Done with Church?

As a child and a PK (preacher’s kid), I often wondered when a church service would finally end. I couldn’t wait to get outside and squash June bugs on the sidewalk or roll in the grass with my friends. But today’s conversation on the Front Porch is much more serious than that.

Over the last decades there has been an increasing number of people responding as “not affiliated” to the question in the National Census or a survey about their religious affiliation. In fact, those who track this information have coined the title “Nones” to describe those who claim to be “not affiliated.”

Sadly, 78 percent of the Nones admit they were either raised in or once very active in a particular religious denomination or sect. I recently asked a woman if her family attended a church. Her response was pointedly abrupt, “We were raised in the ______ (an Evangelical Protestant) church.” Without pausing for a breath, she raised her voice and added, “But we are not church people!”

Those words, “not church people,” and the manner expressed, revealed much more than the fact they didn’t attend a church. Her family was part of the growing phenomena of the Nones. I suspect they may also be part of another growing movement called the “Dones.”Recently, I began to come across the term “Dones.” I asked myself, “What in the world is a Done?” Out of curiosity I went to the Internet and googled the word “Dones.” The computer screen filled with articles about and testimonies from the Dones.

As you may have guessed, the Dones have been there and done that. They’re not only unaffiliated but sometimes anti-affiliation with any religious organization.

So why have they bailed out of the church? And why the hostility?

I offer a few probable reasons: Some have become bored or fatigued with the Sunday routine. They’ve heard it all before. They have volunteered to serve in many capacities to keep the church ministries afloat. I suspect that others have left the church after painful, unresolved conflicts. Sadly, it was easier to just find the closest exit then to apply biblical instructions for resolving conflict. By the way, conflict is inevitable but not always bad. I sometimes, almost facetiously, have said, “Wherever more than one person exists conflict is inevitable. When there is no more conflict, all but one has died.”

I wonder, even deeply suspect, that there may be another reason behind the rise of the Nones and Dones. Something vital to the health and mission of the church is missing. In a recent sermon, I shared the alarming rising statistic about the Dones. I asked, “Have we, the American Church, placed greater emphasis on growing large churches than on growing deeper relationships? Have we replaced making disciples with making church workers?” In other words, have we displaced our primary mission to make disciples who “know and do” what Jesus commanded?

The relationship between Elijah and Elisha gives us a positive example. Elisha shadowed his teacher-mentor until he began to think and to act like him, eventually picking up the mantle and continuing Elijah’s mission.

I also share three examples from the New Testament.

First, Jesus chose twelve men to “be with Him,” to watch Him, and then to assist Him by spreading the good news in partnerships of two.

Then, moments prior to His ascension into heaven, Jesus left His students (now called friends) with one command: “Make disciples, teaching them to know and to do all I have commanded.” Luke is spot on when he opens the book of Acts with the statement, “all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” Did you catch that? Jesus did not complete the mission but entrusted His followers to continue to do what He had begun.

Paul instructed his disciple-student Timothy to entrust what he had been taught by Paul to faithful men who would “be able to teach others also.” That is Christianity 101— building relationships that produce Christ-followers in word and in action.

John addresses three generations of believers in 1 John 2:12-14. He writes to the fathers or older men and to the young men who are strong. But he also writes to the little children-beginners in their relationship with Christ.

It has been said that the church is always within two generations from extinction. Making disciples is the church’s priority. Ours is a relay race not a sprint. Handing off the baton—the message and the mission—from one generation to another is critical.

There is a world of difference between making church workers and making disciples. Without the disciple relationship, I fear church members-workers may become weary or bored.

Having already begun writing this blog, I was affirmed by the August 13th edition of Christianity Today’s, The Exchange. Author and missiologist, Jeff Christopherson, raised the question, “So What Comes after Church Growth?”

Chistopherson questions using business principles to facilitate the church growth movement. He does not condemn mega churches but warns that building a large church on pragmatic business methods can circumvent biblical disciple-making. He writes, “Pragmatism tends to skip the messy grind of disciple-making for a more untroublesome operation of producing busy churchmen. … But churches powered singularly by a church growth operating system seem to find it impossible to foster effective disciple-making environments … Churches are forced to focus on training volunteer armies, often at the expense of any disciple-making strategies, bringing the church further from her commission.”

Let’s be honest, the same can be said about smaller churches that create programs requiring workers to sustain them even after the program is no longer effective. Church members become, in essence, workers or producers. Without the disciple relationships burnout is inevitable.

Jesus never commanded us to build large churches or small churches. He promised to build His church. Our mission is to make disciples. That can only be done through relationships. It begins with a healthy, personal relationship with Jesus that spills over into our relationships with others who naturally pass it on to their friends.

Simply stated, the church has but one mission: make disciples.

What say you? I anticipate both affirmation but also push back from this blog. If you consider yourself a Done, I would like to hear your story.