Making Sense of a New Normal
Written By: David P. King, Ph.D.
Over these past few weeks, we have entered a new year, a new administration, and for those on an academic calendar, a new semester. But for many of us, those markers may do little to affect the new normal that we have learned to grow surprisingly accustomed to. Who would have thought that we will soon pass one year with many congregations still closed to in-person gatherings or our nonprofits’ fundraising campaigns done entirely virtually? It is likely that we will continue through many more months of the same. This new normal finds us living in-between – sandwiched between the ways we had always done things in the past and the ways in which we hope to live into the future. As difficult as it may be, it would serve us well not to take for granted this time in-between. Can we make space in the present for moments of reflection and imagination?
In March 2020, we responded to an initial crisis as the global pandemic forced us to reimagine the way we worked, gathered, and lived together. Of course, the challenges manifest themselves in many forms, but for many of us, we have established new rhythms as we have moved from an initial crisis response to a new normal. Perhaps for congregations, it is worship services recorded and broadcast over Zoom, setting up and breaking down a platform for services outside in the parking lot, or limited regathering indoors, socially distanced with masks.
Take time to reflect this week: What are those new rhythms for your organization? What is the same or different? What would you do again and what would you gladly put aside never to repeat? Looking back, what was it like to celebrate Easter, Ramadan, or the High Holy Days virtually? How did you manage a pledge campaign or year-end fundraising without face-to-face visits? And perhaps, most importantly, how do these new practices feel? As leadership guru Ron Heifetz states, “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.” In looking back on these past months, it is also worth taking time to grieve what has been lost. Obviously the loss of lives, jobs, and relationships are paramount, but not to be overlooked is also the loss of the rhythms and traditions that make meaning for so many in faith-based organizations. Yet, you might also look back to see what surprised you. Perhaps you were surprised by the resiliency of your leadership, the innovation of your community, or the continued support of your donors.
Questions for Today
Beyond the past, also make time to take stock of the present. As we live into the new rhythms we have established in this in-between time, it may be easy to overlook what we can learn now. What do we know about those connected to our organizations? How have patterns of engagement (whether attendance, viewership, or giving) changed in recent months? Have new individuals joined? Have others dropped out? What do you know about their age, health, financial status, or overall well-being? Beyond your own members, how can you assess the needs, opportunities, fears and joys in your own local community?
The temptation is to resist taking stock of the present. During such a unique moment, what can we possibly learn or compare this time too? Perhaps we believe our organization and its experience is too unique, or perhaps we feel do not have the time to take a breath and look around. But again, while in this season, we cannot miss learning from it even as we are living in the midst of it. What can we learn from the patterns of giving over the past nine months? What methods of communication did members and constituents respond to? In what areas did your organization immediately need to invest new resources and in what areas did you cut back?
We all have data within own organizations to analyze. That data might be in the form of spreadsheets or budgets, but it might just as well be taking the time to check in with staff or board members and call members for their feedback. There are also many other available resources able to put your organization in context within your local community, within your specific sector, or across faith traditions. Lake Institute strives to be a resource even as we partner with many more. For example, read Andrew Whitehead’s Expanded Perspective on the way that the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) can serve as an invaluable tool for religious organizations.
Imagining the Future
Then with wisdom gained through present circumstances, do not hesitate looking to the future. We may be living in the midst of a new normal, but we still are able to shape the ways in which our organizations live into their future. In making plans, balance realism with imagination. For example, examine how revenue and expenses have changed. Did you finish 2020 financially in the black? Was that because of sustained or increased revenue and giving or also through cutting expenses? How have you adjusted budget, programs, and personnel for this coming year? Do you anticipate current trends to continue, are you responding with new plans?
This past year has left leaders tired and often in states of shock in having to respond each day to meet one crisis after another. Yet, as we continue to weather current challenges, we cannot avoid looking to the future, reflecting on what we have learned and imagining where we are headed. Our communities need religious organizations in order to survive, heal, and thrive again. Making space for imagining what our organizations might look like in the months and years ahead is the creative work that we desperately need. Setting a vision and exploring how our organizations can take part allows us to face the beautiful and difficult questions that define our futures. Let’s make sure to make space to meet the challenge.
Free ARDA Resources for Working with Communities and Religious Organizations
by Andrew Whitehead, co-Director of the ARDA and Associate Professor of Sociology at IUPUI
The world is rapidly changing, and so are our communities and organizations. All of us can likely look around and point to several markers of such changes. Perhaps you wonder if your organization or congregation needs to change, too. The Association of Religion Data Archives (the ARDA) provides several free tools and resources that can help you find reliable answers to these questions.
These resources use relevant data that will help you imagine the right questions to ask as well as provides answers to your questions easily and accurately. Our free online tools even produce powerful visual aids to share.
The Community Profile Builder assists users in accessing free online information about their communities. The initial map shows the locations of congregations in your chosen area using any ZIP code, city and state, or complete address in the US. The Profile Builder then provides you with social, economic, and religious information about the community or neighborhoods you select. These data are drawn from several sources including the U.S. Census and the Religious Congregations and Membership Study. Explore the Community Profile Builder here: http://thearda.com/demographicMap/.
This free online resource has been used by community and congregational leaders to gain a data-driven sense of the local ecology. These insights have helped many know how best to serve their community, as well as what types of services or ministries are needed. For instance, you could answer questions like “Are there a lot of families with young children around my congregation, or primarily older adults?” or “Are there areas near my congregation where the poverty rate is high?”
The ARDA also offers eight free Community Profile Builder Guides that assist users with more detailed directions as well as thoughts on how to interpret and best use the Community Profile. Prior users share how the Community Profile Builder helped them better understand the needs of their neighbors, figure out where to start a new ministry, and decide how their faith community could best reach out to their physical community. See our list of Profile Builder Guides here: http://thearda.com/demographicMap/.
Finally, the ARDA organized all of the relevant data across our entire archive for twenty-three of the largest denominations and religious groups in the United States: https://www.thearda.com/landing/index.asp. These denominational landing pages allow users who want to know more about the members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. or how many United Methodist Church congregations are in a particular community to quickly and easily find that information.
These are just a few of the resources available on theARDA.com. Take a moment to peruse the site and explore all of the free content archived there. We hope it will become a trusted resource you can return to in the future.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events