If I could give one piece of advice to Christian congregations, it might be this – empower the leadership of the Almost-Dones.
Who am I talking about?
I’m talking about the people who are on the verge of leaving the congregational community.
I don’t mean the people who threaten to leave in a manipulative way – “If I don’t get my way about such-and-such small detail, I’m leaving this church and taking my pledge dollars with me!” (we know that can harm the community) — but instead, I mean the people who have given their departure some thought and deliberation.
I’m talking about people who agonize over potentially leaving. . .
- They don’t want to leave the community, but they keep considering it because they long for a different vision, particularly one that connects with local neighbors through justice, shared mission, and relationships of respect. Their thoughts of departure are not a manipulative ploy but a genuine calling. They experience their congregation as insular and become discouraged, recognizing that their church is concerned almost solely with the needs of its own members, growing its own membership roles, and expanding its own pledges and financial endowments. They begin to consider if they might follow the calling of Jesus more faithfully outside of that insular, institutional structure.
- Or they consider leaving because their congregation is causing deep harm to them or people they love. Their relationships bear the weight of pain through judgment, shame, injustice, gossip, scapegoating, or attempts to spread false information. Often, after first pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation, if things don’t shift, these people find themselves in a painful dilemma. They would prefer to stay in relationship, but facing continued harm, they rightly consider a departure as the only way to preserve their spiritual and emotional health.
Maybe you’ve heard about the Dones? This is a sociological buzzword these days to describe Christians who have left congregations for these very reasons. These types of experiences are happening more regularly.
So I wonder what would happen if the Almost-Dones were asked to lead and were empowered to initiate actual changes?
As you might guess from what I wrote above, I’m not interested to empower the leadership of the Almost-Dones for insular reasons – so they can stay on the membership rolls and continue to add their pledge dollars. Instead, more vitally, I believe these Christians can lead us toward visions and expressions of Church that are more faithful, connectional, and relationally supportive.
What if these Christians were empowered lead their congregations out into the neighborhoods with justice, shared mission, relationships, and respect?
What if the people who have experienced harm inside the Church were heard and respected when they named that harm truthfully for what it is? On their own terms and at their own initiative?
That leadership and that truth would transform our communities.
I also recommend reading Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why Some Are DONE With Church But Not Their Faith by Joshua Packard and Ashleigh Hope. Packard and Hope coined the term ‘the Dones’ to describe Christians who left congregational settings for reasons like the ones above. They conducted in-depth interviews with about 100 participants as part of a sociological qualitative research study. Their results impacted my thinking in this post.