You’re probably familiar with the concern that it addresses. Many a conference and book have been supplied to try to explain a lack of church growth in America. But the thing that makes this article so different is that it identifies a particular group of people, called “the Dones,” who were previously active, leading, serving, and faithful congregants.
The Dones, Schultz points out, are in many cases the “best” of the church. Furthermore, the Dones aren’t leaving because they’re mad at someone in the church, and they’re not leaving because they don’t believe in God anymore. They’re just leaving. As Schultz says, they’re “done.”
I’d like to chime in on this one just to provide an alternative to the solutions in the aforementioned blog. At the end of the day, the issue of the Dones leaving church is considered a problem with a solution. For example, Schultz suggests that taking more time to really listen to congregants is a way to keep them from leaving. However, I believe this exodus isn’t exactly a problem we need to solve, but rather a time we need to understand. Please allow me to explain…
As anyone familiar with this humble blog already knows, there are a few things I believe about time:
Second: As stated in Genesis 1:14, time can be observed through the firmament (the stars and other lights in the sky). This gets overlooked all the time, but it is indeed a powerful tool. The magi, after all, only had the firmament to tell them where and when to find Jesus – and it worked! It’s not a huge leap to realize that we can tell where we are in the story of Man’s redemption by looking at the huge, wonderful cosmic clock that God invented and put in the one place that we all could see. I like to think of the sky as God’s overhead projector. When He wants us to see the “signs and seasons,” He knows right where to put them.
Third: Here’s where it gets fun. The firmament is keeping time in great big intervals called “ages.” We could think of them as huge chapters in the story of God and Man. Jesus and his disciples discuss these ages on more than one occasion, but it’s often lost on us that the word “age” has a distinct astronomical meaning. It is the time it takes for the spring equinox to move from one astronomical constellation to the next (about 2,100 years). It gets freaky when we realize that every time the age changes, there are enormous shifts in the direction and content of the discourse between God and Man.
When Adam left the Garden of Eden, it was right at the change of an astronomical age. When Abraham received his call and began the Hebrew nation, the ages were changing again. And when Jesus arrived on the scene? You guessed it, it was right at the moment when the firmament shifted from one age to the next. There is no coincidence to it at all. When the astronomical ages shift, so does our spiritual understanding of God, our worship, and even our God-given commission.
If you look closely, there have been three main commissions given in the Bible. And, not surprisingly, they are each communicated by the person who marks the arriving age. Adam received a commission that set the course for roughly 2,100 years until Abraham. With Abraham, a new commission was given that charted the direction we read in all the scriptures from Genesis 12, right up to the beginning of the gospels. Jesus, roughly 2,100 years after Abraham, gives us what’s called the Great Commission, although I sort of think they were all great. What we can’t avoid, though, is that the commissions given in the Bible correspond – exactly – to the astronomical ages.
So, how does all of this concern the Dones leaving church?
Every time we go through these cosmic shifts, many things change, like how we worship and what we do to forward God’s Kingdom. No one can dispute the massive differences between the Old Testament temple procedures and a New Testament “church” meeting like the apostle Paul described. Such is the drastic nature of these cosmic changes.
And we are standing at the door of yet another astronomical shift right now! We are currently in the transition from one astronomical age to the next! If we can dare to believe it, this shift will begin the same kind and magnitude of changes that it has in the past. Spiritual life and practice will change. We will even receive a new God-ordained commission.
All of that means that our current understanding of “church,” as God plans for it to really be, is on it’s way out, although I imagine it will take some time. In fact, whatever is coming next might not even be called church, in the same way that we don’t call what we do nowadays Judaism. This is where things can get a bit testy, unless we handle it with a delicate touch.
Many of us have an ingrained belief that church, as the entity we know and love, is the final act – the last and greatest of God’s ideas. But it simply cannot be, and history, astronomical or otherwise, tells us that there are at least a few more acts – and ages – to experience. Our understanding of “church” is specific to this age, which is very soon coming to an end. It might even be a century or less away from its conclusion. That compels some of us to start looking ahead to see what comes next, and our one guarantee is that it will be as different from “church” as church then was from the temple, previously.
Therefore, if a whole group of people are leaving church en masse, but are still totally and passionately devoted to God, might we wonder if this is a sign of the cosmic shift? Let’s keep in mind that their faith is just as important to them, but they just can’t stay in church anymore - not with their new callings or commissions pulling them forward into God’s next stage of His perfect plan. It is my firm belief that the Dones the author refers to are God’s people simply feeling the time and the shift. They are being pulled into that next age with its new practices and commission. They are leaving because the story of God and Man is moving forward, and they are consciously – or unconsciously – moving with it.
Let’s revisit the conclusions from Thom Schultz’ article. At the end is a list of questions to get some conversations started between leaders and congregants. But I’m not sure that will ultimately make a big difference in the trend. If the goal is to prevent an increase of Dones, then it might be a unrealistic goal. In fact, I would go so far as to say that an increase of Dones isn’t even a problem. It could be just an issue of time. Or a sign of the times as they say.
Just to further this point, put yourself in the shoes of an orthodox Jew, say one of the Pharisees, during the beginning of the New Testament church. What would you have said about Jews beginning to worship totally differently? What would you have thought about the inclusion of gentiles in the meetings? Would you have worried about the future of the synagogue? Probably so. But aren’t we all thankful that courageous believers were willing to step out into the unknown and begin a new, totally unprecedented, chapter of the story?
If we answer, “Yes!” to that last question, then we must consider that the rise of the Dones is a wonderful and expectant sign of the times.