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.”
Chapter 3 deals with the frustration of mature members with church bureaucracy. Now, in the Churches of Christ, Baptist Churches, and in other autonomously governed congregations, there is no denominational structure that interferes with local work (the Southern Baptist Convention is voluntary and exercises no control over the local church). Nonetheless, many churches so centralize management that members can’t find a way to use their talents for the Kingdom within their local church.
The authors interviewed a departed member they call Daniel —
Daniel recognized that no organization can exist without structure, but he still found people’s potential being stymied by the demands of the organization. Furthermore, he found it counter to his understanding of Jesus.
Daniel’s frustration with organizations can be confirmed empirically. Sociologically, we know from over a century of studying these kinds of organizations that at some point, the bureaucracy takes over, and much activity in the organization ends up being geared toward its survival.
… They weren’t frustrated by the existence of structure; they were frustrated when they felt the structure actively prevented them from doing the work they felt called to do. They were frustrated when they found themselves constantly and solely working to keep the organization going.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 870-877). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
All of these data have convinced me that there is a truly sizable subset of congregants, and the recently dechurched, who desire to be active participants in a community of believers but aren’t willing to be the mouthpiece of someone else’s vision. They want to be able to make meaningful decisions and participate as equals in their communities. Too often, they say, church staff and pastors are willing to empower lay leaders, paid staff, and volunteers to do meaningless, mundane, and unfulfilling work while the senior pastor retains all of the authority and ability to make creative, meaningful decisions on behalf of the congregation.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1017-1022). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis added.)
This can be a problem even in fairly small, autonomous churches. If the leadership refuses to let the members participate in leadership, leaders will leave and go where they can be of value to the Kingdom. It’s not about desiring power but about being able to serve using the gifts God has given the members.
Even the smallest church has small groups and/or Bible classes. If those are run by the staff or the elders without meaningful member participation, then not only has the church stifled leadership development, the leadership has cut the congregation out of participating in decisions that affect their lives. That is, if you want to form a spiritual community, you have to let the members do more than just show up and attend. True community allows God’s Spirit to work through all the members, not just those with titles.
On the other hand, obviously, the church needs organization and structure. But the purpose of the organization and structure is to equip and empower the members to use their gifts in service for the Kingdom. Hence, the role of the elders and ministers should be as much about about equipping and empowering others rather than making all the decisions.
There is, however, a very important limitation. The idea is to equip and empower within the congregational vision. Any group of people can spin off more ideas than it has time or resources to accomplish. Not every idea can be pursued. The leadership would very appropriately limit initiatives to the church’s vision — and the church’s resources — without stifling creativity.
Then again, always be open to the Spirit’s leading. Sometimes a new initiative comes along that can redefine the church’s vision — and this can be a very good thing. Don’t let the vision shut your eyes to the Spirit’s work. But don’t go running in 20 directions at once, either. Just be ready to make a course correction when the Spirit opens new opportunities for your church.
Certainly there are some organizational forms and practices that resist these tendencies better than others, but the way most churches are organized, as relatively centralized hierarchies, matches what William articulates. These same principles dominate organizations of any kind, whether in the field of religion, politics, or for-profit companies. With regard to religion specifically, though, these organizational practices can be especially damaging. Churches are generally thought to be a place where people come together in community. Bureaucracy and hierarchy inherently undermine that purpose.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1057-1061). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.