The ‘New Normal’
Photograph courtesy of @andyjh07
These posts were written in the middle of a social lockdown, brought on by the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. During this time there was much speculation about what was quickly termed the ‘new normal’, and the key question was whether life might be any different on the other side of lockdown. This phrase: the ‘new normal’ particularly caught my attention, because the words mirrored an aspiration I had written for the Joshua Centre’s work in 2017, over 3 years previously:
Multiplying Congregations could become the ‘New Normal’
The ‘Multiplying Congregations’ project was set up to start 30 new church congregations, within existing parish structures. To become a Joshua Centre partner congregation, each would each agree to a goal of making 30 new disciples in 5 years. If these were successful, I imagined that many other parishes might be inspired to start new congregations, which would result in many more new disciples being made. This could have lead to a widely accepted new pattern of church growth.
Photograph courtesy of @garri
Not only was the wording similar between my project aspirations and our increasingly common parlance, but also the timing of the end of my project, and the likely emergence of any kind of new social normal, seemed to be coherent. I was intrigued. Was it possible that my project and the future shape of the church might be aligned, in some small way? Could the work I was involved in help us find a new kind of normal for both church growth and post-lockdown life?
Among many other things, the congregational pattern of church life in the UK was (and still is) being massively disrupted by the virus. Will we ever return to our pre-pandemic patterns of gathering? Do the sizes of our church congregations need to become much smaller, from now on? And if so, by how much? The implications of such congregational changes would be present a significant challenge to our current ideas about what ‘normal’ looks like.
Photograph courtesy of @jannerboy62
For example, what would happen if congregations of 80 people become 4 smaller weekly congregations, with 20 people in each? If so, would they need four times as many leaders as they had had previously? Furthermore, as soon as smaller congregations started to grow in number, would they not need to start planning for, and launching, more new congregations? Might this force us into more of a multiplication mind-set?
Making room for new disciples used to mean just grafting them in to our existing congregations (thereby swelling their size) while also asking very little of them. However, planning to start more congregations (and maybe keeping them smaller), would mean that each new person would have a vital part to play in them. There would be no more spectators. Churches would become much more inclusive and dynamic Our ‘new normal’ could end up being a very positive thing.