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Keeping Those Done with the Church

by Joel Comiskey

Summer 2015

A pastor who I’m coaching recently shared a story of a member who announced he was done with the church. Jim, a godly member and faithful tither, announced that he was leaving the church during a prayer meeting. Before Jim announced he was done, he read portions from Josh Packard’s recent study about those who were fed up and tired of traditional Christianity. Packard’s article summed up how Jim felt about his church experience, and so he read it to the small gathered group. Jim was not involved with one of the church’s Life Groups, and I’m sure this affected his level of frustration in the church.

Josh Packard describes several factors for Dones leaving the church in his upcoming book Church Refugees. Among the reasons, “After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all.” One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.” The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn. Packard says that most likely the Dones will not return. Here are some excerpts from Josh Packard’s study:

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately. But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.” John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation-often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

So what are we to think about Josh Packard’s research? First, Packard’s research took place in the North America context, a land wherepost-Christianity is the norm and many are leaving the church. Second, cell churches are only a tiny part of church life in North America. Unlike the growing cell churches in other parts of the world, cell church ministry has not really taken root in the Western world and North American in particular. Third, the research doesn’t take into account that one of the key goals of cell ministry is to avoid the plop, pray, and pay mentality that is so common in the traditional church.

Here’s a question: Would Jim have made the announcement at my friend’s church that he was “done,” if he was actively involved in a life-giving cell group? I don’t think so. Why? Because cell ministry is about total involvement. Disciples are formed in the small group environment and each member can actively practice the priesthood of all believers. The lead pastor, in fact, is the main cell coach who mobilizes the members to do the work of the ministry through multiplying cell groups (Ephesians 4).

Through cell ministry, all members grow in determining their spiritual gifting. All members participate in the life of the group. All members prepare to become part of a discipleship team that is preparing to give birth and start a new group. Some members will become leaders, supervisors, pastors, and church planters. In other words, the plop, pray, and pay mentality is totally contrary to the philosophy of cell church ministry.