Monday, December 29, 2014

The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population

Here is another fascinating blog article about why people are leaving the church, why the trickle is turning into a flood, written by Thom Schultz and posted on

Mr. Schultz mentions the research of sociologists Josh Packard and suggests some good questions that churches should be asking themselves, and asking the people who are leaving their churches. Schultz begs churches to really begin to listen to their congregants and those who are hitting the exit doors. I have found that church leaders are often so invested in their work with the church, that they are simply unable to hear constructive criticism, rather than unwilling.


John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.
John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? 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.

Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.

Pastors and other ministry leaders would benefit from asking and listening to these long-time members before they flee. This will require a change of habit. When it comes to listening, church leaders are too often in the habit of fawning over celebrity pastors for answers. It would be far more fruitful to take that time and spend it with real people nearby—existing members. Ask them some good questions, such as:

1. Why are you a part of this church?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?

It’s time to listen. Even as I’m writing this today, another high-capacity lay leader emailed me with his decision to leave his church. He’s done. Like many others I know, he’s also a nationally known Christian leader. But he’s done.

Your church, even if it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Dones, the rise of the Nones and the disappearance of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen.
It’s not too late to start. 


You can access the entire article here

Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You

I stopped in Macon, Georgia for the night on my way back from Ohio with my son and his fiancee and their baby. We have been having a great ride, with me playing with the little guy while we listen to the audio recording of World War Z (actually, it is very fascinating). Of course, I am harassing people on FB as we travel.

A friend of mine posted a link to this article by John Pavlovitz on the Patheos blog hosting site today. I read it and decided it was worth re-posting here. The key quote that I want to bring out and emphasize from the article is as follows:

"Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) off your campus and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the building."

I have been saying these things for years, at least 10 years, but I think my circle of friendships have tuned me out (the little boy who cried wolf?, or Chicken Little?), so I will post it here in someone else's voice. I left the building a good while ago.

Here is a portion of Mr. Pavlovitz's post ....

Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?
I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.
You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem, Church.
You are the problem.
Let me elaborate in five ways …

1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.

2. You speak in a foreign tongue.

Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago no longer do.

3. Your vision can’t see past your building.

The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high-tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch … and costly. In fact, most of your time, money and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are instead of reaching people where they already are.

4. You choose lousy battles.

We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.
Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial and pacifists in the face of the terrible.

5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
That’s part of the reason people are leaving you, Church.
These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.
We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.
We’re the ones walking away.
We want to matter to you.
We want you to hear us before you debate us.
Show us that your love and your God are real.
Church, give us a reason to stay.
All 5 of these points resonate with me. But it is not just me .... 
To read the whole blog post, go to the Patheos blog

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Churchless faith

Alan Jamieson is a pastor and sociologist who uses the work of James Fowler in modelling spiritual growth as stages of faith in order to analyze those who have left the church. The book challenges the prevailing view about church leavers and has clear messages for both the individual feeling church is no longer for them, and for churches facing the departure of well-known members.

From the perspective of someone rethinking their religious faith, the most helpful aspect of the book was the level-voiced and non-judgmental survey work (drawn from Jamieson's doctoral thesis) showing why people stop attending churches. Jamieson develops a model showing why people leave and the summary, surprising to some, is that it's a matter of growth of faith rather than death of faith that makes the majority of leavers go it alone. The key message to the individual? "You're not the first to face this, and you're not on your own".

Like the related book 'The Post-Evangelical', Jamieson discusses the fact that faith systems today exist in the context of a culture completing the transition to a post-modern outlook. His challenge to church leaders is to see leavers not as the fallen but as pioneers. His research finds in the majority of cases individuals with insight into expressing faith in post-modern terms rather than in the modernist terms of the established churches. The key message to the church? "Culture is changing, and your leavers are your congregations's pioneers".

Overall this is a book that should be on every minister's shelf and which could offer relief to long-term church members and leaders suffering 'burn out'.

Taken from an Amazon review by Simon Phipps on July 4, 2003. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Evangelical pilgrims meet up


I am thinking of starting this blog up again. I’m guessing there is a HUGE number of ex-evangelicals and post-evangelicals or just plain evangelical survivors out there who have stopped going to church but have not stopped praying.  It gets lonely, right?

If there are any of you living in South Florida, and interested in reading, thinking and conversing about theological issues or religious/spiritual trends, let me know. Let’s get a discussion group together.

You can tweet me at @josenmiami and you can email me at or find me on FB with my email address.