In the coming days, I plan to release a new Kindle edition of a book I wrote a few years ago. My new title is Done With Church: A Guide to Following Jesus Outside of Organized Religion.
OK, OK … I can see the question marks over your heads and above your puzzled brows. Am I encouraging people to leave the church? Am I advocating for the decline of local congregations?
No, absolutely not. If I were urging people to leave the church, I would be — literally — biting the hand that feeds me!
Instead, I am trying to encourage and comfort the large numbers of people across the country who have left church out of disillusionment. A sociologist recently published an article in Christianity Today in which he dubbed these people, “The Dones,” because they are done with church. According to the article, these Dones were highly active in their churches and didn’t want to leave, but felt stifled and disappointed by church structure. They dropped out, and have no plans to return.
I’ve met lots of people like this in my ministry. The reasons for leaving range from disappointment with church leaders to no longer believing church doctrine to perceiving the church is anti-gay or anti-female. Lots of people have been hurt by the church, and they are understandably reluctant to return.
In my book, I speak directly to the Dones. I acknowledge their pain and frustration, and admit that I have felt it myself. I don’t try to “win them back” to the church. Instead, I offer them a new way forward, a path that creates authentic community in a smaller setting, focused on the things that really matter.
The truth is being a member of a denominational church in a traditional church building is only one way to be a faithful follower of Jesus. There are other ways to follow Jesus, and I have seen a lot of these ways in my life. For example, I have met people who live in intentional Christian community together, or who gather for prayer and conversation on weekday evenings in bars. They do “church” in a different way, but it’s still “church.”
The only way you can’t be an effective follower of Jesus, however, is BY YOURSELF. You can’t walk this journey of faith alone. That’s why my book advocates a relationship-based approach to following Jesus. You can’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian.”
I understand why some people are done with church, I really do. I still hold out hope for the institutional model; I think the way we do church still has value and meaning.
But we must keep in mind that the way we do church is not meaningful to everyone.
After I wrote the first edition of the book several years ago, I was contacted by someone who was a teenager at one of my first churches. She sent me a message on Facebook after reading the book, part of which read:
“I wanted you to know that I purchased your book a little while back but hadn't had the time to really read it. Last week I just felt like I need some perspective or reassurance or something so I picked up and read it! After the first 5 pages I felt like you wrote this book for ME and for this moment in time. I ended up highlighting quite a few paragraphs while I read. It really did banish guilt and gave me a bright and new perspective. I'm still figuring out what direction I want to take things as a whole but I'm definitely a huge step closer. I really want to thank you for writing this book. It spoke to me in a way I really needed in the here and now.”
That’s why I wrote the book. It may not be for you, it’s for the Dones. If you know any, point them to my book … coming soon.