Fewer people are going to church and those who do go to church go less often. Churches are having a hard time finding volunteers for their usual programs and people are saying no to leadership positions in the church. The pandemic dramatically accelerated these trends.
Are Christians “quiet quitting?”
Quiet quitting is the shift that many US workers have made to stay at their jobs but to do only the work prescribed in their job description—usually not less but definitely not more. Some are actively disengaged from their work; others are passively dialing down their involvement.
Earlier this year, Gallup found that at least 50% of the US workforce have “quietly quit” their jobs, either actively or passively disengaged from all except their bare job descriptions. Around the same time, Gallup reported that membership in houses of worship has fallen to under 50% for the first time since the studies began in the early 20th century, staying pretty steady until about 2000 and falling steadily since.
I have friends who have described the pandemic as an opportunity for them to change churches or to leave church altogether, in most cases describing something that was already on their minds but that they just hadn’t had an opportunity to do. My clients who are pastors are describing that people are not showing up for church but have also not left, that it is almost impossible to find volunteers, numbers are down for Bible studies and small groups and service opportunities.
While learning to do church online has opened up opportunities for more people to participate virtually—which is a good thing—it has also meant that people who used to be in the pews and the coffee hour and the Sunday School classes no longer are.
Is quiet quitting an anxious reaction or a healthy boundary?
An interesting conversation is unfolding about whether quiet quitting is a passive-aggressive response or setting healthy boundaries. Is it a response to burnout and being exploited by an uncaring and unresponsive system? A realization that busyness isn’t the endgame of life? Exhaustion and a return to managing energy in healthy ways? My answer: yes to all of the above.
I wonder if churchgoers who were fulfilling an obligation, who had gotten caught up in the volunteer rat race or who bought into the idea that it was on them to save the world may just be opting out. In all parts of our exhausted society, “involvement” is no longer the positive that it once was.
A way to escape “hustle culture”
One man described the secular version of quiet quitting: “You’re still performing your duties but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture…” I wonder how many people have finally found a way to escape from the “hustle culture” at church? I wonder if we who are still in the church can hear that message?
The pandemic may have helped people recognize two things: they still sensed a connection to God even when they weren’t hustling –or– they actually hadn’t sensed a connection to God even when they were.
According to Gallup, one way to re-engage those who are quiet quitting is to have real conversations lasting at least 15 minutes with real people who are still in the organization. The idea is that we could talk with each other with curiosity and openness about what people are experiencing and what they need.
I wonder if those of us who are still part of congregations can set aside our defensiveness and fear to have these conversations or if we will just judge people on the way out.