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Four Years after the World Shut Down for COVID

Dr. James Emery White | Mecklenburg Community Church | Published: Apr 01, 2024
Four Years after the World Shut Down for COVID

Four Years after the World Shut Down for COVID

There have been some interesting post-apocalyptic movies that play off the length of time following a cataclysmic event. 28 Days Later comes to mind. What would someone write about our own, very real event if titled Four Years Later?

Yes, it’s been four years since March 2020 when the world faced the COVID-19 pandemic and, in countless ways, shut down. It now seems like a distant memory, something we prefer not to think about. It’s gone, we’ve moved on… let’s forget about it.

Fair enough.

Except for one thing.

It did change us.

All things COVID might be over, but how it changed the world – and us – did not. Refusing to acknowledge those changes is neither helpful nor wise. As an article in the New York Times noted, some of the changes are subtle but unmistakable:

... [our] world feels a little smaller, with less socializing and fewer crowds. Parents who began to home-school their children never stopped. Many people are continuing to mourn relatives and spouses who died of COVID or of complications from the coronavirus.

What all agree on is that the “changes brought on by the pandemic now feel lasting, a shift that may have permanently reshaped American life.”

Here are four important shifts to consider:

1. We now live in a very fractured society. I could have put this in a different way, namely that we now live in a very ideological society. Going further, our ideologies have become our new theologies and, as a result, have led to garden-variety societal divisions becoming filled with unbridled emotional and spiritual energy. As one person interviewed by the New York Times put it: “I see it in people’s anger, in people’s aggressive driving. It just seems like there’s a lot of unhappiness and rage in the world right now.” It appears to be here to stay.

2. We now live in a post-religious culture. Everyone knows that church attendance took a hit during COVID. Everyone also knows that it has yet to recover. Recent Gallup polling has found that more than half of all Americans (56%) say they seldom or never attend religious services. Not even a third (30%) say they attend regularly. To put this into perspective, the percentage of Americans who never attend religious services has more than doubled since the early 1990s.

3. We now have a disillusioned younger generation. When I wrote Meet Generation Z, I listed several of their characteristics: recession-marked, Wi-Fi enabled, multiracial, sexually fluid and post-Christian. If I had to pick a single word to characterize their current state of mind, it would be “disillusioned.” As the Wall Street Journal has reported:

Young adults in Generation Z... have emerged from the pandemic feeling more disillusioned than any living generation before them.... They worry they’ll never make enough money to attain the security previous generations have achieved, citing their delayed launch into adulthood, an impenetrable housing market and loads of student debt. 

And now we’re getting ready to ban TikTok, their most beloved platform, on which they spend hours each day and use for their main source of news.

4. We now live in a hybrid world. A hybrid world is a world that embraces the physical and the digital as a seamless interplay. There has been a digital revolution, and there is no going back. This started long before COVID, but as with many other things, the pandemic accelerated the move toward a hybrid mentality and lifestyle.

Each of these changes holds enormous significance for the life and mission of the Church. In a fractured society, the Church holds the promise of authentic community; in a post-religious culture, the Church offers the message of a relationship with the living God. But make no mistake, unless the Church rises to the fourth challenge – the new reality of a hybrid world – it will squander its great opportunity. Not only has the nature of our mission field changed (from Christian to post-Christian), but the way of communicating to that mission field has also changed (from written communication to digital communication). As I wrote in Hybrid Church:

The goal is not to transform the church into a solely digital form but to transform the church’s thinking and methods and strategies in order to reach a post-Christian world. Accomplishing this goal will necessarily include taking full advantage of the digital revolution. We must embrace a hybrid model of ministry that involves the digital and the physical because that is the reality of our world.

I know, I know.

None of us want to talk about the pandemic. It’s so over, and we want to move on.

The problem is that it’s not letting us.

James Emery White

Sources

Julie Bosman, “Four Years On, Covid Has Reshaped Life for Many Americans,” The New York Times, March 13, 2024, read online.
Jeffrey M. Jones, “Church Attendance Has Declined in Most U.S. Religious Groups,” Gallup, March 25, 2024, read online.
Andrew Restuccia and Eliza Collins, “The Rough Years That Turned Gen Z Into America’s Most Disillusioned Voters,” The Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2024, read online.
James Emery White, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, order from Amazon.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of ChristianHeadlines.

Image credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.



Four Years after the World Shut Down for COVID