Lenin said “there are decades in which nothing happens, and there are weeks in which decades happen.” The last few weeks tell many leaders that the business they were in no longer exists.
The pandemic has accelerated trends once predicted to take decades to unfold. The decline of malls has accelerated. No one’s going to a mall. A few months ago, it was believed Macy’s would shed 140,000 jobs over the next decade. They furloughed 140,000 in one week. The coronavirus has triggered many steep declines. The list includes auto dealers, furniture stores, bars and restaurants, sporting goods, and electronics.
That’s not all. In 2013, researchers predicted an avalanche in higher education. Tier 1 schools offering online courses would overwhelm Tier 2, 3, and 4 schools. The pandemic accelerates this. Lower tier schools (including Christian colleges and seminaries) have begun cutbacks and layoffs.
Many lower-tier jobs, often held by Millennials, have long been in decline. In a few weeks, 52 percent of Millennials lost their job, were put on leave, or had their hours reduced. Waiting this out is not a plan, as economists say it might take the labor market 5½ years to fully recover.
The pandemic has accelerated other trends predicted to unfold over the next few decades. One is the rise of religious “nones.” They are are the fastest-growing percentage of the US population. Few churches recognize this. But now, with the pandemic closing church doors, nones who were on their way out the door are now likely gone for good.
The same goes for exiles. They’re believers who were slowly sliding out the door of churches. Again, few churches recognize this. They will when their doors open again. They’ll find a great many exiles got used to not attending church and stopped for good.
Not everyone is out of business. Zoom. Amazon. Online retail. But most businesses (economists guesstimate 80 percent) are effectively out of business.
Now we see a second wave of job loss hitting those we assumed were safe. Corporate lawyers. Government workers being furloughed. Economists believe 14.4 million jobs will be lost in the coming months.
Only a small percentage of enterprises recognize that the business they were in no longer exists. Office furniture makers are making workspaces that maintain six feet of distance. Starbucks is designing stores with seating that maintains six feet of distance.
No one knows the future, but highly effective organizations exhibit the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality. I think a recent paper by Praxis confronts brutal reality. The authors have rather some strong recommendations for the faith community.
“From today onward, most leaders must recognize that the business they were in no longer exists. This applies not just to for-profit businesses, but to nonprofits, and even in certain important respects to churches.” The authors say most are “effectively out of business.”
Tough diagnosis. They say this because the model for most churches and ministries is based primarily on gatherings. Corporate worship. Bible studies. We have no idea when such gatherings will again become routine, but it will not be in a matter of weeks.
The Praxis authors feel few ministry leaders recognize this reality. “The top priority ought to be to set aside confidence in their current playbook as quickly as possible. It’s time to write a new one… the underlying assumptions that sustained these ministries are no longer true.”
For most churches and ministries, the underlying assumption is that we can wait this out, hoping to return to the old normal. This is not a plan. We don’t know when this crisis will end.
And we’re not returning to the old normal. The new normal might require gatherings of no more than ten. And six feet of distance between people. This is why the report’s authors believe “an organization’s survival in weeks and months, let alone years, depends far more on radical innovation than on tactical cutbacks. This is a time to urgently redesign your work.”
How many ministry leaders feel this sense of urgency? I don’t know. Praxis does. They’re rethinking their business model, pursuing projects that are feasible in the current conditions.
So is Clapham Institute. Like Praxis, we’re a 501(c)3 that depends largely on donors. This past month we’ve seen a drop in donations. Simply waiting this out is not a plan. We’re reworking our business model, becoming more of an online resource.
I’m all for redesigning for radical innovation, but I doubt most understand what it entails. Radical is returning to our ancient roots. Innovation is renewal (c.f. Col.1:18-20). Both require outside voices, a role Clapham has played for many organizations. If we can help yours, let us know.
Lenin was right. There are weeks in which decades happen. We’re living those weeks. Read the Praxis report and get moving on your organization’s best course of action.
Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/