What comes next?

Congregations need help to discover what their new normal will look like

COVID-19 has changed everything. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. Just over a year ago, I there were a bunch of things that I never thought would be part of my life. Things like working from home most of the week, recording worship services on my iPhone, having my kids give a weekly saliva sample for COVID surveillance, wearing a face mask in public, and ordering groceries from Instant Cart. Those things weren’t part of my life then. They are now.

All of us have experienced changes to our way of life since the pandemic began. It’s easy to think that when it’s over–whatever that means–things will go back to normal. We want that–we think we do, anyway. It’s not likely to happen. The single biggest change over the last year has been to make “home” the center of our universe.

Before 2020, many of my neighbors and I spent less than seven waking hours in our homes each now. Most of us, today, spent most of our waking hours in the house. It’s our office, our restaurant, our gym, our accomadation, and even our church. That’s not going to change even after the pandemic ends.

This raises some really significant questions for congregations who want to be wise stewards of their resources and intentional about reaching their communities. Congregations cannot base their future plans on what things were like prior to the pandemic. Things won’t ever be the same.

In planning for the future, congregations need to figure out how members, friends, and their neighborhood or community is likely to behave after the pandemic is over.

There are three options based on an article in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Sustained behaviors – activities that are likely to return to their pre-crisis state.
  • Transformed behaviors – activities that will continue, but with fundamental changes.
  • Collapsed behaviors – activities that are unlikely to continue at all.

We can illustrate these different types of changes by looking at the travel industry after 9/11. After the attacks, people immediately stopped flying and staying in hotels. Over time, however, those activities resumed. Hotel owners needed a plan to “make it” through this short-term disruption until things normalized. This is an example of a sustained behavior.

When people resumed their business and personal travel, they did so under new security protocols. Those changes in security are transformed behaviors. Travellers began to get used to removing their shoes prior to going through security. They adjusted to whole body scanners. These measure were inititally disruptive, but in the end, travellers overcame them.

Other behaviors went away almost completely, collapsed behaviors. Curbside bag check-in. Carrying coffee through security. If you made your living as a Sky Cap or owned a coffee shop on the departures level, you probably don’t now.

The question for congregations is: which of our ministry models from before the pandemic, will collapse?

Not all of our ministries will collapse. Some will be transformed significantly.

My take-away is that congregations need to identify collapsed minstries and make plans to let them go. The name of the game is keeping ministry simple.

With the transformation that is happening in ministries like worship and small groups, congregations need to intentionally muster their resources to invest in meeting these new challenges so that they can continue to be effective for the Kingdom of God.

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