According to sociologist, Josh Packard, in his scrupulously researched book, Church Refugees, there are currently 65,000,000 individuals in the USA who are “done” with church, 30.5 MM of those, retaining their “faith,” the balance having no “faith affiliation.”
The nones and dones are not rebellious, wounded, bitter, Absaloms, Jezebels, and heretics as they are so often caricatured. They are often the best, the brightest, the finest, most faithful, and the most committed to Christ–those who take their faith very seriously. There are another 7,000,000 “on their way” to being done for a total of 72,000,000 nones and dones.
In the United States, there are also approximately 65,000,000 believers who self-identify as being part of an organized church.
Thirty to fifty percent of those who confess Christ in the USA, are DONE with “church,” (organized, institutional religion) or soon will be.
In the light of the number of nones and dones, is not some self-reflection in leadership in order rather than common responses of self-defensiveness, excuses, rationalizations, self-justifications, program-tweaking, accusations, and labeling of everyone who leaves as “having a problem with authority” and other slanderous labels? I propose that thinking 30-65,000,000 people are all rebels, missing God, and “outside of His will,” to be a preposterous, and outlandish proposition. It is grounded in hubris, because of issues of ego, money, control, and power that make self-reflection impossible. It is a form of religious bondage, blindness, and commitment to the status quo.
Could it not be that maybe there is something fundamentally out of whack in our beliefs, values, methods, and what we have been calling “church” and “leadership” in the west for a very, very long time? Could it not be that 30-65,000,000 folks might have a point or two worth considering? Is labeling, black-listing, and scapegoating them an appropriate response? Could it not be that God, by the Holy Spirit, is trying to say something to, and in, existing structures about core beliefs and values, and is He is not finding a welcome reception?
If you or I owned a business (and alas, church is often too much like a business) and 30-50% or more of our customers vanished, would we blame our customers? Of course not. We would examine our product, services, and market to identify something that has gone very awry. We would not be passive. We would panic. If we lost 30-50% of our client base, we would not fine tune or try to tweak this or that. We would not resort to gimmicky quick fixes. We would not dally around the perimeters of our operation, changing fringe features. We would do a thorough and deep assessment of our operation from top to bottom.
Only in the dysfunctional world of religious Christianity would these eminently reasonable actions in the face of evidence not be considered. We try to tweak existing structures, values and methods to try to be more “generationally relevant.” We try contemporary worship. We try fixing or amending this or that program, not realizing that all these efforts are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic: the ship is sinking. We fixate on changing methodology, never considering our message, values, beliefs, structures, and ethics may need a tuneup, overhaul, or jettisoning.
Only in the dysfunctional world of religious Christianity do we accuse those we are supposed to be serving and pretend that everything is just fine. God forbid that there might be something wrong with our paradigms particularly as they relate to leadership.
Steve, are you saying God is not at work in those self-identified as associated with organized churches ? No I am not. God can use anything, any one, any time, any where. However, we must not confuse the reach of His redemptive goodness with His approbation of those structures into which His redemptive goodness reaches. There is a difference between what His grace can do with what He is given, and the motion in history of the people of God. There are lots of good, wonderful, and faithful people selflessly toiling away, some very effectively, in very bad systems and constructs.
Daniel was effective in Babylon. Joseph did fine in Egypt. Jesus was not hindered by Jerusalem, nor Paul by Rome. But that is not saying God was endorsing any of the contexts and systems His servants were in. If we are divinely assigned to a context, that context should not define nor limit our love, power, nor service. If it does, that does not say much about the potency of either our love, power, or service, or perhaps we missed our assignment. However, there were once thriving apostolic churches in the cities of Asia Minor. Where are they today? Gone. God’s faithfulness and goodness of the moment guarantees no organization or association of believers an indefinite future.
I am saying that in the face of such overwhelming facts presented in Packard’s book, the very least leaders in the Christian establishment (for lack of a better term), on whatever size, scale, shape, or form it manifests can do is some self-reflection rather than scapegoating others.
Let me cut off the: “Why the worry, God will always have His church” voices out there. Of course He will. The real church is eternal, unstoppable, and victorious. God’s church is going forward, and God will always have his bride. That is not the point. The issue is twofold:
- The use of guilt, shame, shunning, black-balling, ostracizing, and slander of those departed and the pain and damage it causes people. These things are not of Christ’s kingdom.
- Assuming that myself personally, or the organization, entity, or structure that I am part of is automatically included in that overcoming church, and that the organization is guaranteed perpetuity, because it is “God’s church.” Not necessarily. If more evidence is required, one need only visit Europe and see the ghostly shells of once vibrant churches littering major cities and churches that have been converted to mosques in those same cities.
Lastly, to address the inevitable voices out there that will try to say that we should ignore all this and only “love” and “not speak negatively about the church,” or that blogs that this are “tearing down the body of Christ,” and so forth, I quote here my friend, John Matthews of Kelowna, BC:
1. It is important for people to understand the difference between the Church (every follower of Jesus the Christ throughout all time) and the institution frequently called “church” (the human hierarchical institution consisting of many denominations and organizations that usually meets in a building and claims to follow Jesus the Christ). They are not the same thing.
2. Everyone who frequents the institution called “church” and assumes the label “Christian” is not necessarily a follower of Jesus the Christ and therefore not necessarily a “brother or sister.”
3. Pointing out the above distinctions and challenging the associated behaviors or practices of the institution or individuals does not make you unforgiving, someone who “hates your brother,” or does not love the Body of Christ.
4. It is possible to love the Church while not loving the “church.”
Take the time to understand these issues because you will be challenged on one or more of them if you claim to be a Jesus follower.
For more commentary and an insightful video clip along this line see: http://godsleader.com/tired-of-being-a-church-tweaker/
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