God and the pandemic

By breaking up the old patterns of worship, the pandemic has disrupted religious order around the world and changed religious life in ways that may remain for decades ahead. In the future, even the sharp distinctions between religions may erode as individuals surf between options. We need to find good venues for them to shop, in what the late Christian theologian Wade Clark Roof called the “spiritual marketplace.” This dynamic may be particularly critical for younger people, who may be less attached to institutions but are nevertheless seeking the kind of self-transformation that Roof calls “genuine and personally satisfying.”5

Even though most congregants expect to return to church after the pandemic, the de-establishment and dispersion of faith is likely to continue. Shawn Landres, a prominent Jewish social entrepreneur speaks of the “unbundling” of religious functions into its component parts, many of which can now be accessed independently, without institutional commitment or expense. This new “modular” worship may be replacing old institutional frameworks, creating new institutions that “reflect contemporary realities and meet the needs of the individuals they engage and serve” rather than those of their founders. More importantly, these new institutions eschew “membership” in favor of “participation” in which “the guarantor of an organization’s long-term impact is neither real estate nor an endowment, but rather network resilience”

In a sense, this new religiosity may follow the notion, first suggested by the late Alvin Toffler, of the “prosumer,” in which individuals drive the marketplace, including in faith.