John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera on Will the Post-Pandemic Church be Weakened?

Restaurants, theaters, sports teams, and theme parks are scrambling to figure out if and how they can get people back to business. At the same time, and far more important for many of us, churches are trying to figure out how to reopen, too.

Not only are such plans complicated by official regulations and recommendations that differ from state to state and even county to county, but different theologies and worship styles matter as well. More sacramental churches that emphasize participatory worship and weekly communion face certain challenges, and massive congregations with huge crowds face others. Some congregations consist of a high number of “at-risk” members due to age or other factors. Some don’t.

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After navigating all of these challenges, it’s still not clear just how many people will be willing to show up. And, all of this is being navigated in the context of differing opinions. Just about every church is made up of some members who are fearful, others who are convinced that the threat of Covid-19 was overblown, and others somewhere in-between. Everyone has opinions, and some think theirs are matters of orthodoxy.

All of this means, according to Baylor historian Philip Jenkins, people in the future will think about church in terms of “BC…Before Coronavirus,” and after.

The key factor in Jenkin’s fascinating analysis is what we might call “pre-existing conditions.” In other words, in many ways, the coronavirus hasn’t so much created problems for the Church as it has revealed and accelerated them. One particular “pre-existing condition” that Jenkins believes will be accelerated by this crisis is secularization, especially in the United States.

To be clear, “secularization” is not the same as atheism or even “a decline or destruction of faith.” Rather, as Jenkins writes, it’s “a decline of religious institutions, and a decisive shift in religious practice to individual and privatized forms.” In other words, secularization takes personal faith and makes it private, often by making us more and more religiously unaffiliated.

So, Jenkins thinks it is quite possible that “the U.S. in the 2020s [will] witness a rapid secular trend comparable to Western Europe in the 1960s,” in which church attendance declines and religious conviction is seen as less appropriate for the public square.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera

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