Many people are returning to in person worship services. Depending on the region, churches might have gone through only a brief pause in services and have been meeting for many months. Even so, there are many individuals who have not attended for a variety of reasons. With some declining trends in COVID cases and increased availability of vaccine doses, the church faces another transition.
One of the dynamics many are experiencing is like the merging dilemma when multiple lanes of traffic are reduced to a single lane.
Some people do not want to let others in. They rationalize why they shouldn’t let someone in, often assuming they know the other drivers’ intent. Why let someone in who waited until the last minute to merge when they saw the warnings well ahead of time? But I know truck drivers who say they don’t merge early because it blocks everyone’s view in the single lane. It’s not that they speed ahead to try to gain a spot. They keep a similar pace and watch for an opportunity to slip in.
Of course, there are always some drivers that intentionally wait. They want to get as far ahead as they can. They might be thinking of themselves more than others. And all of those same dynamics happen in the church. Some people have been in the slow-and-steady line. It’s not that they have anything against the people in the merging lane, but they aren’t invested in them either. They can wait their turn and take their chances. After all, it was their choice to stay away until now. And the people in that merging line? They are there for a variety of reasons. The problem comes when people in either line are more me-focused than we-focused.
I recently saw an article by a department of transportation, instructing people to take a zipper approach to merging. The advice was to use all open lanes until the merging point in order to maximize the use of the road. At the point of the merge, the zipper approach takes effect with everyone in the main line letting cars between them. That way, both lanes merge at about the same rate.
We don’t try to punish one lane over another or give priority to one lane over another. We don’t try to figure out each other’s motives. We work together to ease the transition. We watch out for each other and keep each other attended to and safe.
I think we need to teach the zipper approach to churches, not just to follow a pandemic but in every week gatherings and interactions. Each individual is important—and our perspectives and experiences as a whole need to be our priority if we’re going to merge together in healthy community.