The Future of the Church, Really? (#507)

steepleThere is a major shift going on in Christianity as many passionate believers are moving away from the traditional congregation looking for a deeper engagement with God and a more fruitful community experience with others. The research on those being called "the Dones" has caught a concerned eye of those running our institutions in hopes of plugging the holes that are causing people to leave. Wayne was invited to share part of his story there and observe their attempts to reform the institutions so people won't be compelled to leave. However, it seemed attention was directed at cosmetic fixes to a failing institution that probably won't help. Brad joins Wayne as he processes his time there and the conversations he had with so many trying to fix the problem with the same human effort solutions that created it in the first place. But even as our misguided human attempts only compound the problem, nonetheless the church Jesus is building arises in the world wherever people embrace his reality.

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  1. Another interesting stat would be how many of those who are still going are fully engaged or are PIBO (present in body only). I think that’s what Thom Schultz called it. Anyway, that’s a box I fit in. Not completely done. Still going, but not engaged.

    I also think it would be better that rather than trying to figure out the “big magic”, churches would do better to just see where they can join the nones, dones, and everybody else in reaching the world. Don’t compete with them or feel like you have to win them back as if all the good in the world is only being done by the Church.

    To Brad’s point about people engaging and not being able to allow others to do as they see fit, it’s actually built into some churches theology that one must be part of a local body. To do otherwise, is to be lost. In fact, it’s kind of built into church history. I just came across this quote from Bonhoeffer earlier this week and as much as I love Bonhoeffer, I feel we’re living a different reality today.

    “Come to church! You can do that of your own free will. You can leave your home on a Sunday morning and come to hear the sermon. If you will not, you are of your own free will excluding yourself from the place where faith is a possibility. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), The Cost of Discipleship, Simon and Schuster, 1959, p. 65

    As for seminary training, for those of us who are more spiritually inclined and even had training in that area, it’s still possible hitting a wall with people who are very much sold on the system and who will resist at every turn attempts to move away from that. So, the battle is to be owned by both parties–clergy and laity alike.

  2. Really enjoyed your conversation Wayne and Brad. You got me thinking along the restaurant and recipe lines…

    There is a coffee shop where I grew up in Northern Ireland that serves the most incredible cinnamon scones. For years my wife and I tried to counterfeit them, but nothing we tried could substitute for the real thing.

    Likewise over the years I have heard many recipes for church growth. As you say they make a certain amount of sense. But somehow, like my scone recipes, they just don’t work. Something is badly missing. Rather than concentrating looking for perfect recipes that are easily replicated to kick start church growth we need to look much deeper.

    Like Brads special chef the real cinnamon scone maker is an extraordinary artisan cook who treats the dough with care and respect in a way I did not. I think my problem was not so much my recipe as my attitude. I was not taking time to use gently mix and kneed the dough with the love and care of the artisan. I was in a hurry with my food processor, wanting a quick, convenient result. Similarly in the church it is not so much what we do but more about our ethos and values It is our way of being, that makes the biggest difference.

    Church is the community of God’s people. The two most important commandments are about loving God and loving one another. This means that our values and beliefs about people are crucial. And everything we do needs to flow from those values. Good ideas/recipes, unless they are founded on love of one another, will always feel a bit hollow.

    So what values might we want to make foundational, and what might flow from those values. Here are some things my colleague and I, from our research and experience have found make a difference:

    Encouraging people to be their unique, authentic selves. To come to community with all their gifts, skills, creativity, questions, doubts and difficulties.
    Believing that each person has something special and unique to offer the Kingdom of God. Something so precious that discovering and nurturing that contribution becomes a key part of what we do.
    There is very broad view of mission, valuing and encompassing all the things we and our brothers and sisters are called by God to do. Including secular work, community engagement, family life and more.
    Taking seriously the fact we are all equal in God’s eyes. All filled with His Spirit. This means everyone is worth listening too. Decision making are widely distributed. Everyone is an equal kingdom stakeholder.
    People are encouraged to think for themselves, take risks, have a go, and learn from mistakes.
    Everyone is actively encouraged to contribute what they believe God may be doing and saying. Vision comes from everyone.
    Leaders don’t direct the show, but rather believe themselves to be coaches catalysts and facilitators.
    Relationship with God is central to everything and everything flows out of that relationship.

