“Growth in membership is the primary indicator of congregational health and vitality.” The pandemic is challenging this and other longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging, and membership. We must carefully examine all of our assumptions—otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.
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.
It is too soon to create a definitive list of all the things we will have learned from this pandemic, but I’m clear about one thing—John Kotter was right that urgency does drive change. Under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic and outrage over police violence against black people, congregations have made changes I thought I would never see. Will we be able to continue innovating when extreme urgency no longer forces us to do so?
“I wish we were more transparent about our finances.” For almost every problem congregations face, transparency is one proposed solution. Treasurers and business managers—who work hard to produce honest, accurate reports—often are surprised by the implication that they’re hiding something. Transparency is good, but flooding people with more data rarely solves the problem. True transparency requires a plan to give financial information to each of four distinct audiences.
Many phrases commonly used to describe the coronavirus pandemic have revolutionary overtones. Covid-19 is the “great disruptor,” the “medical disaster,” and the “economic catastrophe.” Writers assert that Covid-19 “will change the workplace forever,” arguing that its effects are both “global” and “enduring.” Reporting on the wave of unrest sparked by police killings of unarmed African Americans carries similar tones. Reporters describe the scope of the unrest as “unprecedented,” while the level of polarization in the country is “historic.”
We have been reactive. How else can one be during a pandemic? The opinions of outside experts have guided our actions since this all began, and their positions change daily. When to close, how to take church online, protocols to follow before opening. Now, things are slowing down a bit and it is time to become more reflective—tapping into our own wisdom and exploring the potent learning opportunities at hand. The shift begins by asking better questions.
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.