Have You Ever Heard of “The Dones”? You Probably Know Someone in This Group
If you’ve spent any time around a church or religious people in recent years you’ve no doubt had a conversation about “the nones.” This is a growing group of people that claim no religious affiliation at all, and they are changing the landscape of the American church.
This group once again became a hot topic for discussion after the Pew Research Center released their Religious Landscape Study – which measures the participation rates among various segments of the population with regard to religious affiliation.
Much of the conversation after the study was released centered on the dramatic drop among self-identified Christians; from 78.4 to 70.6 percent. I’m not particularly shocked or concerned about this drop for the simple fact that no one in their right mind believes that 70% of the American population is Christian.
There’s a misconception in America that being born in the United States makes you a Christian. Or, that being born to parents calling themselves Christians somehow makes you a Christian. Worse is those who believe that simply going to church for any number of years qualifies one as a Christian. All of these scenarios being false makes it easy to see how some people might finally lose the “Christian” label.
Honestly, does anyone really believe that if 70% of the American population was truly born-again, evangelical Christian that we would have legalized abortion? Would the divorce rate really be so high? Could the American porn industry really be thriving? I, for one, am glad that some people finally chose to drop the Christian act and be honest enough to say they were something else. It helps us to better focus our Gospel efforts.
But let’s talk about the “nones.” This group is interesting because it means people are finally being honest enough to admit they aren’t Christians. As this group continues to grow – and I do believe it will continue – it helps evangelical Christians to realize that just because our neighbor sits across from us at church doesn’t mean he’s placed his faith in Jesus. Why? Because people are finally understanding that going to church doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than sleeping in my garage makes me a car.
And while some politicize this study and link the rise of the “nones” to future elections; I am hoping Christians will see this reality for what it is: a call to greater evangelism. We should never take for granted that any person has placed their faith in Christ.
What I also find interesting about this group is the number of people that were once church attenders within it. I would be curious to see a break-down of people that were once faithful church attenders but now call themselves religiously unaffiliated. I believe it is this group that is also aiding the rise of “The Dones.”
The “dones” are that group of people that have spent a significant amount of their life in church. But they didn’t simply attend. Nope, they were teachers, deacons, elders, musicians, and some of the most faithful, core people the church had in attendance. And now, they have walked away, proclaiming that they are “done.”
I’ve been having this conversation more with people who are curious about this particular group. It’s becoming noticeable that the “dones” are rapidly growing into an easily recognizable group. Whereas at one time a few people knew someone who was once solidly committed to their faith but has since walked away. Now, many people such a person. In fact, you might talk to that person often and not even know it.
The “dones” exist because the church is broken. Now, we’ve all known the church is broken for a long time. And no one of any kind of theological depth would expect it to be anything but broken. The church is filled with sinful humans that, despite the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, continue to sin. But the church is also broken because it has morphed into something it was never meant to be.
On one side we have church “rock-stars” building empires that rival many corporations. With everything from trademarks and marketing campaigns to branding and image consultants, these mega churches and their rock star leaders have created a place where everyone is sure to enjoy “the experience.”
And on the other side is the small, dying church that refuses to do anything remotely modern. They still use the original hymnal commissioned in 1913, along with the all the same teaching material and outreach strategies. The obvious result is that these churches, and their traditions, will soon be dead.
The “dones” have experienced many different church settings and been left wanting by them all. They can’t stand the legalistic arrogance of the tiny church that refuses to see beyond its own walls. But neither can they stomach the light and smoke driven feel-good “talk” that doesn’t even crack open the Bible. The pressing question they can’t answer is “what’s the point?”
Practically speaking the “dones” are finding they can get just as much from watching podcasts and listening to worship music at home as they can at any local church. And more often than not it comes with less pressure, less politics, less legalism, and less stress than those churches. No one pushing them to do this or serve here. No one constantly asking for money they don’t have. In fact, the “dones” are getting together with friends and engaging in deeper studies, honest discussions, missions, and faithful fellowship. Once they experience this paradigm it is like pulling teeth to get them back into the doors of local church.
Of course the “dones” get Hebrews 10:25 thrown at them: “do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” But they are quick to point out that there is not reference to what that assembly looks like. Does it have to be in a church? Only on Sunday morning? The “dones” will quickly respond with Matthew 18:20 where Jesus says “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” They wonder what else they need other than the presence of Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we all walk away from our churches and start small groups in our houses with some of our close friends for the purpose of fulfilling The Great Commission. Although, it does sound a lot like what the first church did.
What I am suggesting is that we take a hard look at what the church was intended according to Scripture and then do a gut check inside the walls of our respective churches. Do we faithfully do the things commanded in Scripture? Do we give liberty on non-essential issues as we consider others better than ourselves? Do we allow for differing theological viewpoints when the topic is not Gospel related? Do we faithfully disciple others? Are we equally concerned with reaching the lost as we are with training our kids and raising up theologically astute disciples?
I’m not sure what caused the rise of the “nones.” Maybe the cultural animosity against Christians simply flushed out those who were not previously being honest. That seems like a good thing in my opinion.
The rise of the “dones” however is a different story altogether. I believe we can lay that squarely at the feet of the Church. And what happens in the future, whether this group continues to grow or not, will be in direct response to how the church conducts itself from this point on.