onto God (Father, Son and Spirit) and the Scriptures, resulting in continued issues of power and control being front and center.

    They are looking for Living Water relationships instead of programs that suck the life out of their very bones.

    They are yearning for the shalom of the Kingdom in their daily lives instead of the busyness that goes into building and maintaining the institution for Sunday and Wednesday and special programs.

    They are looking for authenticity and transparency instead of pretense and secrecy.

    They are looking for love, grace and mercy instead of shame, guilt and judgment.

    They are tired of teaching the same group of frequently spoiled and demanding adults for 20 years, yet few of those adults jump in to apply what they have learned.

    They are shocked and angered by the amount of spiritual abuse running rampant and are no longer willing to be seen as complicit by their presence, since their attempts to bring these issues up for discussion have been dismissed, at best, and gas-lighted, as worst.

    They are looking for open and honest conversations around their questions about the interpretation of the Scriptures instead of pressure to hold to the party line without questioning.

    They are looking for signs of the inclusive dance of Perichoretic cHesed with Father, Son and Spirit rather than chasing after the next great thing coming down the pike, running the competition over in the process.

    I have counted myself among the Dones for about six years now…so I guess I should replace the “they are” in each of those sentences with “I am”.

    I might suggest Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Finding Church, if you really want to have a better understanding of the Dones. I think I just might have to buy a case of them to hand out to all my family and friends who don’t understand….

    …because I am far from Done with Father, Son and Spirit…and I am far from Done with fellowship in the Spirit among members of the Body of Christ…I am far from Done being discipled and having the Spirit transform my mind daily to that of Jesus…I am far from being Done with the Journey of Kingdom Life.

    It seems, actually, Life has just begun….

  • Just because they do exist doesn’t mean they are anywhere close by to many Dones. Just sayin’

  • You make some valid points. If it’s working, fine. I am not trying to tear down things that are working. I am just trying to describe what I hear “Dones” saying. They are not all alike, except that they are looking for something that they are not finding.

  • DMH

    I agree. But after 30 plus years of blood, sweat, and tears I’m realizing that the old dog is incapable of learning a new trick. And that’s not burnout, just choosing to put my energies elsewhere .

  • Agreed…but many of these churches don’t want to wake up, and any attempts to wake them up are not received well, to say the least. I know that the Spirit is at work, and stand ready and willing to participate if and when the opportunity presents itself. Not holding my breath, though. 😉

  • AHH

    I agree that the “plop pray and pay” expectations of staff-centric churches can lead to this, as can volunteer burnout. Many church leaders need to do a better job of equipping others for ministry rather than hoarding it for themselves, and of dealing with ministry volunteers in ways that don’t lead to burnout.

    But there is another significant category. If you have been part of a congregation for a long time, and then things in that place turn sour (as is likely to happen eventually since humans are involved), you may leave and not go through the trouble of finding another church home. Like someone who gets divorced or widowed after many years of marriage may not bother looking for another spouse — in part because they can’t envision being with anyone else.
    My wife and I might have been in that category a few years back. Having met and married in our church and having been involved for 10-15 years, we had decided to look for a different church due to the sum of many frustrations. Fortunately, the Senior Pastor announced his resignation a week or two after we had come to that decision (before we told anybody about it), and after that we felt called to stick around and try to help build something healthier. But if we had left, I’m not sure how hard we really would have looked. The temptation is to think that any other place would similarly disappoint.

  • Smfrmrinfrisco

    There’s much to be said about the Dones but what I find is that once folks decide to be “done” it’s hard to convince them to try, try again. I’d say that perhaps this is when the Church begins to recognize that home is where the heart (and the faith) should be…there’s no reason why every householder can’t make every meal a Eucharist…there’s no reason why one can’t gather family together to tell Bible stories…or give over Jesus teachings as normative…there’s no reason that we have to gather folks from hither and yon to meet weekly when we have neighbors…there’s no reason we need seminaries, or pastors, or preachers, or large buildings that are unused most of 6 days out of 7…there’s no reason we can’t mine the liturgies, wisdom, and traditions of 1900 years of christianity when we do want or desire a larger community – if we want it…may I suggest a reading of Tony Jones The Didache, the Jesus Creed and Frank Viola’s Re-imagining Church as possible options for consideration?

  • mteston1

    Which is interesting to ponder Holland. The institution in so many places is one for those prior to age 18. The Dialogue around serious, dare I say adult matters related to the integration of spirit, life, science (i.e.. wisdom and knowledge learned that make the world go round everyday) is left untouched with environments that often prohibit asking the hard questions, integrating hard realities with faith and praxis. After leading for 30 plus years I decided I was done. I consult here and there but spend my days working in a large urban center feeding, encouraging the least and last noticed by many behind the cloistered walls. Back to your comment . . . the reason we’re losing so many after high school is because the questions considered and pondered have so little to do with the very world these young men and women will enter. But I suspect it is for many reasons, the dones are done and I am as well. Peace

  • Your reply has been posted, perhaps by FloydAT here: https://actionfaithbookspress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/the-dones-of-church/ and roundly condemned.

    Perhaps before roundly condemning a growing group of believers as this book details, we ought to wait to see what the book says.

    Is it condemnable for people to leave a place of hurt and abuse? Is it condemnable for people to leave a place that teaches heresy? Is it condemnable for people to leave a place that makes decisions by personalities, trends, or group politics rather than by the Bible?

    God gave judgment in Malachi because he knew the people and knew their hearts. Those issuing condemnation here don’t know the people or their hearts – the book isn’t even out for months.

    How we respond to people who feel they cannot continue to serve in a given congregation really reflects on our theology and love-level. Rather than reaching out to restore fellowship, we roundly condemn and shun them.

    I think it is better to find (or start) a biblical, historical church rather than abandon church altogether. How else can one live out live as a believer as the Bible requires? I’d highly recommend Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. The first chapter alone is very clarifying about this.