What to Do with Dones, Nones, and Church-Skippers

What should we do about “dones,” “nones,” and church-skippers? Should we treat them as wayward souls who should be won back to the church, give them lectures about why their decision is wrong? That is exactly what Carey Nieuwhof has done in a response to Christians who are done with church.

Why Attitude Matters

Nieuwhof makes a great (on-paper) attempt at acknowledging all the reasons why people leave. But then the real colors show forth.

I get it.

The church is far from perfect. Life is complex. There are growing options. And the post-modern mind distrusts most things organized or institutional.

These words come across like a parent dismissing everything that a child says through her deepest sobs: “I get it … and we have had this discussion fourteen times! But the answer is still no, because I said so!” Is the reader supposed to think that Nieuwhof loves them very much and still has good news for them after this?

Then, Nieuwhof delivers the kick to anyone who is done with church.

But as trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake.

Who said the idea was trendy? The fact that a lot of people do something doesn’t always make it trendy. Nieuhof indicates an affiliation with a leadership podcast. What happened to the idea of listening to those you lead? Where I come from, if you are losing people, it indicates that you might need to hear them out.

As for being a mistake, that may or may not be. I will return to this point. I am simply not convinced that Nieuwhof has a genuine understanding of this population.

A Word to Leaders

Church leaders have become so afraid that people are simply looking for something that suits their fancy that we are sometimes afraid to hear the wisdom that comes from the people who have been wounded in our midst. Assuming that we know other people’s hearts and minds is bad practice. Unless we have been through a similar struggle, we had better tread carefully when attempting to restore others. (Gal. 6:1-2) And if we have been through a similar struggle, that should be fodder for encouragement, not parental scolding during a time of pain.

In ancient times, David was approached by a prophet with a severe message. Suppose that a rich man and a poor man lived near each other. The rich man had many animals, and the poor man had only one. He loved it very much and even slept with it. A traveler came to town and demanded a sacrifice from the rich man. The rich man gave up none of his animals but took the animal from the poor man.

David got very angry and said, “I will kill this man.” And Nathan said, “You are the man.”

Sometimes we do this to people spiritually. We do not make our own spiritual sacrifices; but we take what little another person has, throw it on the ground, and trample it in the name of our cherished traditions. And we wonder why they don’t come back for more.

What is Happening at Church?

Another article I read today, The Selfishness of Skipping Church, blames the problems of society on believers who skip church, claiming that such believers are “cold and lifeless” and placing them in the same category as those who attend and leave immediately after the service is over. The article goes on to claim that people have a misunderstanding of the reason for attending church, citing Hebrews 10:24-25. These verses speak of the importance of meeting together for mutual encouragement.

I have to ask, what is not happening at church that should be? Is it the fault of the skippers or the leavers? Why are we bringing down the hammer on the disillusioned instead of listening to them? Chances are very good that they have spent time trying to be part of the solution, but we have not perceived.

A Word From a Church-Skipping Believer

I am a person who takes breaks from church from time to time. Every word of the two articles I referenced above wrenched my soul. Why? It is not because I deserve the rebuke. It is because in the case of the first article, I felt the dismissive nature of the comments like a knife through my heart. In the case of the second, I have referenced Hebrews 10 in my own discussions with churchgoers.

For many years, I have wrestled with questions about why I have continued to attend church despite very painful experiences. Church is often a place where I do not feel I participate in mutual encouragement. Other people sometimes tell me that they feel encouraged by my presence. What they mean is that they feel inspired by seeing a blind woman bravely leave her home and get out and about because they do not feel they would have the emotional fortitude to face blindness in this manner.

I do not bravely get out and leave my home in spite of blindness. I have been blind since infancy. I have learned to cope with it most of the time. I might like to talk about it once in a while; but doing so requires being in a relationship where the other person understands that my whole life is not controlled by blindness.

There are many things about my life that may be known and about which I might need encouragement. Most people are not familiar with my life because they are busy assuming that getting out of my home requires bravery and that I do not have any awareness of where I am in the world unless someone assists me. This type of perception reduces me to a childlike existence in which I do not have the ability to relate in a manner that can be mutually encouraging.

I was raised in a family with strong faith; and during my turbulent adolescence, adults taught me that faith could strengthen me in times of trouble. I learned to forgive people who wounded me as Jesus forgave those who wounded him. I also learned that the Holy Spirit empowered me to overcome my own tendency to act based on my wounded nature.

My struggle with the Church begins here. Many of my conversations become stuck at the point where the other person claims that the Church is full of wounded people, and we must all exercise grace for each other’s woundedness.

