Faithful done with church

The same old thing at worship services just doesn't cut it anymore


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You've heard about the nones. Now get ready for the dones.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/03/2015 (2822 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You’ve heard about the nones. Now get ready for the dones.

Nones are people who, when asked by census- and survey-takers about their religious affiliation, say they don’t belong to any religious group.

Dones are people — mostly Christians — who still identify strongly with their faith, but have given up on going to church.

It’s a growing phenomenon. According to sociologist Josh Packard, author of the book Church Refugees and head of the Dechurched Project at the University of Northern Colorado, the dones used to be some of the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. But somewhere along the way they stopped wanting to attend worship services.

Why are they done? One reason, according to Packard, is that people are weary of sitting in pews and going through the same motions every Sunday — they’re bored.

Another reason is the sermon-centred style of most worship services today. As one person told him, “I’m tired of being lectured to.”

For others, it’s church politics. “I just kept thinking that Jesus has to be bigger than subcommittees,” said another.

For others, it’s a desire to be more engaged in the community. “Now that we’re out we have time and energy to spend on our community,” said another. “We do a lot more volunteering with civic groups around town.”

Added a former pastor: “I didn’t want to be part of the machine anymore. I wanted to change the focus of my life to relationships.”

Last year the Barna group, a U.S. organization that researches faith and culture, published a list of five reasons why people say they are done with the church: They find it irrelevant; they don’t find God there; they don’t feel that doubt and honest questioning is welcome; they don’t understand the sermons; and churches don’t feel friendly.

It’s not just an American phenomenon. It’s happening in Canada, too. Doug Koop, the former editor of ChristianWeek, wrote about it last summer for the Canadian evangelical magazine Faith Today.

In his column about how many of his 50-something peers are disengaging from the church, Koop noted many used to be active in their congregations, but now are “making the institutional church more of a back-burner item, less of a lifestyle.”

For some, he said, it was the result of a crisis of faith. But for most, there was a simpler explanation. “They realize,” he wrote, “that weekly worship service attendance no longer provides them with the sanctuary and inspiration it previously delivered.”

Instead of going to church on Sundays, “they are largely content to worship more serendipitously and attend Sunday services irregularly,” he wrote.

Ontario pastor and blogger Carey Nieuwhof has also been following this trend. Among the reasons he gives for Christians stopping attending church are the general busyness of life, the ability to access whatever you want to know about theology on your smartphone, and a failure to see a direct benefit from attending services.

He also cites the disappearance of guilt.

There was a time, he writes, when Christians felt bad if they didn’t go to church. Today, he says, “the number of people who feel guilty about not being in church on Sunday shrinks daily.”

For Nieuwhof, the rapid fall in church attendance is a “truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries,” on par with “what happened to the church after Constantine’s conversion or after the invention of the printing press.”

A few years ago, Phyllis Tickle published the book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. In it, she suggests the church periodically holds a garage sale, getting rid of the things it no longer wants or needs.

“About every 500 years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace, or hard shell, that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur,” she wrote.

The last big garage sale, she wrote, was the Reformation. If she’s right, that means we are in the midst of the next one. And maybe one of the first things Christians feel they need to let go is the way churches do worship services today.

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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