by Josh Packard
My Lutheran friends will remember that the last Sunday in October was Reformation Sunday, commemorating Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was a move that ultimately started the Reformation. While I don’t think that the movement of people leaving religious institutions will be on the same scale as the Reformation, I think it is the right time to pause and reflect on what changes are coming for the institutional church.
The powers that ruled religion in Martin Luther’s day never suspected that a single priest could launch a revolution, and they were wrong to ignore him and the people he represented. I think something similar is happening with the Dones. There have been a few church leaders who have dismissed this research, but the pastors and leaders who are truly in touch with their congregations understand the issue of the Dones because they have experienced it. They feel the change in their congregations when people leave, and they know the impact of that loss in a very real and tangible way.
This was made so clear to me last week when I had the opportunity to share about Church Refugees and the Dones at Group’s annual Future of the Church Summit. It was an honor to share the panel stage with Wayne Jacobsen and Andrea Syverson. It was really great to be able to hear their perspectives mixed in with my own data, and it made the issue of people leaving the institutional church much more real and tangible.
This was my second time attending Future of the Church, and both times I have been struck by just how much people in the church truly care about their own congregations and the whole of Christendom. Not once have I even gotten the hint of ego or people only looking out for themselves or their own careers. I continue to be amazed at the level of authentic belief and self-sacrifice that I see among our church leaders.
It has been those interactions at Future of the Church and other places where I’ve been invited to speak and give workshops that have given me hope throughout this last year. I see people really grappling with how to best come alongside those who have left the church so they can assist them and learn from them. And when that happens, I see a glimpse of what the future of “church” might look like, not just the future of the institutional church.
The future of the church from that perspective doesn’t look like wholesale revolution as in Martin Luther’s day, but instead looks like new relationships formed through affirmation, reconciliation, and empathy. The future of the church, as long as the dedicated and devoted people I met are still working in it and for it, looks vibrant and dynamic. I for one am excited to see what’s coming, and it’s all because of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with over this past year.