Un Done - Part One: A Reflection on the Forum Experience
Today I read an article titled “The Rise of the ‘Done with Church’ Population.” The article details how many faithful, active church members are leaving simply because of what can only be described as being “done with church.” About two years ago, I was “done with church.” I hit a wall of what I would call “Christianese Burn Out.” I was exhausted from countless talks, prayer meetings, small group gatherings, Bible studies, and mission trips. The Christian world I was a part of did not connect with my experience of an interior desert walk, following in cracked and painful footsteps of the suffering Christ. Instead, it seemed all I heard of from the front was about being carried by the “arms of grace.” At least that was what I heard at the prayer meetings and church services I attended, religiously. I grew up in a strong Christian family, and chose to personally follow Jesus 14 years ago. I have been active in ministry work around the world, and involved in several intentional community movements. If I were to crunch some numbers, I would estimate that over the last 14 years I have listened to approximately 1800 talks, participated in over 2000 bible studies or small groups, and attended over 1500 church services. And yet, even with all of this “discipleship,” “community,” and “formation,” I found I was done, or almost, done. I attended my first TCF forum about 18 months ago. The delicious food, engaging people, and comfortable environment invited me in, sparking my curiosity. I sat facing a few friends and a few strangers and we began to share, to listen, to be together; we began to “forum.” During my first listening forum, I discovered in a new way the voices of God’s people. And I haven’t looked back since. Through collaborating with the TCF team, I have fallen in love with the “forum” model, and have had the amazing opportunity to introduce over 40 people to this new kind of conversation. The article referenced at the beginning says “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.” I was among that group. I felt unheard, unknown, but also disconnected because I didn’t have opportunities to hear the voices of God’s people around me. The forum setting, the paradigm shift of “challenges as opportunities,” the face-to-face honest interaction, and the hospitality of TCF has begun to bring me back from “done.” Through the over 20 forums I have been involved with, I have heard the beautiful harmony of the voices of the other. I have found a way to create spaces where participation is the point, laughter and tears are standard fare, and where real openness around hard and challenging issues serves as the catalyst for a conversation that is never “done.” Within the diversity of experience, practice, expression, and perspective I have encountered through “foruming,” I have found a new hope. I have sat face-to-face with those I love and those I deeply disagree with, I have heard their heart and firmly held beliefs, and in the midst of it all I have been drawn back into the possibility of a new way, a new kind of conversation for the church and God’s people. Noelle Gornik is the Office and Program Coordinator at the Issachar Fund. Noelle has global program development, implementation, and coordination experience. Before joining the Issachar Fund, Noelle worked in program coordination for several organizations including Cornerstone Development based in Kampala, Uganda and ORA International based in Andorf, Austria. Noelle has a BA in International Relations and African Studies from Grand Valley State University.