There are lots of ways to look at the past two years of congregational life. Many of the narratives I hear are filled with words like “surviving,” “adapting,” “stressful,” and “unrelenting change.” Today I’d like to talk about another way to view what we are going through: getting ready.
Fifty-eight percent of professional workers say they are “more productive when working virtually, even if there are distractions such as a spouse and children at home.” This finding from a survey by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry is one of many indications that for some American workers, productivity has improved. How about your congregational staff? Has their productivity increased, decreased, or stayed the same since February 2020?
As I met with a governing board during a planning session, one member asked, “How are we ever going to develop a communications strategy without the appropriate staff?” I responded, “We won’t know what the appropriate staff is until we have a strategy. Don’t you have some members who work on communications and marketing in their day jobs?” “Of course! We have some people who are outstanding in that field,” came the reply. “Then why are we talking about this instead of having your members who have the skill sets and experience to do it?” Folks took my question as though it was a revelation. Actually it was common sense.
The “go it alone” model of congregational life is dead. That’s my takeaway from a recent conversation with Rabbi Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh. He is convinced, and I agree, that congregations that insist on going it alone it will be dead in due time, as well.
Speaking with clergy around the country during the pandemic, I have heard a universal sense of loss over the dramatically diminished number of personal interactions with members, staff, and the community. Pastors, ministers, rabbis, and priests today are suffering—they are relationship experts at a time when it is challenging to put that expertise to work.
How is remote work changing us, and which of the changes will remain once the pandemic is over? What problems are arising as staff work from home, and what advantages are turning up? What does this all tell us about the future of work in congregations? I am working on an Augsburg Fortress book about working remotely, and I want to share some of my early findings with you.
Once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, I am convinced that more will remain the same than change in congregational life. People have gathered to worship, study, and support each other for centuries in the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and other religious traditions. Congregations have continued their core practices through pandemics, depressions, and wars. After each time of travail, more stayed the same than changed. History tells us to be careful when predicting cosmic change for congregations, even with something as huge as COVID.