A new classification of church members is floating around: The Dones. According to Josh Packard, a professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado writing in the Summer, 2015 issue of Leadership Journal, recent studies categorize The Dones as people who are disillusioned with church. (I suspect these may be some of the same people labeled “Christ-Centered” in the famous Reveal study by Willow Creek Church years ago.)
Though they were committed to the church for decades often as leaders, The Dones no longer or rarely attend. Though they often worked for years to reform the church from within, they are now fed up with organized religion. Some are dissatisfied with the structure or the politics of the institutional church. Some question the social message the Church represents. Some yearn for a call to deeper commitment to spiritual formation, a challenge to drink from a deeper spiritual well. Whatever their reason, Packard says, these “spiritual refugees present a challenge to the church.”
I am one of The Dones – or at least of the Almost Dones. More than ever I understand the power of the gospel spoken by Jesus, re-told by the disciples, or put in words as scripture – but not always reflected in the church. People in Jesus’ times were obeying dry, stale, and often incorrect theology. Made powerless by Roman rulers and their Jewish sycophants, they were becoming slaves to the literalism of their religious leaders. The heart and passion of a Moses or a David or a Jeremiah or a Micah were hard to find. That’s why Jesus seemed radical. We need that radical Jesus in our own age!
The Dones that I know (and many I don’t know who read this blog) are looking for passion and fire and authenticity in their church. Some are actively contemplative (and I do see the traditional oxymoron in that phrase). Some recognize the Power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early disciples and the church they created and wonder why that Power seems shackled in their church. Some read about the disciples grappling with issues of inclusivity and coming down on the side of love, and they long for the same welcoming spirit in their congregations. Some wrestle with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, but see an attitude of “what’s mine is mine” permeating their church. Basically The Dones see a Church which was originally inspired by the spirit, example, and love of Jesus but is now satisfied with the status quo.
Packard concludes his article with this challenge to the Church: “Will churches be vibrant, indispensable guides to helping people find meaningful life and making a difference in the world? Or will they continue to alienate some of their most passionate members?”
The answer to those questions are what The Dones and Almost Dones are hoping to see resolved soon. If the answers are “no,” I suspect we will continue to see new and creative ways to be the body of Christ in the future.