Part One: Waking Up in the Future

Microsoft Corporation says COVID-19 has accelerated the technological transformation of our society.  A year of digital change now happens every month.  On average, each month, the number of people who shop online, meet by Zoom, join social media, perform legal transactions through Docusign, or stream media equals the number of people who were anticipated to convert their patterns each year. 

Digital shopping has been a convenience for many of us, but during the days of social distancing it has represented safety, and in some cases, a lifeline.  Not only is it more accepted, it is increasingly expected.  We have neighbors who moved in the week before the shut-down began in our state.  The husband told me he had counted forty-one consecutive days that UPS or FEDEX made a delivery to their home.  Yes, they only represent one household, but in order to keep up with demand, Amazon has hired more than 100,000 new warehouse workers and delivery personnel since March.

The online experience has given birth to the rise of the on-demand culture.  You may associate the term with entertainment platforms like Netflix, but on-demand describes the way we perform many daily activities:

  • Online classes allow me to study when it suits me.
  • My bank’s app and ATM’s mean I rarely wait for a branch to open.
  • An iPhone and a search engine provide information whenever I’m curious.
  • Apps for urgent care and restaurants mean I don’t wait in line. 

These trends will not stop, nor can we turn back the clock to a simpler time.  I won’t give up my Amazon Prime account and the percentage of my purchases made online will only increase.  I prefer for life to happen on my schedule, not the bank’s, the school’s, or the cable company’s

These trends find thousands of new adherents every day, particularly among older individuals who had previously preferred their deep-rooted practices.  The integration of these trends into our society have reached levels which were not anticipated for a decade or more.  In July, the COO of Shopify said, “We are now in a retail world we did not expect until 2030.” 

Churches cannot escape the impact of these digital shifts.  When we “get back to normal,” the members of our churches will be living digitally in ways they may not have attained until 2030 (or beyond). We are the Rip Van Winkle generation, waking up in an unexpected, online, on-demand future.  I believe churches will feel these changes in three areas. 

First, after a long absence from church activities, many people will see worship as an on-demand experience.  Members have discovered they can relax on Sunday morning and watch a recording of worship later.  Between flexible lifestyles and safety concerns, many members will not return to regular, in-person worship.

A friend in the fast food industry says some companies now plan to build drive-through-only restaurants in the future.  Many companies don’t plan to bring employees back to the office.  Why pay for rent and utilities when working from home is effective?  The second impact on churches with large facilities will correspond to those felt by retail and dining outlets: what do we do with this space?  The most outdated facilities will be the greatest liabilities.  Spending money on utilities and repairs will be questionable stewardship. 

Finally, the tsunami of change will produce an emotional dislocation and spiritual crisis among many church members.  Where is everyone?  Is it our fault that attendance declined?  Will we return to normal if we just work harder at the things as we did before the virus?  Whose fault is this? 

If these trends hold, we are spending too much time on the wrong problems. As important as it is to determine when we start in-person worship, how to get on the right side of the looming digital-divide in church life is more important.   We must prepare leaders now to understand the silent transformation taking place today.

If you agree with my theory, there are immediate steps to take.  I have included a second part of this article that outlines tasks you can begin today in order to start your own adjustments to the seismic shifts taking place around us.  

Read suggestions about what you can do.

 

Joel Snider
Joel Snider is the former pastor of FBC, Rome, Georgia, where he has served for more than eighteen years. Joel has been actively involved in coaching for seven years, serving ministers, small business owners, academic professionals and financial planners. He is a coach for CHC.