I want to put my futurist hat on and make a few observations and predictions about the future of our world Post-Covid-19. After reading several Covid-19 projection models in the last day or two, a couple of realities are clear. First, this is a deadly and vicious virus! It is not like the common flu and should be taken very seriously. Second, this will be a long and hard-fought battle. Regardless of what projection model you use, until a vaccine is developed, proven effective and disseminated globally, I can’t imagine any scenario (unless a miracle treatment is discovered) that would have us going back to public gatherings the way we once knew them any time soon. If we do, we risk unleashing a new wave of infection, sickness and death.
Consequently, this virus and the needed prolonged actions we are taking to mitigate it will have massive and long-term societal impacts. Therefore, let me unpack six changes I see happening in society and the church that will occur and accelerate as a result:
Tiny homes may have made sense Pre-Covid-19 economically and with people’s active lifestyles, but with spending all of our time indoors, this lifestyle option will quickly lose its ship-lapped luster. Larger spaces will become more the norm (within reason and economic restraint). Additionally, open concepts seem great until families spend more and more time at home. Consequently, the need for separate space will return in home design and architecture.
Usher in the Age of Automation
Our world was already facing the inevitable disruption of automation. Artificial Intelligence and automation were already poised to radically change the economy and replace human involvement in manufacturing, transportation, sales, supply chains, etc. Pre-Covid-19 we were within a decade of a massive shift in the workforce, which is now accelerated and with the public seeing the benefit of “essential services” being met by machines with no risk to this or future virus’, the once opposition that would have been present will be exchanged for widespread embrace and celebration. People like Bill Gates and others have proposed economic systems and models for a world where machines do most of the work and the human population finds its purpose and value in other areas. Most of these involve taxing machines and providing a guaranteed income (much like is happening in the stimulus plans now). This was our inevitable and resisted future, but Covid-19 will accelerate the transition and our celebrated embrace of it.
The Work and Study from Home Movement
Any assumption that working from home was untenable will be proven wrong. It isn’t perfect and all of its blemishes will be brought to light, but compared to the personal, environmental and economic advantages, we won’t go back to not primarily working from home. Consider how fast fifty percent of our public buildings (churches, schools, libraries, corporate office, etc.) were proven to be not as necessary as we thought. We will still need these in the future, as I believe an exclusive work and study from home experiment will prove to have some deficiencies, but we will not go back to the way it was. Business will start to look at their office space costs, school building cost, economic and environmental impact of building infrastructures and determine that many of these are unnecessary.
Embrace the Personal with Distance
Once we are on the other side of this, I believe people will be craving personal connection. That being said, it won’t bounce back quickly. With a prolonged season, budget’s, habits, personal caution/protection, desires, etc. will change and people will not “return to the old normal”. Yes, people will long for human connection, but the way they experienced it will not be the same. People will be more hesitant to go to restaurants, publicly gather in large groups and you will begin to see masks regularly worn in public (like it is common in many parts of Asia).
The Rise of Creativity and Context
For churches, there will come a resurgence of creativity in context. Pre-Covid-19, most churches looked much the same. Yes, there was difference, but our methodologies were not radically different (500 years will do that). Post-Covid-19, that will change. Creativity and context matter more than ever and there will be an explosion of difference. New methodologies are emerging, and they will reproduce rather than replicate in this environment.
The Emerging Era of the Shepherd Pastor
If the CEO was the pastor who thrived Pre-Covid-19, the shepherd pastor will thrive Post-Covid-19. Leadership will still hold a major place no doubt, but people will begin to form and gather around shepherds who know and love them. This is the season for the shepherd pastor to know and lead their churches. If that isn’t clear yet…wait until the dust settles and see those who have thriving churches – they will be churches where the people are known and cared for, not those who have the best-produced video and services (which have an important place but it is hard to compete in a global church production competition). The tables have turned, and things will be different.