It is true that the Church is full of wounded people; and it is true that we must show grace for each other’s woundedness. However, if all of us are busy remaining in our places of woundedness instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to overcome that woundedness, then the Church is no better place than the world. How can we mutually encourage one another if we all go to church wearing our selfish hearts? It is no wonder that people leave. If we want them back, the first thing we must do is change our own selves–and we cannot limit the change to what happens on Sunday morning. The change must be so radiant that we are the people the nones, dones, and skippers want to be around–all the time.

Why do I skip church? Not because I can get just as much spiritual food online–although I am grateful to have the option. If we want to criticize the ability to self-feed, then we should also criticize personal Bibles. No one had a personal Bible in Jesus’ day. The Church needed to assemble not only for mutual encouragement but also in order to hear the reading of Scripture and be taught. I can’t imagine any pastor criticizing a person for choosing to engage in personal Bible study! In fact, we encourage it!

I take breaks for my own self, on days when I do not have the emotional readiness to engage in mutual encouragement–days when my countenance would be a hindrance to the upbuilding of the body of Christ. If such behavior is worthy to be considered selfish, or cause a person to be treated like a child for failing to show up, then I stand amazed at the spiritual deafness among church members.

Is skipping church a mistake? That depends on how you look at it. Would it be a mistake for a person to come to church and confess all the pain and anger that was built up inside, pain and anger that is directed toward the church? I have seen it happen. No one went home feeling encouraged that day. People gathered around the individual and prayed, and a couple of people promised to attempt to do better at forming relationships. But nothing changed over the long term.

Staying home is never an easy decision. Going back is never an easy decision. Every decision is considered with great pain. Staying home does not mean that I give up my faith. It is a part of who I am, and I desire greatly to share in deep fellowship with others. That happens very rarely. Even when I sit in church with others, blindness is almost always a barrier whether I wish it to be or not. Nothing would please me more than for people to ignore it and learn to fellowship in the faith we have in common.

If there is one thing I would say to the Church, it is this. Why do you not make active effort to call to mind those who are absent, to befriend them? The power of an encourager to heal a wounded countenance can never be overstated. I am not speaking about telephone ministries to check on newcomers. People see right through this type of ministry for what it is. I am speaking of making a personal attempt to remember to make contact outside those walls. This is the one thing that will change the experience of fringe members and enable your church to become a community. And it has the power to change the world we live in.

A Final Word

The last thing I will say is that much biblical ministry never happened in a church. It happened outside. If you find yourself upset because of the number of people who are not coming to church, and you are tempted to judge them as cold and lifeless, I caution you. Are they caring for the sick? Are they feeding the hungry? Are they doing anything that shares good news or shows mercy? Or have you closed yourself away from them until they come back to church, and does this closure actually prevent you from knowing how they live their life? If you do not know, then do not judge, because the same measure that you use will be used for you.

Recommended Reading

Close to 60 percent of young people who went to church as teens drop out after high school. Now the bestselling author of unChristian trains his researcher’s eye on these young believers. Where Kinnaman’s first book unChristian showed the world what outsiders aged 16-29 think of Christianity, You Lost Me shows why younger Christians aged 16-29 are leaving the church and rethinking their faith.

Based on new research, You Lost Me shows pastors, church leaders, and parents how we have failed to equip young people to live “in but not of” the world and how this has serious long-term consequences. More importantly, Kinnaman offers ideas on how to help young people develop and maintain a vibrant faith that they embrace over a lifetime.

Many mainline churches today have members (both laity and clergy) who find it a problem to speak face-to-face about God. This creative book offers a theological foundation, practical suggestions, and a positive model for sharing faith. Ben Campbell Johnson combines evangelism and spiritual guidance in order to provide a fresh image and a new style of faith sharing. He gives a model of spiritual direction that offers a positive, attractive way of doing face-to-face evangelical work.

A 2001 Christianity Today Book of the Year! What will the church be next? CHANGE IS NOW. Competition from nontraditional and Eastern religions join with the pressures of both modernism and postmodernism to squeeze Christianity. While new church models have sprung up to meet these challenges, they each have strengths and limitations. Eddie Gibbs, a well-known church strategist and practitioner, candidly analyzes these models while proposing nine areas in which the church will need to transform to be biblically true to its message and its mission to the world. With vigor and insight Gibbs shows how we can move

  • from living in the past to engaging the present
  • from being market driven to being mission oriented
  • from following celebrities to encountering saints
  • from holding dead orthodoxy to nurturing living faith
  • from attracting a crowd to seeking the lost

Here is a book that brings together deep understanding of the quantum shifts taking place in our culture along with concrete suggestions for implementing a proactive mission strategy.

