As many churches find themselves seeing more and more empty pews, the tendency is to attribute this to rising numbers of “nones.” Nones are identified as those who don’t identify with any religion. Pew Research reported in 2012 that “One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”
Pastors and laity who haven’t given up on trying to increase church attendance are looking to attract the nones by turning to social media, trying to update worship services with more contemporary music, and focusing on children and youth programs in the hope of attracting young families.
However, those in church circles are now looking at another group of people who aren’t attending church. These people are referred to as “dones ”or “de-churched” as they were once active participants in the life of the organized church but, due to a number of factors, have decided to stop attending.
Skye Jethani in “Who Are the De-Churched?“states that some of those who have left the organized church have “simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it’s become a drain on time, resources, and energy.”
Thom Shultz in “DE-CHURCHED: Why People are Leaving Church But Not Faith” notes that the dones outnumber those who’ve stayed in the organized church. The dones in many cases still have faith in Jesus; they’re just not interested in what Jesus’ church has become. Writing for the Holy Soup blog, Shultz talks about the “Rise of the Dones.” He discusses the research of Josh Packard who found that the dones are often the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. They feel that they’ve heard it all and are tired of being lectured to and having “some guy tell me what to do.”
Like many other people I know, I sometimes feel that I’d like to be done with organized church. I struggle with the bureaucracy, the time spent on fundraising and meetings instead of ministry, the petty disagreements, and the dated style of worship. Yet when listening to the children of my church talk about their faith, sharing in a small group, or joining with the rest of the congregation singing “Silent Night” in a candle-lit sanctuary on Christmas Eve, I realize I need to be with others on this journey.
Perhaps a house church is in my future or another type of Christian community outside of the organized church. Maybe the organized church will make some drastic changes in the future and return to a form of church which is closer to the one that God intended. Whatever the future, whether I stay in a denomination or attend worship in a designated “church” building, I will remain a part of the church. As the hymn states:
I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!
The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people.