“Nones and Dones” and “Almost Dones” is the first article in a series about why people leave church (W.P.L.C.), have left, or are thinking about leaving, …and what churches can do about it.
This first article is mostly about what I call the “Almost Dones.”
Barna Research has some amazing statistics about the spirituality of people who have either left the church or don’t go, but say they “love Jesus.” As their survey shows, many “nones and dones” do not look a whole lot different than those who DO go to church.
- They pray and feel as spiritual just about as much as those in the pews.
- They love Jesus.
- They are largely “traditional” Christians who do not go to church.
- The majority are women (61%).
- Four-fifths (80%) are between the ages of 33 and 70.
- They typically are women living in the South and Midwest.
The only surprising difference is their political orientation. Nones and Dones tend to be more “liberal” or progressive (take your pick), …and are less “dogmatic” (absolutist) about their religious beliefs.
“Dones” who “love Jesus” are telling us they don’t like traditional church communities. Because their numbers are growing, we ignore their experience and opinions at the church’s peril.
Why do people leave the church and become “done”?
We’re not looking at the marginal or notional Christians who never really embraced the faith. We’re looking at those who stood up, paid up, lived up, and then left at some point.
In summary, they become “done” because:
- Style of Worship (music and sermons) no longer fulfilling or attractive.
- Lack of Friendliness, feeling connected.
- Sense that they’re always being asked for money.
- Run ins with hypocrites, dysfunctional persons/leaders.
- Lack of appealing options to be involved.
To that list, I would add, ” lack of spiritual growth opportunities,” and a message that seems opposed their progressive leanings. (As the sermon is often the nexxus of the church’s message, I would specifically point out that sermons often lack real-world relevance and tip-toe around the issues progressives are concerned about.)
All of the above become more difficult when you move and are trying to FIND a church. And we live in a mobile society.
Is Anonymity in Larger Churches Part of the “Dones” Problem?
I have a hypothesis that “large churches” are not really helping retain members. If they were, we wouldn’t be talking about an overall decline in church attendance in the USA. Instead, I believe they are often the “last refuge” of those who are “almost done.” But larger churches are not necessarily better at growing disciples and membership.
Suck on this for a while:
A new study has found that although more Americans than ever are attending megachurches, megachurch worshipers are attending church less frequently.
Larger churches are drawing from smaller churches but still churning through people. Having attended several larger churches since leaving parish ministry, I can confirm that it’s way too easy to “slip in and slip out” without being noticed, and without being asked to get involved. This is something you can’t do in a small church. Small churches and small church pastors will notice you. If you seek anonymity, and sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for after a bad church experience, you know not to go to a small church. In summary, large churches are a great place for “Almost Dones” to hang out.
“Almost Dones” are in your church
“Almost Dones” is my name for this new category of people hiding in-between and on the fringes of churches. And I don’t see the researchers measuring them. What’s significant is that “Almost Dones” often end up becoming “Dones.” They’re trying your church, and even joining but not engaging. Many are one problem and pastor-mistake away from leaving. Some have joined, but are still searching for a better church, and willing to give the flavor of the month a try.
Case in Point: My family and I attend a large church. I have introduced myself to the pastor several times, and most of the time he just looks at me trying to place my face. They keep the lights low and the place is big. The pastor can’t sit there and look out to see “who’s new.” (This is how pastors often spot visitors, btw.) We’re enjoying worship but feeling a lack of anything else to grab onto.
“Almost Dones,” sometimes just need an invitation and encouragement to reconnect, but they can hide in a large church. Problem is, the anonymity can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The lack of community they experience feeds their sense that they are “done” or almost done. In my family’s current large church, it wouldn’t take much for us to “go look elsewhere.” I’m not proud of that. I’m telling you the truth. And I’ve met a lot of people like us in my former churches. For whatever reason, they didn’t engage beyond worship, and eventually slipped away. And yet, in my family’s situation, it wouldn’t be hard the church to get us to engage. The problem is, they aren’t making the effort, and because of that, neither are we. Honestly, we’re biding our time, not wanting to jump into a church that only seems (mildly) interested in our worship attendance and support.
The Importance of “Places to Land”
The old new member literature used to talk about creating “places to land” in your membership –outside of worship. Our current “large” church has few. I’m not a mother. We don’t have small children. And now, I don’t want to attend the men’s Bible study at 6:30 am on Wednesday. Not that anybody has invited us to any of that –other than during the pulpit announcement.
Building friendships and a sense of connection to a specific community requires we get past just going to worship. And some churches don’t make engaging easy.
A clue to get visitors to engage
If you had a Bible study to discuss the sermon AFTER worship, you could get my family and I into that room. But everything you offer is “before” worship. Point: you have to strike while the iron is hot. This is how the last church we joined got us involved (before we moved away). After worship I was invited across the hall to join a class. Simple, immediate, yes or no.
But so far, we’ve only attended your worship, signed your pad and given you checks. We’ve never received a call or piece of mail from you. We need a point of engagement beyond showing up at 11 a.m. It’s as simple as that.
Why did we leave our last church?
They burned us out, and also left us feeling burned. We got involved, and then were asked to lead. Sometimes, being asked to “lead” not only leads to burn out, but it exposes you to negatives in the church that leave you feeling burned. A lot of minor things happened, then one or two unacceptable things, and we became an “almost done” looking for another congregation.
The worst thing about leaving a church is deciding when and “if” to reconnect to another. Once bitten, twice shy, so to speak. It led us to shy away from one local small church that came on strong when we appeared as visitors. They also told us they were “rebuilding” after something had happened in the congregation. Nice people and pastor, but we did not want to jump into another unsettled situation.
We are not “almost done” –we are ready to “do it again,” but it isn’t that easy to find the “right” church, and we’re taking our time.
A Pastor reading this might say, “you have an obligation to….” but such old-fashioned guilt isn’t going to work on us. We believe in grace, healing, patience, and a God who meets us where we are, and not where you think we ought to be. We’re taking the idea of “church” so seriously that we are looking for the right fit and willing to let that search take YEARS if needed.
I can relate to the “Dones” in Barna’s research. It’s not that easy for “progressives” who like contemporary worship and music, expect intelligent sermons with challenging life application, and are looking for a “place to land,” not a potluck. It’s even harder to find such a place where certain personalities won’t eventually make you feel burned. But we’re looking, and willing to wait while we slip in and out of your church.
More on Nones and Dones to come…