May 10, 2021

Scenario Thinking pt. 2

In a post last week, I wrote about "scenario thinking" referencing the work of Steven Weber and Arik Ben-Zvi. I would argue that for most faith communities, one of the best ways to start looking towards the future is to first look to the past.

Here's what I mean.

Throughout the pandemic, congregations of all shapes and sizes overcame challenges they would have imagined possible just months before. For example, the number of congregations that were able to transition their programming to a digital format—including worship, giving, formation, etc.—in a short amount of time is astounding when you consider that most congregations in the States were not using Internet tools to their full capacity prior to to the pandemic. In many cases, congregations made this adjustment within a few short weeks. If you had gone to the leaders of these congregations 18 months before the pandemic and asked them if they thought it possible for their faith community to move all programming online in 2 weeks most would have said it impossible. And, yet, most were able to do this.

What this tells me is that we are often more resilient, more capable of change than we give ourselves credit for. We don't recognize this because we don't take the time to reflect on the challenges we have overcome and how this might apply to future challenges. I would recommend that as congregations begin to go back to some semblance of normalcy that they take time to reflect on the challenges they have overcome with their leaders:

  • Whose participation did it require?
  • How long did it take?
  • What kind of resources did it require?
  • How were those resources obtained? 

A simple analysis of past challenges overcome will give you a sense of what the next "impossible" challenge will require.

With these tools in hand, let's return to what Weber and Ben-Zvi discuss in "scenario thinking." In an example they offer, four scenarios are offered. They come to these by identifying two independent variable. These are, as they write:

a) Very important to defining what the future will look like; and

b) Very uncertain and thus difficult to predict

I don't know that Weber and Ben-Zvi would recommend using their concepts in this way, but I wonder if there are two important post-covid questions, for church plants in particular, to consider. The first is this:

Is this new faith community sustainable?

The answer to this is not merely a yes/no, pass/fail response. A response might be, "No, but we hope to be" or "Yes, but we're not sure it should be." In any case, another question that needs to be addressed as well:

Does this new faith community need to exist for a season?

Not all faith communities need to exist for an extended amount of time. One study found that only 68% of new churches still remained in their fourth year. It's important to recognize that a faith community existing for a short season does not need to be understood as failure. Considering how transient many populations are, it's completely logical that some communities would rise and fall with the changes of populations in certain areas. Coming to terms with this allows us to end well, to discern the lessons to be learned for others in the future, etc.

Whether a community is to be sustainable or seasonal, another question remains:

To what scale?

Faith communities come in all shapes and sizes. Some faith communities exist comfortably at—for example—6, 60 and 160 participants. The hard question is not the size so much as whether we're willing to live with what is possible at different sizes. Does a community of 6 need a full time person? No. Does 60? Maybe, maybe not. Does 160? Probably.

COVID-19 has had, and will have, a hard impact on our congregations. What's even more important is to recognize the deep impact it has had, and will have, on the communities surrounding each congregation. Addressing some of these questions might resolve some of our questions about our own survivability so that we might be prepared to meet our neighbors clear on what we have to offer to whatever lies ahead. 

You can find the first post on "scenario thinking" here.

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