Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”
The book concludes with several practical suggestions for how to keep the Dones in church — even to attract them back. We’ve already covered many of them as we worked through the book.
One of particular interest to me is Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). The problem to be solved is the fact that most forms of church aid either create or do nothing to eliminate dependency. If we feed the poor for free — a very good thing — we may encourage the poor to become dependent on our hand outs. Indeed, we may communicate the unintended message that you aren’t able to care for your own family and so you must come to us for help.
Not only do people who are in need wait around for services from people with resources, but agencies and organizations with resources actually create a sense of need simply by supplying the resources. The very act can inadvertently communicate that people in need are incapable or in national surveys and books based on personal observations. The empirical research presented here is even more evidence that churches are perceived to exist primarily to serve their own needs and desires. Churches’ response to this perception is, understandably, to tout the community service efforts they’re engaged in. It’s true that the church is a fundamental source of charity in our society, but when it moves beyond its four walls, it tends to do so on a one-way street. How, then, can the church continue to provide services but at the same time be in ongoing, caring relationships with those in need?
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 2086-2101). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
The solution to dependency is, first, relationship. If I become friends with the people I help, I can see dependency developing and perhaps avoid it. Perhaps I can help my friend learn the skills needed to be independent. I can encourage her to see the value of being self-sufficient — indeed, able to help others.
The same problem arises within a church. If the staff plans everything and provides all the leadership, the members become dependent. They become convinced that they can’t do these things on their own. They need “expert” help to plan events and run ministries.
The asset-based approach starts with a detailed inventory of the strengths of a community. In a church, this means taking the time to sit down with all of the congregants and asking them what they’re good at, what they do in their free time, what gets them out of bed on Saturday mornings when they don’t have to be at work.
For a detailed example of an inventory as well as specific strategies for implementing this approach in a congregation, I highly recommend Luther Snow’s The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts. This book demonstrates how to implement asset-based approaches that engage the Dones and the soon-to-be Dones without alienating the vast majority of congregants who still want the church to provide some fundamental programs and services typically associated with the church.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply account for a congregation’s assets, though there’s great power in that simple act. Assets must be mobilized and utilized. If there’s a commitment to discover assets, there must also be a commitment to collectively utilize those assets in order for the church to truly be shaped by the people who call it home.
In addition, allowing space in a church for the agenda to be driven by people’s skills and talents means giving up some centralized organizational control.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 2101-2112). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
The authors offer this example —
While the survey revealed there was little formal education in the community, it also showed a large pocket of people in several congregations who were gifted, experienced, and well-trained gardeners. These people were finding space in the city to grow substantial amounts of food. Many of them had come from rural backgrounds, and some grew food out of necessity.
Tapping into their skills, we developed an entire curriculum around gardening that involved math, science, and reading. Congregational leaders worked together to coordinate the activity and provide space for the gardens.
Perhaps the most interesting discovery was that congregational leaders had no idea that these were skills that could be mobilized. Of course, they knew there were people in their congregations who gardened, but they didn’t recognize this as an asset.
A telling postscript: When we had first approached the pastors about this project, their common response was that they didn’t have any money to give but that the children in their congregations could sure use some help. By the time I left the project, pastors were reporting higher levels of congregational activity than ever, and several of the congregations were planning more asset mapping to reveal their next big projects.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 2116-2125). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
In this model, people aren’t “plugged in” to an existing program; instead, they’re supported with the full resources of the church to live out their callings. The result is a much more vibrant congregation in which people show up, not because they were cajoled by a volunteer coordinator, but because the things being done, the projects and programs being created, are their projects and programs, drawing on their unique talents and gifts.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 2135-2138). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis in original.)
In other words, rather than beginning with a Pattern with spots to be filled by anyone willing, we envision the church as a body filled with gifts given by the Spirit with great intentionality. The gifts tell us not only what each person should do, but what the church should do. We become Spirit-led rather than trying to be like every other church in our denomination. We reject the franchise model of doing church and go with God’s model instead.
It could work.