Now a modern classic, Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church provides a comprehensive look at the ways the first Christians — from the New Testament period up until the middle of the third century — worked to spread the good news to the rest of the world.

In describing life in the early church, Green explores crucial aspects of the evangelistic task that have direct relevance for similar work today, including methods, motives, and strategies. He assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the evangelistic approaches used by the earliest Christians, and he also considers the obstacles to evangelism, using outreach to Gentiles and to Jews as examples of differing contexts for proclamation. Carefully researched and frequently quoting primary sources from the early church, this book will both show contemporary readers what can be learned from the past and help renew their own evangelistic vision.

Most people think of evangelism as something an individual does–one person talking to one or more other people about the gospel. Bryan Stone, however, argues that evangelism is the duty and call of the entire church as a body of witness. Evangelism after Christendom explores what it means to understand and put to work evangelism as a rich practice of the church, grounding evangelism in the stories of Israel, Jesus, and the Apostles. This thorough treatment is marked by an astute sensitivity to the ways in which Christian evangelism has in the past been practiced violently, intentionally or unintentionally. Pointing to exemplars both Protestant and Catholic, Stone shows pastors, professors, and students how evangelism can work nonviolently.

While nearly half of Americans identify themselves with a fundamentalist brand of religion, and a sizable minority has rejected religion altogether, there is a vast middle ground. This book is aimed at that huge group of people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. In other words, people who are open to encountering the divine and the transcendent, and indeed actively seek these experiences. The authors help readers improve their understanding of the religious nature of the psyche, the origins of myths and religions in the collective unconscious, and the ways in which organized religion has often worked to infantilize its followers. They leave the reader with an empowered ability to claim his or her own spiritual authority and lead a more abundant, authentic life.

Many of those who have left organized religion have done so because it has hurt them in some way or because it failed to address their needs, yet they maintain a strong yearning to reconnect with the divine and transcendent level of human existence. As religious fundamentalism continues to influence so much of our national discourse, and as atheistic books rank high on bestseller lists, the time has never been more crucial for a book to address a third way between fundamentalism and atheism – a way that encourages readers to connect with their true religious nature, while at the same time maintaining their intellectual integrity and claiming their own authority. McGehee and Thomas offer that third way.

Why are there so many more professing Christians than churchgoing Christians? Is it because something is wrong with the church? Perhaps that’s part of the picture. But Philip Yancey insists there is another part. In this candid, thought-provoking account, he reveals the reasons behind his own journey back from skepticism to wholehearted participation in the church, and weighs the church’s human failings against its compelling excellencies as the body of Christ.

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.


About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

One comment:

  1. It’s hard when people think of our disability or difference first but that’s about them they are coming from a place where they think of themselves and that they would think it was so horrible if they were blind or if they couldn’t walk or even stand that’s where I think this comes out of it’s really not about us at least most of the time in my opinion it’s about how they themselves think they couldn’t deal with such things

    I used to go to church weekly for many years without fail (About six) and then I started having problems because of PTSD and other issues I didn’t go to church for about five years and it was very hard because hardly anybody stayed in touch with me or even asked or I should say called to ask why I wasn’t coming to church all the sudden it was hard to even give an explanation when people did ask I was very lonely in those years but I knew I was in no shape to be there I’m glad I am back now

    I don’t know if this is going to even make sense and I know it wasn’t the point of your post but when I think of drones and church what I think of a lot of times are when people ask how I am and they immediately say they will pray for me and start saying all these Bible verses and how great God is I feel like sometimes when this happens that the person didn’t even listen to what I said they just automatically launched in to their spiel it makes me feel unheard and I feel like it’s a way for lots of people (Not all of course) to dismiss me and move on with their day and it hurts sometimes

    I was born with cerebral palsy I can deal with it the best of all it’s not who I am it doesn’t define me believe me I understand your frustration about people defining you as a blind person instead of a person who happens to be blind most people do not think there’s much of a difference in the way that worded but I understand that the difference is huge

    The last thing I want to say is I love it when a friend invites me somewhere and forgets that I wouldn’t be able to get around because of steps or on accessible bathroom etc. because those are the people that I know really know who I am they don’t see my chair sticking out like a sore thumb they see the person that I am and look past the chair I hope that makes sense

    I just wanted to let you know that I dictate most everything by Voice I hope it doesn’t bother you too much that I don’t use punctuation and a lot of times don’t catch my mistakes

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