Starting in a Pandemic

The very first New Leaf Learning Centre we hosted was to invite a Canadian Epidemiologist/Pastor, Michael Garner, to speak to us. It was very early on in the pandemic and having our very own expert that we could ask questions of was incredibly helpful in those early days. For me as a Canadian church leader there were several things that I took away from that conversation. The first, was gratitude for men and women who make it their life’s work to understand and fight unseen natural forces and, to the best of their ability, keep us all safe. I remain grateful to God that he calls people into the fields of science and medicine.

 

The second, was the realization that the pandemic is going to look very different from region to region in Canada. We’ve always known that life on PEI is not the same as life in downtown Vancouver. As it would turn out that also holds true for this pandemic too. Our governments in each of the regions in Canada have unique factors to contend with that directly affect the shape and impact of the pandemic. Michael’s advice to us was to pay attention to the national picture and also stay connected to what is happening in our province, region and municipality.

Free Methodist Churches are not going to have the same experience across the board. Local factors are going to influence things a great deal. We need to remain attuned to our surroundings as we find our ways forward. There won’t be a one size fits all solution.

Finally, Michael laid out a range of scenarios for us to consider as we imagined what it might be like to start something new under the present circumstances. What I appreciate about being provided a range of scenarios, rather than simply the most likely, is that as church leaders we can give some thought to all of them. This takes away the gamble of choosing poorly. I wanted to share those scenarios with you as you consider the way forward for your church. Michael was very clear he wasn’t claiming to see the future. These are thoughtfully laid out but are only the beginning. I would encourage you and your leadership community to refine each of these scenarios as you learn, pray, and discern together locally.

In the face of all of these scenarios I remain confident that God’s grace will be extended to us, that we will not be abandoned, that the path of faithfulness will be discernible with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that the church can choose to find a vital role to play in whatever future we face. Michael’s scenarios are presented here in no particular order of preference or probability.

Scenario 1: Back to Normal

Major drivers:

  • Corporations and Economic growth
  • Political Survival rather than Societal Change
  • Success in mitigating pandemic

Outcome:

  • after two months of social isolation and the summer coronavirus disappears by 2021. The world will return to “normal.”

Impact on the Church:

  • the church continues to decline in general (as it did pre-pandemic) with the impact of the pandemic hastening the closure of vulnerable churches.’

 

Scenario 2: Entrenched Individualism

Major Drivers

  • Normalization of isolation
  • Technological interaction
  • Protracted pandemic

Outcomes

  • Increased isolation and related mental health issues
  • People decide it is “better by myself”

Impact on Church/Church Planting

  • Churches struggle to reestablish congregations, the habit of going to church for many people is broken
  • Some churches pivot and service emerging individualism
  • Some churches thrive as counter-cultural expression
  • Many churches close, truly no longer “relevant”

 

Scenario 3 – Let’s get together

Major Drivers

  • Protracted pandemic
  • Reaction against technology
  • Experience of isolation driving desire for community

Outcomes

  • Increased social connectivity
  • Forced isolation creates contrast of in person versus digital connection, digital connecting becomes only when necessary and in person becomes preferred

Impact on Church/Church Planting

  • Depends on nodes of connectivity – does the church become an important node – or does the connecting that occurred remove the middle-man and the church becomes increasingly irrelevant as a broker of social connections, spirituality, and community

 

Scenario 4 – Vive la Revolution

Society’s choices limited the impact of coronavirus and broadly people realize the change that is possible

Major Drivers

  • Individual and communal empowerment
  • Political will to make change

Outcomes

  • Basic income
  • Societal movements to make changes related to addressing other crises – especially climate change

Impact on Church/Church Planting

  • Churches deemed as part of old guard experience a further decline, churches in line with ongoing revolutionary activity or acting as nodes of revolution thrive

 

Scenario 5 – Apocalypse

Major Drivers

  • Successive pandemic diseases, 2nd wave of Coronavirus where it is more severe – higher case fatality rate, re-infection is now possible
  • Health system becomes overwhelmed and collapses
  • Stock market does not recover

Outcomes

  • Failure of democracy
  • War
  • Deepening income inequity

Impacts on Church/Church Planting

  • Some churches align with political power providing legitimacy to political movements
  • Churches are marginalized
  • Churches become social safety net of society

Jutta Treviranus once pointed out that the future “cannot be engineered, it must be grown.” Our future will not be found in a triumph of anticipating and dominating social forces. Jesus’ plan was never to remove us from the world or to dominate it by force. It was to send the Spirit to walk alongside us as we go through this world with our neighbours. For two thousand years the church has borne witness to the faithfulness of God. God has brought us through all manner of fire and flames. We’ve even endured pandemics! We’ve even done it without Zoom!? We have learned that God’s mission can be accomplished in the most unlikely of conditions and in the most unlikely of places.

Michael’s talk and resources can be found here: https://www.newleafnetwork.ca/events/starting-in-a-pandemic/

 

 

 

 

Jared Siebert
Director of Church Planting

ajax-loader