As the COVID-19 vaccine comes into wide use and we can open our doors again, we have a choice: do we spend our energy resuscitating old ways of being church, or resurrecting to new ways?
When the newly resurrected Jesus appeared to his confused disciples in their hideaway, he spoke a word of Peace. It didn’t help. They were still confused. They thought he was a ghost or some resuscitated version of his former self. He persuaded them to consider the impossible by showing them that he was flesh and bones – and could eat a fish (something ghosts can’t do – I guess), and by connecting his present existence to what he’d said before his death. The resurrected Jesus was similar to and yet different from his earlier incarnation. There was continuity, and discontinuity, and yet Peace. Jesus opened their minds to understand the truth of the scriptures. Because of this openness, they didn’t resuscitate their old ways of being faithful Jews, instead they let Jesus’ resurrection lead them to a new way of being followers of the Way.
We have spent the last year “safer at home.” Our congregations didn’t die – or even close– instead God used this time to teach us new ways of being. Because we love God, we learned new technology so we could continue to worship together. Because we love one another, rediscovered some old ways to stay in touch. Because we love our neighbors, we welcomed them to our online worship, and created new ways to continue feeding hungry neighbors.
We did all of that for so long that it has become our new normal. As restrictions lift, we continue to have the freedom to change again. Some of us want to use this opportunity to resuscitate our old ways, others want to resurrect in new ways. Some think we can do both. We can’t.
We can’t go back to the past for the simple reason that it isn’t there anymore.
The memory function of our brains is romantic, not realistic. What each of us remembers about the past is unique and comes from our experience of the places and people at important points of our particular lives. We don’t remember the past in the same way, so don’t be surprised when someone claims that some aspect of the sanctuary has been changed since they left. “Where are the flags?” or “Wasn’t the carpet red?” The flags were taken out in 1980 and the carpet was replaced in 2005, but something did change in the last year: us.
We can’t go back, but we can take the best of the past into the future.
We can have continuity with the past, even if we don’t recreate the old events or programs. The pandemic reminded us of our core values; we love God, we love one another and we love our neighbors; these relationships are what need to be carried forward.
We followed God through the pandemic, now is the time to follow God out of it and into a new way of being. But change doesn’t have to be fast. It’s not a race, it’s an opportunity. In Dave Daubert’s book “Becoming a Hybrid Church” he advises us to “keep the window open” by building toward new life--slowly. For example, if you want to become a hybrid congregation, with a vibrant presence both online and onsite, then you could start by focusing on worship. Once your team has a vision of what you hope worship will be like you can implement each stage of your strategy, one thing at a time. Break the vision into small actions and after living with each step for a few weeks, survey the congregation (onsite and online) to see what works and what needs work before moving to the next stage. Once you get worship to a comfortable place, then you can expand to apply your hybrid strategy to other ministries of the congregation.
Exhaustion is not one of the things we want to bring with us from the pandemic.
Let’s agree to leave that behind and create a rhythm that is more sustainable for everyone. Dave Daubert’s book may be helpful as you work this through in your congregation. After a bit of an introduction to adaptive leadership, the book is organized to help the different ministry teams of a congregation consider a few core questions as you set out to imagine the way forward. “Becoming a Hybrid Church” is available on Amazon or Dave’s website: https://www.day8strategies.com/
Resurrected life takes some getting used to. In Luke 24, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power from on high. We can wait too. Just remember that by the second chapter of Acts the Holy Spirit had inspired the disciples to speak in languages they’d never spoken before, and 3,000 were added to their number in a single day. This resurrected life promises to be a wild ride!