Church Refugees: Conversation, Part 3

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.”

I found this observation about the power of expectation deeply insightful —

The primary force determining the level of participation in any environment is expectation. For example, when we walk into Target, we expect there to be organized shelves of products for sale and people who are working to help us complete our purchases. We aren’t expecting to walk in and make the things we want from scratch. People aren’t sewing clothes at Target. People aren’t making their own lawn furniture. And the people working there would never expect their customers to act that way. Imagine how bizarre it would be if someone walked into a Target and started building his own toaster.

On the other hand, think of our homes. I don’t even want to think about the “conversation” my wife and I would have if I walked in the door of my house and treated it like a Target, expecting everything to be done and made for me, ready to consume. Home isn’t solely a place of consumption; it’s a production site as well. If we want food, we have to make it. If something breaks, we fix it. If we want a room painted, we paint it. Our organizational resources at home are configured much more differently than organizational resources are at Target, and these configurations help to shape our expectations.

Well, what kind of organizational expectations do we have of our churches? Are they set up more like Target or like home? Do our churches produce a product to be consumed, or are they sites where the people who walk in the door are themselves producers and makers?

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1604-1614). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

If I join a mega-church, I don’t expect to get my own pew and I don’t expect to have a veto over every decision. In a small church, where I grew up and have volunteered for years, I may well expect my very own pew and the right to be consulted before the foyer is repainted. Expectations matter — and they differ from church to church.

The authors relate how they consulted with a church that had trouble getting members to volunteer. They asked how the leaders spent their time. Well, they spent 100 hours per week on the assembly — where the members would act like consumers at Target! No wonder the members didn’t volunteer. The culture of the church was directed almost entirely at serving the members.

If the leadership team truly wanted people to be more participatory, the church needed to be more like home, where everyone is expected to contribute.

And this is precisely what the dechurched want. …

But if you care about the dechurched, then make part of your structure function more like home. Support it with time, money, and other institutional resources, and don’t try to package it or control it.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1636-1637, 1641-1642). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Here’s the key: stop doing things for the members that they can do for themselves. Allow them to participate in key decisions. Give them leadership roles — with real empowerment. Invest time and training in them.

Tell your ministers that their job is to help the elders equip the members for ministry (Eph 4 is quite clear). And when the ministers refuse because it’s so much easier to do it themselves, rebuke them, and insist that they do their actual jobs — which is to equip the members and not to do their work for them.

Create a culture of membership participation in key decisions. Use surveys, focus groups, business meetings, whatever it takes to let the church be involved in its own decision making.

Delegate. Delegate. Delegate.

Talk to your members. Don’t just listen to people who buttonhole you in the hallway. Proactively solicit input — face to face.

Take members to lunch and talk church. Visit small groups and classes and ask for input. Make sure that the members feel that their input is not only allowed but desired.

Make decisions after the membership has been consulted — and let the church know that you’ve done this. Don’t just set services at X o’clock. Announce that you set services based on the most favored time chosen by the members in response to your survey.

Use technology to make surveys easier — and to make it easier for you to tally and report the results. (There’s an app for that.)

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Church Refugees: Conversation, Part 3

  1. Mark says:

    All this hearkens back to one concept, inclusion. Perhaps we should step back and ask who is a Christian and who is a church member. The former is easier and simpler to define though can be based on the age at baptism and the method and formula used. The latter is harder to define and can involve litmus tests on everything from how long one has been in a church (not years but number of generations), secular political leanings, gender, race, age, marital status, etc. These limiters are part of why people feel excluded from first-class membership.

  2. Alabama John says:

    Ever baptized a person without knowing what church if any they had been a part of or which one they would be going to afterward?
    I have.

  3. John F says:

    AJ- “Ever baptized a person without knowing what church if any they had been a part of or which one they would be going to afterward?
    I have.”

    So have I — we both went on our way rejoicing. If we cannot trust the Spirit of God to transform the penitent into conforming into the image of Christ, we are ALL in serious trouble.

  4. Ray Downen says:

    A problem is that some people might claim to have been baptized when in fact they were not baptized. Surely it would be best to try to help the convert get in touch with A church, even if not your own.

  5. Alabama John says:

    Ray,
    in the end, we all are responsible for our own sins. Surely lying about being baptized would be one and I cannot figure out why anyone would want to do that. What would be the purpose?

    Many times there is just not enough time for everything to be told, but just time to tell enough that they ask “here is water what prevents me from being baptized” or words to that effect.Then either they are or not and we move on, but, I agree if we knew where they were going and when, to recommend a church nearby if we knew of one off the top of our head would be the right thing to do.

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