By Jerry Harris
Can a “new normal” ever be a good thing?
I have to admit, hearing people use the phrase new normal has been like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard to me. There are many things I am comfortable with that I really don’t like to see changing, and many times, when we use that phrase, it means that whatever is new will be “less than” what existed in the past. Anytime we lose ground, it just doesn’t sit well with me; still, once I am able to view it from a higher level, I sometimes find certain cultural changes can be very good.
I have grown to appreciate some new normals of convenience during the past year. I’ve enjoyed the convenience of telehealth, online shopping, working from home, delivered groceries, Stitch Fix, and DoorDash, all of which have saved me time and gas money. I’ve enjoyed the new opportunities we’ve explored at church with the development of our online and digital platforms, including online Bible studies, ministry updates, and other forms of communication. I’ve appreciated the strengthening of ministry networks via large Zoom gatherings and in smaller video-based conversations that have saved both time and money.
Churches of all sizes have come a long way technologically in the last year. Many have revamped and rebooted their approach to staffing, programming, budgeting, and overall ministry direction. They have upgraded their ministry spaces and looked at expanding into new spaces. Churches have mobilized by building bridges with our communities to address social and educational needs and produced partnerships that could last a long time.
All of these could be incredible blessings for the future, and if that’s what new normal means, then count me in! All of these can help us be better stewards of God’s provision and better leaders of God’s family as we maximize our effectiveness for the kingdom moving further into 2021 and beyond.
But in many instances, I’m hearing new normal to describe a future that features smaller in-person gatherings. Many prognosticators speculate that churches won’t return to our pre-COVID-19 attendance numbers and that digital platforms are how we should expect a growing number of our people to worship with us from now on. They contend the convenience of virtual gatherings will be overpowering to many and that we should embrace and encourage it for future ministry. Some suggest that in-person services be reduced to monthly or quarterly, and that online worship be the primary focus. Many churches are redirecting funds and exploring hiring options specifically for this purpose.
I think these online opportunities are great for our future, but I don’t believe they can or ever will replace physical gathering as a body, either in large or small groups. As a matter of fact, I believe the pandemic has created a greater appreciation for gathering in person. The old saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is typically applied to romantic relationships, but in this “new normal,” I believe it applies fittingly to our times of spiritual gathering as well. That fondness is best expressed by physical proximity.
I believe that as restrictions are relaxed, masks come off, distances are narrowed, and physical touch is restored, people will embrace their “old normals” with great enthusiasm, even as they accept the best of the new ones into the routines of their lives. In my mind, it means there is much to look forward to with both old and new normals working together to bring people into a deepening relationship with Jesus and with one another.