Soon-to-be defectors are sitting in the pews of America’s churches. Unless something changes, they’re going to join the Dones.
While conducting research on the phenomenon of the Dones—those formerly faithful churchgoers who have given up on the organized church—sociologist Josh Packard uncovered another sizable group—the Almost Dones.
Packard’s book Church Refugees describes the large group (31 percent of the U.S. population) that has stopped attending church altogether. But his newest study, Exodus of the Religious Dones, also found that about 10 percent of existing regular churchgoers are currently planning to join the Dones.
The Almost Dones cite some of the same reasons as the Dones for their disaffection with institutional churches—judgmentalism and stifling bureaucracy. But the research revealed some differences too. Packard said, “The Almost Dones are more likely to report being turned off by strong social and political stances taken by churches. Additionally, the Almost Dones are concerned that churches are not involved enough in their local communities.”
Another distinctive of the Almost Dones may surprise those who have speculated—wrongly—that church decline is only an issue among liberal-leaning churches. The research shows that the Almost Dones are much more theologically conservative than those who have already decided to leave. For example, Almost Dones are twice as likely to say the Bible should be taken literally, word for word.
Packard said, “In the coming years, the phenomenon of the Dones will affect evangelical and conservative churches more heavily than it will the mainline Protestant denominations or Catholic and Orthodox churches.”
The Almost Dones don’t want to leave. They’re not slackers. In fact, many of them say they’d commit to stay if their churches would become less spectator oriented and more action oriented. One of the Almost Dones told Packard her church just asks people to “listen passively and build up the kingdom of this church, not the kingdom of God.”
For the Dones, they’re not likely to return to any institutional church. For the Almost Dones, it’s not too late.