With the reappearance of so many familiar faces following the Great Unmasking of the vaccinated, there’s a great temptation for people in the church to breathe a sigh of relief and try to pick up where we left off in March 2020. Kay Kotan has other ideas. “Reality check: Life will never be the same,” she says at the beginning of her new book, Being the Church in a Post-Pandemic World.
Let’s hope the church won’t be either because “the pre-pandemic church might have been comfortable, but as a whole it was certainly not entirely fruitful.” (7) Kotan, a professionally credentialed coach who has worked with numerous United Methodist churches over the years, put together this book as a “conversation starter and reflection tool” for churches who know that the good old days of the Before Times were not always so good and who want to reconnect to their central mission of connecting with the world and making disciples.
Each of the chapters in this slim (158 pp.) book could be the subject of a full-length book of its own, but then you might not hear Kotan’s urgent tone and call to respond to the times. Besides, as Loren Mead of the Alban Institute used to say, “Preachers buy big books but they read small ones.” So what you get from Kotan is not a treatise but a quick and easy guide to doing discernment as the world is changing—the proverbial changing of the tires as the bus is moving.
I actually think Kotan’s book needs, as a complement, the wise and soulful work that Susan Beaumont has done in her recent How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going. Many clergy are being told that they need to be both quick to seize the moment and yet gentle with themselves and their congregations as they acknowledge the dislocations of the last year. My own advice would be to set short-term goals that allow us to move into the new landscape without being overwhelmed with the idea that the now is the next Grand Unifying Plan. We’re all dipping our toes in the water here.
Unless we’re ignoring that the water has changed, which I’m afraid many leaders are doing. Since the faces that were behind the masks were the most faithful during the pandemic, we may lose track of those who disengaged or who came to be engaged through the online ministry many churches discovered. Kotan’s book ends with a 30 page RE-Launch Playbook that helpfully prioritizes three categories of people who need to be considered in our planning—the Already Gathered, the Newly Gathered, and the Yet to Be Gathered, with the clear priority being on that last category.
Kotan identifies flexibility and being highly relational as the two key traits for healthy churches in the post-pandemic era. After working through these in the first part of the book, she goes on to describe other traits and practices, such as being visionary, spiritually grounded, highly committed, innovative, resilient, and courageous. Most of the things Kotan tries to rally readers around will not be surprising, and there is a temptation to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of changes most congregations would need to go through to live into these, but a church that began to implement even some of these would begin to experience new life and energy as they welcomed the renewing Holy Spirit into their life.
The book is organized for discussion, with practical tools and questions at the end of each chapter. A leadership group could easily build a plan from this platform. The RE-launch Playbook is a little gimmicky, especially with its insistence on capitalizing every instance of the prefix-RE. (That was something they should have REsisted, as it gets old RElatively quickly.) But the bones are good, as they say. I’d REcommend…er…suggest that any church looking for a resource to move them into the fall of 2021 consider this one with Beaumont’s book as a larger base for renewal.