What Will the Church Be Facing After Covid?
December 2, 2020
With such a question, I am reminded of Yogi Berra’s remark: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nonetheless, with an eye to the past—and what we can learn from it—there are some things that I think we can say with confidence.
First of all, it’s important to underline that nothing will change. People will still be people. God will still be God. The Church will still be the Church. The Gospel will still be the Gospel. God’s plan to redeem a people for himself from every tribe, nation, and language has not and will not change. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, if you see “futurologists” predicting that the world (or the church) will be completely different after Covid, then you know that they are wrong. History also teaches us this. Previous pandemics have not led to a total rewriting of the human genome, a complete trashing of what is the essence of ecclesiology, or the dethroning of God from his sovereign rule of the universe. This pandemic will not lead to any of those outcomes either.
However, that said, while the essence of who we are, who God is, and what the Gospel is will not change, the circumstances in which we live will. Here are some of my predictions. I predict that the strong movement in the West towards gentrification of cities will begin to reverse. I think people will want to live in environments where they are less cheek-to-jowl with other people. I think crammed subways and undergrounds and public transportation and high-rise buildings—never the most attractive feature of cities—will look ever less attractive. That tendency will be magnified by the growing realization that a portion of work can be done outside of centralized office space.
However, I also predict that at the same time, once Covid is over, there will be a massive hunger for meeting in person – ball games, football, sport, entertainment, and yes, in-person church. People are social. They have been deprived of much of their social expression for a long time. When it becomes viewed by most to be again safe to gather in massed groups, then that gathering will become attractive. I think the movement towards small and variegated and virtual gatherings that were necessitated by some expressions of Covid policy will be gradually replaced with a hunger for large and celebratory gatherings.
In addition, I predict that the famine of Covid will be replaced by a strong desire for a party. You see this often after restrictions: there is a desire to break the barriers, get into the streets, and make some noise. After the global flu pandemic of 1919, there came the Roaring Twenties. People wanted to party. I think they will again.
I think that in light of that movement, there will come a possible, even more serious retrenchment in the other direction if global spiritual, policy, and educational leaders do not modify the desire for a party with a discipline. We don’t want to see another Wall Street Crash after the Roaring Twenties.
Finally, I think that we will at last see the death-knell to the ongoing influence of the 1960s counterculture. This is perhaps the most controversial prediction and may, in some circles, be viewed as wish fulfillment. But while I do not think there is likely to be any turning back of the clock towards a more puritan ethic in terms of sexuality, I do think there will be a movement away from that particular expression of epicureanism that the 60s represent to a return to a stoicism. I think people will be hungering for stability, emotional and political, discipline, order, common sense—and I think messages that resonate will less be about “how to be happy and still believe in God” (which is one slightly cynical reading of the great swathe of popular theology in the last 50 years) to more be about “how to have a life of order and meaning while believing in God.” If you have any doubts about this particular prediction, I encourage you to read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Never a more relevant word for our age, and in particular the post-Covid age.
Lastly (did I say finally above?), I think we can remove the tendentious “postmodern”/“modern” debates regarding how to characterize the contemporary moment. After Covid, we can say that we are living in a post-Covid world.
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