Unlocking: The Future Is Complex

We mark one year of online church meetings this week, so I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for the future. Yesterday I talked about ‘one year of online church’; today I want to start looking forwards.

Recently a group of us were part of an online ‘Learning Community’, with churches from across the UK and Europe, looking at the future of church life as we emerge from the pandemic. We quickly learnt that this wasn’t a simple or straightforward topic, and we encountered some wildly differing views about the future and even about the nature of the church itself! I’m so glad God is with us on this unlocking journey (and He left us an amazing book called the Bible that has a lot to say about the nature of the church …)

Complicated vs Complex

Some situations we face in life are complicated. For example, Jo and I recently purchased something requiring self assembly. When we got the pieces out of the box it was more complicated than we’d expected, but it came with good instructions. We followed these and the result was a success.

Complicated situations can be tackled by consulting experts and following best practice; if we do this we can usually manage complicated situations fairly well. Another recent example was setting up our Livestream for Sundays; it was technically complicated, but a combination of expertise and hard work delivered a great result – my personal thanks to all involved.

But some situations are more than complicated, they are COMPLEX. When something is complex it means there is no clear and established solution, and no certainty around best practice. We are walking an unmarked path, and the circumstances around us may be changing as we go. The end goal may even be a little unclear and there are no genuine experts available (though there will always be people who claim to be experts offering to sell their services 🙂).

When things are complex we have to work out the way forward step by step, adapting as we go, using the best wisdom and advice available, consulting with others along the way. We have to stop along the way to assess our progress and direction of travel. We will probably make mistakes and have to learn from them. We may have to backtrack sometimes. It’s a case of “plan, do, review” or “act, assess, adapt” or “build, measure, learn” (pick your preferred phrase).

As we start to unlock from coronavirus let’s be aware that we are in a COMPLEX situation as a church, not just a complicated one. Circumstances around us keep changing and it doesn’t take long to find out there are wildly differing views available about the process of unlocking, the pace we go at and even the end goal, especially when it comes to the topic of online church .

Time and again we’ve been told that after the pandemic ‘nothing will ever be the same again’ and ‘things won’t go back to how they used to be‘ and ‘we need to find a new normal’. I find myself asking: Is that really true? Is it true for our church? If so, what does it mean? Even if things largely do go back to how they used to be, how long will it take? What stages will we face along the way? Who will actually come on the journey with us?

Although some of the specific challenges we’ll face along the way will be complicated, the bigger picture is complex. Please pray that we have great wisdom as a team.

It’s easy to plan when you have certainty about the future; far harder when the goals posts keep moving, as has been the case all the way through the pandemic.

Staying Flexible

Today is the anniversary of the first lockdown being announced. It’s possible that all restrictions will lift by the end of June never to return. It’s also possible that this will be delayed. Or that some restrictions will stay. Or that there will be a fourth lockdown as we go into the winter. Or that a dangerous new variant will emerge. Or that the vaccination programme will be delayed. Or that guidance for churches will change. Or that any other number of unexpected things may happen.

If there’s one thing we need to remember as we head back towards in person meetings as a church it’s this:

we need to be flexible

Let’s remember: when the pandemic began none of us honestly expected to still be in Lockdown today, but here we are.

In person meetings

Our first in person meeting is planned for Sunday 18th April

(Assuming step 2 of the national plan goes ahead on April 12th as scheduled. If it doesn’t we will take a view and make a decision; none of us want to delay, but it’s complex and the situation is changing. Government advice to churches may also be updated along the way, as could general advice. Watch this space. Stay flexible.)

… and during the online Sunday meetings running up to that date we’ll let you know how you can book a place to attend; be ready to book in for that week and for the weeks ahead. I want to reassure everyone that we will follow the guidance for churches to make things Covid secure, so you can feel confident about returning in person; personally I can’t wait.

When we start these meetings, places will be limited. As far as we can tell right now face masks will be mandatory, congregational singing prohibited and social distancing will be in place. There will also be no children’s work or refreshments, but we do hope to have a live band and you’ll certainly be able to enjoy the preach as it happens and to smile behind your mask at people and wave. Despite everything I believe it will be well worthwhile!

Looking to the future though, the situation is complex: What new advice will be given to churches and when? How will the guidance change? When can we sing? What about serving coffee or food? How long will we have to wear face masks? When will social distancing end? When can we start to engage in prayer ministry? When will children’s work begin? Will vaccine passports be legally required for meetings of a certain size? If so will this apply to churches? We’d all like to think the end is in sight with step 4 in June (please 🙏) but it may be much more complex than that in reality.

Our hope is that as restrictions ease, in person meetings will slowly return to (a new?) normal … and this will require many of us stepping up to serve again, so let’s be ready (and this is just another aspect of the complexity we face).

Remember, as Christians we are not on our own. Jesus is with us always, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper and we are also encouraged to ask the Father for wisdom:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1v5

What about the future of online church?

Of course when we do start in person meetings most people will still be watching from home, so I’ll post something about the future of online church tomorrow

7 thoughts on “Unlocking: The Future Is Complex

  1. Steve & Jo, you’re doing an amazing job. I sense God’s presence is guiding you and this may be a ‘turning point’
    for our Church.
    I support everything you are doing and am praying for a positive outcome (excuse the pun)!

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful message. It is so wonderful that we are still able to be in contact with one another even under very different circumstances. Christine Cousins

  3. Pingback: Online Church: Part Of Our Future? | Steve Petch's Blog

  4. Pingback: Counting the cost | Steve Petch's Blog

  5. Pingback: Part Of A Bigger Picture | Steve Petch's Blog

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