We are two years and two months out from the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Churches and other houses of worship have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. These places where people gathered in the tens, hundreds, and thousands – considered essential for so many of us – spiritually, emotionally, socially – were deemed “nonessential services.” That hit the church hard because many people had already decided churches were non-essential. That steady stream of people leaving had put the church in a decades-long decline. It has brought to light three post-pandemic questions every church leader wants answered. If we can grapple with these questions well and live into new answers, we can enter a new phase of renewal.
These are three post-pandemic questions that every church leader wants answered:
- When do things go back to normal?
- How do we get people (back) to church?
- How do we do more with less?
Medieval Christians Asked the Same Three Questions
Medieval Christians weathered a deadly pandemic too. The bubonic plague erupted across Europe for more than three centuries deeply disrupting all of society, including the church. They needed answers to these questions too.
Based on my research for my new book, Forging a New Path: Moving the Church Forward in a Post-Pandemic World, here is what I believe would be the medieval Christians’ answers based on their experience with the plague.
When do things go back to normal?
They don’t. Something new had to emerge. In medieval times, that turned out to be the Protestant Reformation.
How do we get people (back) to church?
Instead of getting people back to church, they had to go forward, and invite people into something brand new.
How do we do more with less?
Trying to fill the gaps of leadership and trust left by the plague wasn’t very successful. Instead, they had to reorganize the very way they did church.
While there are significant differences between the bubonic plague and the COVID-19 pandemic – not to mention the societies they unfolded in – we share a surprising number of similarities with people of that day. The good news is that medieval Christians figured it out – just as we will.
In the following weeks, I’ll answer these three questions from a 2022 perspective. I’ll also share what we can learn from pandemics past to shape a positive future for the church.
In the meantime, let me leave you with this: the Latin origin of the word pandemic is from the Greek roots “pan” meaning “all, every, whole, or inclusive” and “demos” meaning “of or belonging to the people.”
In many ways we’ve looked at ourselves as victims of the pandemic, but understanding the root of this word can change our perspective. If pandemic means “of or belonging to all the people,” then the church has a choice about how we answer these questions. This important shift in perspective for the church allows us to take advantage of this post-pandemic time to make things better.
If you’ve found yourself asking these same three questions and want to explore new answers, I invite you to join a Creating a Culture of Renewal® cohort. Beginning this fall, you’ll have the opportunity to work closely with church leaders across the country and learn how to bring renewal to your congregation and community. Visit the link above or contact us for more information!
Excerpted and adapted from Rebekah’s new book, Forging a New Path: Moving the Church Forward in a Post-Pandemic World (Market Square Publishers, May 2022).
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