A friend of mine opened an ice cream shop in May. She dreamed a dream, a big dream, and made it happen during a pandemic. She wrestled with construction, permitting, sourcing, bidding, hiring, marketing, and taste-testing. She cultivated relationships with local officials, churn experts, shop owners, potential staff, and her community. No one told her she couldn’t, so she did it.
That was bold. I wish all of us in the church would be so bold right now.
As we move into the early stages that we may dare to call “post-pandemic,” everyone seems to want everything the way it used to be. We want to meet in-person, in small study groups, in worship large groups, with all our seating, and without limitations. We want to print the bulletin, pass the plate, and share the cup. Facebook broadcasts may survive, but Zoom groups may not, we have heard some speculate. It’s possible in the effort to recapture what we used to have that we will lose what we just created.
What did we create in the lockdown year? We quickly developed a deeper appreciation for community. We demonstrated desire to go the extra mile to achieve it. We even drew in some people who had been on the margins of church life. We all understood how the shut-ins felt. Now, as all our on-campus activities resume, it’s possible some people won’t return—and no one will notice. If we’re not careful, 2021 will become the year of the dropout.
As worship services went online and pastors preached from their dining rooms last year, we saw in tangible ways the potential of the internet. “Look how many people are watching and liking and commenting,” we heard last spring and summer. “New people!” And that fostered a new kind of interest in outreach to our neighbors. As they just might be listening, we more intentionally spoke up in the places they tuned in.
The neighborhood Facebook page became the new back fence. The topic of conversation was the availability of disinfectant supplies, food distribution, emotional support, and sermon watch parties from the church sometimes ignored by the community. But as the neighbors’ calendars get booked again with kids sports and vacations and all the stuff that kept them busy pre-pandemic, connecting with them will not be so easy. Our push to reach the neighbors will subside, if we are not careful.
Overall, we experienced willingness to break the mould and openness to experimentation. Like my friend, the creamery entrepreneur, nobody told us we couldn’t, so we did it.
Will we be able to say that again a year from now?