For some the “New Normal” is just catching up
As churches and theological schools, as well as other institutions, are getting past the acute phase of adjusting to the impact of the pandemic, talk about “the new normal” has taken center stage as the topic of the day. I doubt, however, that any “new normal” will be evenly distributed.
Some institutions will be able to return to familiar routines while others will not weather the current challenges without significant detrimental impact. For others, the “new normal” will include closing shop, the end of dreams and aspirations, and a loss of investments in worthwhile but unsustainable enterprises. Even for the most resilient, adaptation may mean changes in the very business models that sustained them till now.
The New Normal as Just Catching Up
Many churches and theological schools have hustled to go digital, online, and on social media as a way to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic; many for the first time and often skeptically and reluctantly. But they are discovering that the assumptions about these modalities and tools which provided excuses for not utilizing them were not true. Most now see the need to continue these ways, acknowledging that “the digital will not go away.” They anticipate that these will be a part of the “new normal.”
Nona Jones, head of Faith Based Partnerships at Facebook, however, observed that for many, “the next new normal” is just catching up with what has been. This is certainly true of theological schools that have resisted the impact of instructional technologies of the past decades. Those schools that are experiencing what is “new” for them is merely catching up with 20-year-old digital pedagogies. And true as well for churches that have not till now felt the need to have a presence on social media. All of a sudden, they are discovering that’s where their members have been all along.
The insight here is: catching up with what has been is merely an adaptation to conditions. That capacity is insufficient for what comes next, which for some enterprises, requires evolutionary change rather than re-development.
More “New” Is Yet to Come. We Need a “Do over”
Now that the acute phase of dealing with change is almost over, the emergent changes to which we need to adapt to are on the horizon. For some industries, this period can provide an opportunity for a “Do over.” You remember that universal unwritten rule that dominates children’s games, don’t you? When things are not going as planned, just stop everything and call a “do over.”
Ken Jahng, CEO of Big Click Syndicate, offers three areas worth considering for a “do over” for both churches and theological schools, that can help moving into the “new normal.”
- Give up on the assumption that people know what you are about, that they perceive that what you offer is of value, and that they are interested in what you do. Those are results of self-referencing, the belief that we are good and relevant simply because we believe so. Move toward communicating the purpose of why it is that what you do is important to the lives of those you want to reach.
- Stop “taking attendance,” says Jahng (or, for schools, stop counting enrollment!). For churches engagement and participation will be more relevant than membership. For schools, creating value to address immediate needs will be what counts. In seminaries, continuing education and lifelong learning will move closer to the center of gravity of their mission.
- Jahng says we must “stop instructing” and start equipping. That’s quite a challenge to schools that continue to be structured around industrial-age models of education: inflexible curricula, semester schedules, irrelevant metrics like “contact hours,” classroom instruction as primary pedagogy, residential requirements for programs, etc. No doubt, this will challenge the culture and ethos of higher education, from the nature of scholarship to the very practice of teaching. Similarly for churches, there will be the need to increasingly let go of “schooling” models and increasing faith formation experiences.
Whatever the “new normal” will be in all its varied and uneven manifestation, for some enterprises, it will require adaptation that leads to evolutionary changes, rather than mere re-development. Just catching up will not be sufficient.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).