What's Tony Thinking

The Church After the Pandemic

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I had a dream a couple nights ago. It was Easter Sunday. I was a minister at a church somewhere. We expected the normal Easter throng, but only a handful of people showed up. Finally, it dawned on us: no one felt comfortable being in a crowd anymore.

I wonder if that has something to do with a recent report on downward trends in church attendance?

The Faith Communities Today (FACT) people report, “that half of the country‚Äôs congregations had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000.” The report sees this drop as a continuing trend rather than something brought on by the pandemic. That said, I’m sure the pandemic hasn’t helped.

Last week I did a blog, “The Great Resignation,” about people leaving jobs en masse in 2021. Many have, it turns out, done a “professional reassessment” during the pandemic. The result: they decided to leave their job, look for something better, healthier for them and their families. A not insignificant number have left the labor market altogether.

Although that PBS report said nothing about churches, I added a note in the final paragraph in which I wondered if people might also have been doing a reassessment of other things — like church participation — during the pandemic? If nothing else, the pandemic has changed habits, altered patterns.

I wrote, “While the PBS report didn’t touch on church or religious congregations, I suspect that many churches and church leaders would be wise to know that people are reassessing. It might be time for churches to up their game, not just for their employees, but for all the people they are trying, or say they are trying, to reach. Same old/ same old may not cut it.”

What would it mean for churches to “up their game”? The phrase suggests doing more. More programs. More technology. More excitement. But it seems to me that “do more” has been the trajectory for quite some time without discernible effect other than wearing people out, including clergy.

I wonder if the direction of the future is not so much “doing more” as “going deeper”?

One thing the pandemic has done is to strip us down to the basics — worship. Maybe that’s a starting place? What does worship that goes deeper look like? Another thing the pandemic has done is decrease the emphasis on church buildings. Sacred spaces are important, but often church buildings are about a whole lot of things other than sacred space.

Might worship of the living God, sacred space and beauty, human community and relationships — in some sense a simpler church — be the right, or one right, direction post-pandemic?

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