    This hugely loving and respectful way of being is massively healing, releasing and creative. It rapidly develops disciples of Jesus and builds a community people will want to engage with and become part of. What’s more it firmly hands responsibility back to disciples themselves for their own life, calling and personal growth. Overly reliant followers no more. Leaders can resign from the need to be multitalented, priority juggling, visionary geniuses. Superhero outfits can now be washed, ironed and put away in the basement and leaders can return to normal human being status.

    Interestingly since my experiments trying to make the cinnamon scones I have been told that the secret recipe has never been written down. The wonderful artisan baker just adds, pours and kneads, taking his time doing what looks and feels right for each individual batch. I’m sure you see the parallels.

    Sean Kennedy
    Author (Church Uncorked), Leadership and Life purpose coach.

  3. The Big Magic? Seriously? Yes, my yuck meter was definitely pegged on that one! It even sounds cult-ish to me.

    Saying that, I also sheepishly admit having done some similar things when I was a worship leader. Although (in partial defense), we didn’t have something every 5 minutes, but had an experiential worship night where people could interact with different activities (at their leisure and were encouraged to take their time) and have the opportunity to see how God speaks in different ways.

    There were activities where people could draw or paint, spend time in prayer & listening to the Lord, participate in corporate singing, and several other activities talking about the work of the Cross and our freedom.

    Even now, I can see how those things can be contrived and how people can think they are “out of the box” yet still in it. These activities might be “out of the norm” maybe, but still within the confines of the religious box.

    Now (even as a former worship leader) it is hard to sit in that environment – mostly because of all I know that goes behind the scenes (time, money, resources) and how little room is left for God to speak and interact with us. Every minute is scheduled and there is no quiet space for God to speak, only constant movement and music. Where, in that busyness, is the Holy Spirit allowed to move and where are we allowed to listen and respond?

    Love the podcast and thanks to you and Brad for your thoughts and conversation.

    Thanks for the authenticity,


  4. Really enjoyed this discussion. Just a comment on the names of groups, you and Brad talked about the none’s and done’s, but trying to come up with a name for those still in the church, how about the shun’s. Since here in the south if you are not in church you are shunned.

  5. I don’t even like the “Dones” and I really don’t like the “Shuns”. We need terms that bring us together and turning our hearts toward God, not terms that tear us apart letting one group think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. 🙂

    • Maybe it’s less about labels and more about just acknowledging people’s journeys. Part of the problem inherent in having Nones, Dones, etc. is that when someone’s experience didn’t jibe with the group, they were pressured, ostracized, alienated etc. and hence the labeling began. The Church labeled us as something, we labeled ourselves and researchers labeled us. I’m sure the labels arose innocently enough based on what people were hearing, like the expression, “I’m done”, and people just picked up on it and said, “Let’s call them the Dones”. That’s all well and good, but labels tend to lead us to shorthand treatment of the group, no matter what it is, “Oh, you’re a Done? Then you must be/believe x”. ‘Oh, you’re a Christian/Mormon/Muslim/conservative/liberal/etc., then you must be/believe x”. In fact, we’re much more complex beings than that. While there are some purists, most of us are not strict adherents right down the line on every point to the labels that have been applied. Maybe someone is Done or None, but is still very spiritual. Maybe they’re just done with the institutional church but not God. But for some, if you’re not in a church, you’re not truly in the faith; you’re backslidden. And all of this is assumed without the privilege of an in-depth conversation to really get to know where a person is in their life. That takes time and tolerance, whereas labels are easy and quick. Then we can just dismiss one another and move on. :/

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