by Josh Packard
In our research for Church Refugees, we revealed that the Dones—those who have left church but retain their faith—were some of the most active church members in any congregation before they left. What has continued to surprise and impress me is their level of activity after leaving the institution.
The Dones retain not only their beliefs but also their activity. Many left because the institutional structure of church had become too stifling for them. They simply felt they could not live out their calling and do the work they believed God wanted them to do inside of the church walls. Bogged down by committees, gatekeepers, and an insular approach to service, they felt they were squandering their gifts of time and talent.
Leaving the institution means they are unburdened by those structures, but they are also unsupported by those resources. This makes it all the more interesting to find out what they’re doing once they leave. We have heard countless stories of people being more involved in their local communities, often in groups and organizations that have no religious ties at all.
And they do all of this for deeply religious reasons. They tell us things like what Mariela said: “I don’t GO to church, I AM the church. WE are the church.” And they understand the work they do in their communities as intimately tied to God, faith, and their understanding of church.
As they do these things, they inevitably spend a lot of time with the Nones—people who have no religious affiliation. This is why we say that THE DONES ARE THE BIGGEST BRIDGE TO THE NONES. When they work side by side with no religious agenda, issues of life and faith will inevitably come up. When they do, what do you think the Dones are saying about your church? What would you want them to say?