People wonder why it takes so much effort to make change happen – serious change. Simple answer – Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it. This is true not just for a physical object but I think it applies to all change – especially a culture change or organizational change.
The status quo is the object already in motion. Changing it is the external force.
Depending on the culture or organization we are talking about will determine how much external force will be needed to act upon the culture or organization in order for it to change.
Sometimes those external forces are ideas. Sometimes they are things out of our control – like a pandemic.
We can see how this is playing out with the pandemic and churches. There is a range of responses from churches in the midst of this pandemic. The pandemic has been going on for 19 months. At one end of the spectrum are churches that are exerting a great amount of force to maintain the status quo. The problem with that is that applying that kind of force is actually changing the church in a direction with unintended consequences. It’s trying to maintain an old status quo that doesn’t exist any longer. The churches that insist on maintaining a dead status quo won’t survive the pandemic. Believing that everything will go back to the way it was before the pandemic is unrealistic for this reason alone – regardless of whether the church and its members want to return to that or not, the rest of the world has moved on. The world that those churches want to return to no longer exists.
The other end of the spectrum has churches that went all in in the changes necessary to do ministry. Some of that transferred to online, some hybrid, some selective in person. And they continue to be guided by changing circumstances. These churches have probably lost people and money. They have become leaner. They have let things die off recognizing that the proclamation of life, death, and resurrection isn’t just a bunch of words, but something to live into. The challenge for these churches is the gap between the vision and their present reality. They have to keep going all in, but there might be fear. Going all in risks failure. But these churches also recognize a truth – that we are always on the verge of death, so why not go all in. If it works, then great! Ministry doesn’t just go on, but it leads to thriving life and growth in a variety of ways – not necessarily in terms of raw numbers. If it doesn’t work, then it probably leads to death. But in that regard, it probably just hurries up a process that was already going forward.
As I mentioned, there is a spectrum of how this works and churches all over that spectrum. The churches that are open to living into life, death, and resurrection, regardless of where they are on the spectrum are more likely to survive and in fact thrive as we move into a post-pandemic era (whenever that might be). It’s going to be difficult because we are moving into a new paradigm with no playbook on how to proceed. Which means that churches will have to be open to risk – just like the early church was. The early church risked it all. Some made it, and others didn’t. But the church went on and thrived. We are called to the same in such a time as this.