Understanding How Our World Has Changed in 2020
We have all been witnesses to a world that has been dramatically changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No aspect of life has been unaffected. We have been witnesses to and agents in the abrupt move of church life from the physical to the virtual with streaming Sunday worship, faith formation into online platforms, connection with each other via social media, meetings via video conferencing, online conferences and webinars, and much more.
We are growing in the realization that the impact of the pandemic will not be a short term experience. We know that re-opening our buildings for Sunday worship requires great care and planning. We know that gathering people in medium or large groups may not be possible or safe in the short term, and that the largest group that can be reliably gathered in-person for meetings and formation may only be about ten people.
We are wondering what the world be like after this first outbreak of Covid-19? What will the next year or two look like? How will churches respond to this new environment? How will churches design ministries and faith formation in this changed world? So many questions. So many uncertainties.
Blizzard, Winter, and Ice Age
How you and your church view the pandemic and the uncertainties that are emerging will shape your response—short term and long term. In “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard analyze three responses to the pandemic through the images of blizzard, winter, and ice age.
In a Blizzard we can’t go out—zero visibility and hostile conditions. We need to shelter. In a Blizzard “we acknowledge that things are very difficult, provide emotional and practical support for immediate needs, and urge people to take extraordinary measures that not only would be unthinkable in ordinary times, but are unsustainable for long periods of time. If the crisis generated by COVID-19 is a blizzard, it will be over soon, we will all emerge from our shelter, and resume life roughly the way it was before. Our job in a blizzard is to wait it out.”
In Winter we can go out, but not for long. We need to wear protective clothing and check the forecast for storms. We need to survive. “Winter might begin with a blizzard, but it is a season lasting months, not a single event. In cold climates, winter means that periodic acute events (blizzards) punctuate a continuous period in which human activity must adapt to bitterly inhospitable conditions. This is almost certainly the reality of COVID-19 in the United States and many other countries. This will not be an event lasting a few weeks.”
In an Ice Age things don’t grow the way they used to, but we’re finding new ways to live and even to thrive. We need to adapt and rebuild. “The metaphor is obvious. Just as winter is more chronic and long-lasting than a blizzard, and requires different sorts of adaptation, which are in many ways more far-reaching than merely hunkering down for a few days or weeks—so there are even larger-scale events that reshape the climate through countless successive seasons. A generally accepted timeframe for the wide deployment of an effective vaccine—though there are huge uncertainties here—a is 18 months. But 18 months is not a season — it is, for many purposes, more like an age or an era.” In this little ice age life will be disrupted in significant ways for a longer period of time.”
We need to acknowledge that we are not going back to normal! It seems increasingly clear that coronavirus pandemic is not just something to “get through” for a few days or weeks. Instead, is an economic, cultural, political, and religious blizzard, winter, and beginning of a “little ice age” — a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives, societies, and religious congregations for years.
We should plan to survive the winter by building for the ice age—to do all that is necessary to sustain our core mission of making disciple and nurturing faith for a lifetime; to prototype new projects in faith formation that will lead toward a different future; and in all things to increase the trust and reputation of our church community. It’s time to redesign our work for the beginning of an “ice age” that will last into 2022 and beyond.
Crouch, Keilhacker, and Blanchard offer these reflections for leaders.
This time poses the greatest leadership crisis any of us have faced. It can be a moment of amazing creativity, though it also is going to be a time of unavoidable pain and loss. We will discover that while many resources are suddenly unavailable to us, the most essential resource is still available, and the most important reality has not changed. The reality is that God has called us to a time like this, given us a mission and a community to serve alongside, and we still have the most important resource, which is trust in the context of love. Everything depends on how quickly and thoroughly we move to build on that resource, starting today.
How do you and your church see the pandemic—blizzard, winter, or ice age—and what will that mean for developing plans and strategies for formation with age groups, families, and the whole community (intergenerational)?
Assumptions about the Future
The pandemic has had an impact on everything churches do. We now have to ask questions and the where, when, what, and how of church life that were unthinkable before March 2020: Sunday worship, large group gatherings at church, intergenerational and/or family faith formation gatherings at church, children’s classes, youth meetings, ritual celebrations (baptisms, first communions, confirmations), retreats mission trips, and much more.
The pandemic has demonstrated how fragile faith formation approaches and programming were and how dependent they were on fixed time programming in physical spaces at church facilities and in the other locations (retreat houses, service/mission project locations, etc.) When gatherings at church were no longer possible, faith formation in many places just came to a halt. The pandemic has called into question how durable and resilient our current forms of ministry and faith formation really are.
Based on the available date, I believe that we can make at least the three conclusions about our current situation.
First, there is no going back to life before the pandemic or to church life and faith formation before the pandemic. All of the evidence is pretty clear that our world and church have been disrupted in significant and lasting ways. We are going to have to develop new models and approaches for church life and faith formation if we are going to survive and thrive in this new world.
Second, we have moved through “winter” and are now entering into multiple years of an “ice age.” Based on the most optimistic forecasts the earliest a vaccine might be ready is early 2021 with production and widespread availability of the vaccine many months later. We need to design a new approach to faith formation beginning in Fall 2020 that takes this timeline as a starting point.
Third, we will not be able to gather people in church facilities as we have in the past. If we use the Center for Disease Control guidelines for public gatherings, the picture becomes pretty clear. Most parts of the U.S. are in Phase 1 or 2; very few are in Phase 3. And the movement from Phase 1 to 2 to 3 is a gradual process.
So how do we envision and plan Faith Formation 2.0?