Is Everything Suddenly (Or Not So Suddenly) Outdated?

This will be my last post of the week since I lose internet tomorrow with the final chapter of our move from Illinois to NC.  Moving during a pandemic has some interesting challenges.

Over the past ten days of endless packing, I’ve found sermons that won’t preach in a post-pandemic church.  I’ve come across articles that I wrote in the early 2000s that sound completely out of touch in the year of COVID 19.  I’ve re-read pieces I saved because they sounded so on track just a few years ago but today they sound ridiculous.  For example, the Ten Ideas That Are Changing Our Lives on the March 2012 cover of Time Magazine includes these “ideas”:

  • Living Alone Is the New Norm
  • Food That Lasts Forever
  • High Status Stress

So, here’s the thing:  people might want to live alone but they can’t afford to do it.  Fresh food (and “farm to table” restaurants) are much preferred – especially by those who live in food deserts.  And “high status” people might find it super stressful to have to cancel their vacations this summer, but the most stressed out people I know have lost their jobs during this pandemic and the government checks are not going to help much if they help at all.

As a person who serves in the Mid-Council level of Church World, I’m trying to get my head around what the Post-Pandemic Church will look like.  It’s about more than how we celebrate communion once we can get back together again.  (It probably won’t involve a common cup or tearing chunks of bread from a common loaf but that’s obvious.)

I wonder about seminary training: will there be classes taught on preaching to a screen?

I wonder about worship: will people become used to staying home Sunday mornings where they can sip coffee and wear their pjs during the service?

I wonder about meetings: will people prefer online meetings so that they don’t need to hire a babysitter or drive at night?

I wonder about pastoral care: will we visit face to face AND Zoom?

I wonder about The Connectional Church: will we “attend” a virtual Bible study at First Church of the City and then “attend” worship with Second Church of the Burbs and then “attend” the board meeting with our “home church” working to provide resources for Third Church of the Hills because their food pantry needs to be re-stocked?  Note:  This kind of connectionalism is exciting and it also begs many questions like . . .

  • Who’s paying for the preacher in that virtual service that thousands are watching?
  • Will people from my church divide up their financial support between three or more congregations?
  • What do we do about the buildings we’ve been keeping up for decades?

And what about the churches who have essentially shut down during the pandemic because their parishioners don’t have smart phones much less computer notebooks?  What if they continue to shun online giving and virtual gatherings? Do we let them go?  Do we let them die?

I remember my grandmother telling me about her friend who “didn’t believe in” telephones when phones were the new thing.  She openly castigated the whole concept of talking through a machine as opposed to visiting people face to face.  The time came when she was the only person without a phone and she missed out on so much information that – towards the end of her life – she broke down and got a phone. But she never liked it.  She never embraced the positives of connecting with people by phone.

For decades, I’ve been writing and speaking about shifts between the 20th and 21st Century Church.  People have often listened politely and then continued to do what they’ve always done in the ways they’ve always done them.

But now, we are newly forced to consider that 21st Century technology is a requirement for 21st Century Church.  21st Century culture shifts are no longer an option; they are a prerequisite for being a thriving congregation post-pandemic.

Is it possible that everything will go back to the way they once were prior to Mid-March?  It’s possible.  But I think things have changed forever.

(Note: this is not a bad thing.)

Image from a New Jersey highway from the front lawn of a church building.


6 responses to “Is Everything Suddenly (Or Not So Suddenly) Outdated?

  1. Troy Lesher-Thomas

    Jan, good thoughts and thanks for the insight into mid-council wonderings. I believe we are all circling some of the same territory: buildings, interactions, precautions, fundraising, etc.

    At a recent Session meeting, we realized there was so much ground to cover. We will begin with the next stated meeting to take “bite size” portions of the overall potential menu of options. It will be overwhelming otherwise.


  2. Marge Gledhill

    Safe journey! North Carolina is ready to welcome you both. At least our governor has common sense and has contained the spread because of his early response. You would be proud of our church, Philadelphia Presbyterian. I even got my dinosaur husband to Zoom for communion. He finally shaved and changed his “favorite” shirt for the service. Enjoy your blog and most of the time I feel like you are speaking directly to me. Katie Sloan got me started and I haven’t missed any.


  3. Renee Stevenson

    I’m really glad you’re thinking about these things, they’re important! As someone who grew up during the boom of technology (a millennial approaching 30) I strongly believe it is important to weigh the benefits of technology. I also believe that people will still value gathering together in person for worship and fellowship because that connection is important; we are understanding that lesson now more than ever!

    We also need to remember what we were able to do and just who we could reach while conducting worship in this new way, people far away geogrpahically and those who may not leave home often (disabled people, etc) and not forget about them when we try to re-establish normalcy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your grandmother’s friend’s disbelieve in the telephone reminds me of the school district in which I started working in 1989. I wanted my students to have an Internet connection in the classroom. The district, as well as teachers on the campus, saw no need for that. The Internet had nothing of value for the students, and it was just a passing fad!


  5. Safe travels!


  6. Safe travels!


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