Have You Ever Wanted to Leave Church? You’re Not the Only One!
Have you ever considered walking away from church?
That question has become a central topic in many churches, conferences, and publications. The rise of the “dones” is a phenomenon that is both interesting to watch and terrifying. For many pastors and church leaders it is a nightmare that they are facing and trying to figure out. For church culture commentators it has become a routine topic of discussion.
So, who are the dones?
The dones are the most committed, involved, faithful members of a congregation. They are leaders in ministry; they are teachers; they are the biblically educated; they are the givers. And they are walking away from church. They don’t relocate to another church, and they aren’t retreating to house churches (not all of them). They are simply walking away from the organized, institutional church…forever.
Some will be quick to judge and say that these are backslidden people that need to “get right with God,” and get back in church. Others are little more judgmental and claim that these are people that “may not be saved at all.” Name-calling and judgment won’t stop the dones from walking away so it might be a better use of our time to figure out why they are leaving.
First, if we’re honest about church culture we have to admit that many churches have used shame as a weapon for years. Churches scared people into certain behavior modification in order to make people do what they wanted. Despite no biblical evidence pastors sought to make sure everyone in the church was of “one mind” on every issue – to preserve “unity” of course – by shaming people into acting a certain way. But we all know that fear and shame only work for so long. And once a person breaks free from it they aren’t likely to go back into an environment that fosters it.
A recent article I read shares several reasons why shaming people never produces authentic disciples of Jesus:
- Shaming usually involves the shamer’s negative judgment of a person’s heart and motives. That’s dangerous and destructive.
- Shaming doesn’t work. Few people increase their authentic love and devotion to God (or anyone) because someone shames them into loving.
- Shamers inevitably come off as self-righteous. That’s not the reputation God desires for his followers.
The shame technique has been shown to produce nothing more than people scared that someone will find out they’re human and make mistakes. The church didn’t get its reputation of “shooting their wounded” overnight. It came with years of people being treated worse than their enemies by people inside the church. That’s also why the statement “if you want to learn to fight, go to church” exists.
So people are tired of being shamed for being human and making mistakes. Is that the only reason people are walking away from the church in herds? (Maybe these silly arguments have something to do with it.) Not according to a blog post discussing the rise of the dones. According to the post, written at holysoup.com, many dones are just tired of the routine and of hearing the same thing over and over. The article states:
“Why are the Dones done? [Josh] 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.”
I can sympathize with this thought. Many people have gone to church three or four times a week for decades and can, in some cases, predict what will be said and done as it happens. They’ve heard the same sermons over and over and have simply concluded that there is no reason to continue going to church.
This is where my passion for expository preaching really gets fired up. The topical sermon has, in my opinion, ruined church. Yes, I know there is a time and place for topical preaching/teaching. But it is very few and far between a solid, regular, robust diet of expository preaching. The church that makes topical preaching the diet each week will inevitably starve people. Personally, when a pastor begins a topical sermon I can predict half of what he will say and fill in most of the blanks on the note sheet before he says a word. It’s easy to see how people can conclude there is nothing left to hear when they’ve listened to the same topical sermons over the course of a decade or two.
Expository preaching is not only educational as it seeks to teach people the meaning of Scripture from the original language; it is slow and methodical. Anyone that has sought to preach expositorily through a book of the Bible knows the labor, the time, the work involved in doing so. I can take a year or longer to preach through some books. With 66 books that need to be taught it’s conceivable that a pastor could only preach through the Bible once in his entire career. Just imagine how interesting, educational, and different each week would be if the pastor marched through books of the Bible systematically.
But there’s something greater to be gained here. When expository preaching is employed it tends to produce mature, grounded disciples. The theological training and study skills inherently taught by means of expository preaching have a profound impact on the church. Knowing this, experiencing this, it’s heartbreaking that more churches don’t make expository preaching the core of their pulpit ministry.
Of course there is a concern present in the rise of the dones. This group is walking away partially because they are tired of being told that traditions are biblical and that we all have to agree. I get that. The concern is that they will remove themselves, or even reject proper biblical accountability and oversight. We were meant to live in community with other believers. We were meant to have shepherds to guide us. And rebuke and correction are part of why we have the Bible. But many Christians are rejecting these protections in favor of “freedom” and “liberty.” That’s a cause for concern.
I firmly believe that the church will continue to see a mass exodus of the dones until it begins to focus on what’s central to Scripture: the Gospel. Not the carpet or the music or decorations or how the preacher dresses. It’s long past time for the church to stop arguing over non-essential issues and begin uniting under the banner of the Gospel message. If we can do that we have a chance. If not, the dones will continue to leave.