The rise of the dones — done with church, that is

Apr 28, 2015 by

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One of the fastest growing religious groups in Canada today is the nones. These are people who, when asked if they have a religious preference, say “none.”

Church_For_Sale_IMG_4596_WebSizeBut there’s another group that is also gaining numbers. It’s called the dones. These are people, mostly Christians, who still strongly identify with their faith — but are “done” with going to church services.

Someone doing research on this group is sociologist Josh Packard, author of the book Church Refugees and head of the Dechurched Project at the University of Northern Colorado.

According to Packard, the dones used to be some of the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. But now they are tired of going through the same motions every Sunday, whether that’s liturgy or four songs and a sermon.

Speaking of sermons, many are through with them, too. As one person said: “I’m tired of being lectured to.”

For some, it’s being done with the seemingly never ending business of trying to keep the organization of the church alive. “I just kept thinking that Jesus has to be bigger than subcommittees,” said one.

For others, it’s a desire to be more engaged outside the church. “Now that we’re out we have time and energy to spend on our community,” said another of their volunteering.

Last year the Barna group, a U.S. organization that researches faith and culture in that country, published a list of reasons why people say they are done with the church.

What did people tell them? They find church to be 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 happening in Canada, too. Winnipegger Doug Koop wrote about it last summer for the Canadian evangelical magazine Faith Today.

In his column he noted that many of his 50-something peers 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.”

Ontario pastor and blogger, Carey Nieuwhof, has also given thought to this phenomenon, writing a post titled “Ten Reasons Even Committed Christians Are Attending Church Less Often.”

Among the reasons he suggests why some Christians are going to church less frequently are: the general busyness of life, the ability for people to access whatever they want to know about theology on their phones, and a failure to see a direct benefit from attending services.

He also cites the disappearance of guilt. There was a time, he says, 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.”

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I see it happening in more and more churches. Maybe it’s happening in yours, too.

Or perhaps you, yourself, are one of the dones.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank. He blogs at onfaithcanada.blogspot.ca, where this first appeared.


Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.