What Now? Looking Beyond the Current Season
Predicting the future is never an exact science. The internet is filled with future predictions stated with conviction that have been shown to be spectacularly nonsensical. One of my favourites is the prediction of H M Warner of Warner Brothers who in 1927 famously said, “who the h*ll wants to hear actors talk?”
Of course, there is much speculation about what a post-covid world might look like. We assume that it will be different, but we’re not quite sure how. Clearly things like worsening unemployment will for the short-term be a changed reality.
What will a post-Covid church look like?
Looking on the internet about churches and the post-covid world, there is much about health and safety, but not so much about strategic stuff or theology. The Seventh Day Adventist church makes an effort via a congregation in North America. Wheaton College has a very good paper they have produced to stimulate some data-based thinking, but I couldn’t find much that was UK based.
One of the big issues is online gatherings versus in-person gatherings. Part of our culture, both in church and beyond, is that of gathering with others e.g. sporting fixtures, concerts, etc. It‘s hard to believe that the future will be devoid of live/attendee events, though some organisations are exploring the very naked thesis that “live is dead.”
My best guess is that the future of church will be a mixed economy – some content delivered online, some delivered live. What seems clear is that only the best of online delivered content will prevail. Already some online viewing figures, previously encouraging, are beginning to decline.
How can we prepare our churches?
How can we reach out further online but bring people closer?
How on earth can we forward-plan when there are so many uncertainties?
What can be said? The Bible has quite a lot to say implicitly and explicitly about preparedness. Explicitly this relates to the return of Jesus. Implicitly, Jesus invests serious time in teaching discipleship to his followers – preparing them for life in the world and its relationship to the world to come.
I would suggest a theme that leaders need to address is how to prepare for an uncertain future.
Reasons why preparations fail
Here are some reasons why plans for preparedness fail according to Wheaton College:
- The plan is not clearly aligned with the mission or theology of our church
- Church leaders neither model nor communicate the benefit of preparedness
- Preparedness activities are developed in isolation from the other programmes or ministries of our church
- Preparedness depends on the energy of one or a few people
- Actions require resources (money?) that may not be available or attainable
- Lack of support for key preparedness contributors
Another big factor is what behavioural economists call default bias. This is defined as follows:
People prefer to carry on behaving as they have always done even when the circumstances that might influence their decisions change. Repeat choices / purchases often become automatic because default choices don’t involve much mental (cognitive) effort.
Could it be that despite all the prophecies of a changed world, in the end we shall, in general, default to life-as-normal, when the pandemic has finally been controlled?
Ways to prepare
Here are some things leaders could focus on:
1. Focus on your ‘why’:
- Simon Sinek is very clear that the one thing organisations know is WHY they do what they do rather than just what they do. The more of our supporters who understand why we do what we do the better.
- The reason for this is that understanding why we exist will help us get focus on something else we need to think about.
2. Prioritise ‘what’ you do:
- A familiar refrain of leaders in the Church is that we are too busy. Covid-19 has brought into play new plans, new activity and new expectations. It seems unlikely, given predicted financial forecasts in many local churches and denominations, that doing what we have always done plus continuing with new activity and expectations will be remotely feasible. This really should be an ideal time to re-prioritise what we are going to do in a changed context
3. Work on raising the continuing ministry input of your congregation:
- Many churches have been reporting that more people have stopped merely warming the pews for an hour every week in church and have got more involved with ministry delivery. It would seem wrong for us to lose that impetus and energy and for people to return to the “pew-potato” mentality.
- A central theme of Pauline theology is the ministry of the whole people of God (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12). Now would seem to be an excellent season for re-iterating this truth. We need to teach it, preach it and model it!
- The old 80/20 analysis of congregations where 20% of the members supply 80% of the money, the ministry and the energy, really needs to be subverted. Churches that achieve this subversion will prevail.
Jesus told the parable of the sower. The message of that parable seems clear. The best way to increase the harvest is to sow as much seed as possible. Maybe online content is a great way to sow more seed, but if the growth is never gathered then the danger is that it will never be of benefit. Maybe the key question is how do we gather the growth sown by our online content?
CEO, GLN UK & Ireland