2020 has been a year like no other, humanity has undergone some of the most rapid shifts since the beginning of the Anthropocene. The Church has shifted along with this and since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen the need for a new way of doing church evidenced by the realisation that humanity desires relational connection over puffy programs or feel good sermons. As I ministered throughout the pandemic I quickly realised that whilst a polished production is great, if true relational connection is missing then the program is pointless.
Fatigue, lethargy and the Netflix church. Brene Brown makes a powerful statement in Daring Greatly “Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” With this in mind it is only logical that a cold livestream with no interaction was never going to succeed with the human race in 2020. In fact we would see just a little success in a regular pre 2020 church environment where human interaction and vulnerability could be just as rare. As I journeyed through the pandemic with my congregations I quickly realised that a simple livestream wasn’t enough. People were fatigued by the glut of media, video calls and online content that they were consuming during the early stages of the pandemic. Zoom fatigue quickly set in and many switched off. Couple this with people working from home and all of a sudden church was the last thing on a congregants mind. The reality is that church is competing for attention in an attention starved world. Members are fatigued and have realised that for a long time church felt more like work than fellowship. This has identified a cultural issue at the root of our church experience… Is our core message about consumption or life long change that freedom in Christ offers. Is our message and the way we do church really relevant to families.
At the beginning of the pandemic I heard many assumptions about church post covid.
1. As soon as the pandemic eased we would simply return to what we had prior to the pandemic.
2. People need the traditional (almost oral liturgical) Adventist Church experience so it will still be relevant.
3. People will flock to our Church because of our Last Day Events message.
In Innovative Church Scott Cormode notes (even before the pandemic) that “Church is calibrated for a world that no longer exists.” If this was true before the pandemic it is certainly true as we continue to journey through and out of Covid-19. McCrindle Research notes that in Australia the impacts of Covid-19 have been overall negative on the lifestyles of Australian’s. Whilst many have taken the time to improve their spirituality overall they are more emotionally stretched than ever before(https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/australia-in-the-wake-of-covid-19/). The Church had to stretch in ways unfathomable before 2020, so to the families churches serve have been under extreme stresses. As such humanity and the church has pivoted rapidly throughout 2020 as restrictions were introduced by governments. If the way we do church doesn’t permanently shift after covid-19 I would worry that we are fast tracking the shift to a post Christian world (https://www.churchandculture.org/blog/2020/1/13/the-post-christian-reality?rq=Post%20Christian).
Most authors, demographers and scholars I read seem to agree that we already have the solution to our flagging relevance in our grasp we just need to be willing to search introspectively and take up the challenge that christ has set for us. Jesus came to earth and set about a radical shift in perspective for us. God is not distant, he came to earth as a human and set a new methodology in motion for relating to him and to each other… The radical shift? Love. Love for God and Love for each other unashamedly and without barriers. Ellen White put it like this “If we err, let it be on the side of mercy rather than on the side of condemnation and harsh dealing.” (EGW, 5LTMS, LT16, 1887) The world we are in is desperate for love. Where better to get it from than from our Heavenly Father that came to earth and set an example of how to treat one another.
The most poignant question I am left with at the end of all this is whether we are willing as a church to pivot rapidly towards a future where our churches are able to be relevant to the communities around them. Doing evangelism and missional ministry in a local rather than a global context. Loving people in radical ways that perhaps might even make ourselves a little uncomfortable. After all he who is without sin should cast the first stone. If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is that one size does not fit all when it comes to spirituality.
In the end as we all need to remember that “the Kingdom advances at the speed of relationships” (Caesar Kowlinowski) may that begin with you and me.