by Josh Packard
Last week, Group released the results of a national survey of Dones (Exodus of the Religous Dones) that we’ve been working on. This survey is the first to put a solid number to the total number of Dones in America. The release of the report is welcome news for all of us who are trying to understand this phenomenon and the shape of our current religious landscape. It provides the most in-depth statistical look at who the Dones are and what their motivations were for leaving. It’s really the perfect companion for the book Church Refugees (also available on Amazon).
Personally, I’m thrilled that I now have an answer to the question I get asked most: “How many Dones are there?” This survey puts the total at just over 30 million Americans. Understanding that the issue of the Dones is one of this magnitude should be incredibly helpful for academics looking to understand our religion in the modern world. And it should be helpful for people who run large church organizations and denominations who are trying to decide where to spend limited church resources.
But those aren’t the people who ask that question most. The people who usually inquire about the quantity of the Dones are actually local pastors and church workers. When they ask, I try to turn the question back on them. When they ask, “How big is this issue? How many Dones are there actually?” I say, “Well, how many can you think of in YOUR congregation? If you’re really honest with yourself, how many people can you think of from your own church who fit the description?” If the answer is five, then the relevant size of the population is five. If they can think of 12 people, then it’s 12.
I’m not trying to be rude, but when local pastors are overly concerned with national figures and statistics, it actually underscores the points that many Dones are making in their accounts about why they left. They long for a more relational, intimate, and personal church. They want an engaged community, not an institution. They are worried about how the church is engaging with their friends and family—people they know at very deep levels.
Statistics are great, and they certainly have their place. As a social scientist, I use, produce, and report them all the time. But statistics can often distract us from the most important things going on at very local levels.
For those of you reading this who are pastors or church workers, who can you name among the Dones? What could you do this week to re-establish a relationship with these people and support them wherever they are?