Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.
Pastors and other ministry leaders would benefit from asking and listening to these long-time members before they flee. This will require a change of habit. When it comes to listening, church leaders are too often in the habit of fawning over celebrity pastors for answers. It would be far more fruitful to take that time and spend it with real people nearby—existing members. Ask them some good questions, such as:
1. Why are you a part of this church?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?
It’s time to listen. Even as I’m writing this today, another high-capacity lay leader emailed me with his decision to leave his church. He’s done. Like many others I know, he’s also a nationally known Christian leader. But he’s done.
Your church, even if it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Dones, the rise of the Nones and the disappearance of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen.
It’s not too late to start.