There seems to be a new 'tribe' out there...and I might be part of it!
There is no end to the desire to identify and categorize groups of people. It is how advertisers target campaigns and now how churches develop programs. In the evangelical world we have: the churched, the unchurched, the seekers, the 'Nones', and now the 'Dones.'
What is a 'Done' you say? Karl Vaters, author of the Grasshopper Myth, put it this way, "These aren’t the Nones – those who are increasingly checking the box marked “none” on religious affiliation surveys – these are people who self-identify as Christians, but have intentionally stopped attending church."
According to some recent studies, Dones are a growing percentage of society, and have become an increasing object of concern for churches. The reason for the concern is that these are not the marginal hangers-on in the church. Sociologist Josh Packard has found, "sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith...these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best."
Thom Shultz, author of, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, had this observation, "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." And with regard to the emphasis on Sunday morning services (which dominate the amount of resources and energy the church expends), he says, “‘Dones’ are reminding us that that’s not the true focus of the church, capital C.”
And lest you get the idea that Dones are a bunch of malcontents looking for church nirvana, Jeremy Myers had this to contribute to the discussion, "There are lots of misconceptions out there about "dones", but we are not angry, bitter, discontent, or fed-up. We are simply trying to follow Jesus wherever He leads, and for many of us, He is leading us to follow Him away from the four walls of institutional Christianity.”
And while there are boatloads of people that love their church and can't understand what the problem could be, the questions still remains...
So, what's a Done to do?
Over the last several years I have had to reassess my definition of what church (with the little "C") is. My early spiritual training included a very clearly defined representation of what the local fellowship was supposed to be: a community of light and life within a community of death and darkness; how it was supposed to be governed: by multiple 'leading brothers' and elders; and what it was supposed to do: follow the model of Acts 2 in devoting "themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" Acts 2:42.
For that training and experience, I am truly grateful. It gave me a firm foundation in the scriptures, the opportunity to grow spiritually and to serve with intentionality and purpose. And it allowed me to experience the presence of God in my life in a powerful, transformative way. And that was then...
When that work came to an abrupt end for me, I walked away. I was a Done without the intention of being 'won.' I was literally finished with church and had no intention of ever returning in any way. Fortunately God was not done with me!
After my calling to community was rekindled, I started to look for a place where I could participate and contribute in a meaningful way. I went here and there and never felt God's affirmation that it was the place for me. After a while, I started to feel that maybe I was one of the disenfranchised who just wasn't going to fit anywhere. To be honest it was very discouraging and even depressing sometimes.
Recently I have come to see that by not 'fitting,' God was provoking me to reassess what church means to me. Instead of seeing it primarily as a Sunday gathering, I started leaning into the idea that it is something much more expansive and inclusive. That began when I was willing to put new eyes on the revelation of Matthew 18:20, where Jesus talks about the two or three gathered together. One translation puts it this way, "For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them."
For me "church" is where He is!
Duh, you say! But there is a new wrinkle in the fabric of my understanding of church because of the power and insight in the phrase, "gather together as my followers." From that perspective, I have found "church" in a coffee shop with other 'followers' seriously inquiring into what God is doing and how he's doing it. I have found it under the carport at the motel, as we fed breakfast to the homeless and conducted a bible study. I have found it bumping into a fellow believer at Home Depot and spending 30 minutes sharing how God is moving in our lives. I have found it at dinner parties, at conferences, at neighborhood block parties, at wedding receptions, on the golf course, in our back yard, etc.
I think you get the idea...
And none of it required a preacher, a program, a pew, a building, a worship band, an official meeting time, a denominational affiliation, a non-denominational affiliation, official sanction, ordained leaders, a board of directors, hospitality chairperson or a clean-up crew. All it required was Jesus followers engaged authentically with one another in the full awareness of his presence in our midst.
Another thing that Dones can do is seek those who are like-minded.
It is amazing to me how many people I have met in the last few years that share the same thoughts about the condition of the church and have the same passion to dynamically serve Jesus. Some are like me, wandering a bit, some are in organic or home churches, some are in big or small evangelical churches, and some are in traditional denominational settings.
To me, it doesn't matter at all where they go or don't go. What matters is where their heart is. And, as I am sure you know, there are some people out there with just awesome, incredible hearts! Those are the folks I want to seek out. They are the ones I want to spend time with. They are the ones I want to experience church with!
Don't know anyone like that? If you really are seeking that kind of authentic community, God will lead you to them. He will do so because his intention is to gather together those seeking to be his true followers, so that he can express his will and person to the world!
While not the last word on this subject, I want to end with this last suggestion for what Dones can do...engage!
Engage in the opportunities God gives you. Remember, Dones are not the whiners and complainers that are like a nasty thorn in everyone's finger -- all pain with no gain! If Josh Packard is to be believed, they are among the churches best. So the watchword for Dones is engage!
Be sensitive to how God is leading you. Reject that little voice that is discouraging you from daring greatly. Don't count the cost or look at the giant obstacles -- you are not a grasshopper! And don't buy the lie that you are not qualified. Remember, this isn't about a program or a 'ministry' or a way to feel good about myself. This is about serving Jesus...so just start!
- invite a few folks over for dinner and conversation and see where the evening goes.
- get a few of those like-minded friends together to pray about what you are passionate about -- and don't proclaim a 'prayer meeting'!
- accept the invitation to go with a brother to the homeless shelter and practice the ministry of listening to another's story.
- approach another mom about getting together for a little mommie-and-me time with your kids -- and leave any agenda at home.
- suggest to those you know hungering for a deeper understanding of the Word of God that you get together -- and see if it is something you want to do regularly.
- have a "your-night-out-with-Dad" time with each of your kids, just to enjoy and appreciate them.
- go through a book with someone, without having to be the teacher.
- take a hike with a few folks and see how God leads the conversation.
- open your home to someone in need.
- commit to being transparent and open with another.
- gratefully accept the attention, love and blessing of others.
- make the mission trip you took, to the third world, a launching pad for service in your own community.
I'm sure you can add a bunch of other suggestions to the list, but the most important thing is to engage in what God is directing you to do, and leave the results and consequences with him.
So are you Done?
If so, you might be just beginning! Reassess, seek, engage and let's see what God can do with this new tribe of Jesus followers!