11.20.2020 – Is Change Automatic?

I’ve always been a stick shift person.  Seven of the ten cars I have owned in my lifetime have had manual transmissions, beginning with a three-on-the-tree 1966 Mercury Comet.  I like a stick shift. But they are hard to come by these days. While 13% of all car models sold in the U.S. offer a manual transmission, only 2.4% of all cars sold in the United States actually have a stick shift. None offer three on the tree. And, to do a little generation bashing, few millennials or gen-Zers know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. Of course, it’s not the stick shift, it’s the clutch that gets them into trouble.

All that is to say I was sad when I saw the headline in the paper saying they were closing the local clutch factory.  They made clutches for big-rig trucks at the Auburn plant. It turns out that neither the politicians nor the shareholder capitalists, neither government regulation nor woke sensitivities are responsible for the shuttering of the clutch plant.

Blame change. Or maybe blame the millennials.

More and more semis are being sold with automatic transmissions mostly because they are more efficient and partly because too many young drivers have no idea how to drive with a stick shift. It’s the clutch that gets them into trouble. Or maybe it’s the double clutch.

Clutch factories are going the way of buggy whip factories a hundred years ago or more. Blame change.

You can find a thousand sappy quotes about the value of change, how it’s good for us and we should welcome it, but some change doesn’t feel very good for us and just isn’t worth welcoming. Right now Covid-19 is changing our Thanksgiving plans and probably our Christmas plans, and few of us are happy about it. In fact, and of course, Covid-19 has changed a lot of things. Don’t give us a sappy quote about change being a good thing. Not us. Not now.

As much as we might wish otherwise, though, change is inevitable and, while we may or may not like it, we have to deal with it. You can’t keep making buggy whips if no one will buy them. You can’t build semis with manual transmissions if the millennials can’t drive them. It’s the clutch that’s the problem. You can’t wishful think your way back to February.

One of the big church life gurus has already written a book about how Covid and quarantines and lockdowns are going to change the church. I’m not planning on reading the book. It was published in mid-September and is already hopelessly out of date. Besides, that’s the thing about change. Who can predict what it might bring? Just about the time all the semis on the road are cruising along with their automatic transmissions, they may be passed by a quiet and silky-smooth Tesla truck with no transmission at all.

Like it or not, things are going to change in our churches as Covid runs its course. Will some people who’ve gotten used to livestream or no worship at all simply never return? Maybe.  Will churches have learned new and creative ways to reach their communities and find themselves healthy in ways they could not have imagined? Maybe. Are megachurches like megamalls, not the right thing for the new time? Maybe. Will we have choirs again? Maybe.

Oh, the gospel won’t change and people’s need for it won’t change. Jesus Christi is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Other than that, almost everything is up for grabs. We ought to be ready for change.

Change, change in the church, is not a virus, it’s a reality. Covid is going to go away sometime, leaving change in its path.

Some churches still make buggy whips in hopes that demand may pick up some time soon. The buggy whip churches have been slowly dying for a generation or more. But even those healthy churches that gave up buggy whips a long time ago are going to need to change. Or, like the clutch factory in Auburn, Indiana, they’ll be closed before we know it.