Logistics – the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies
Problem – How do we accomplish our goals with the number of people we have, the limited space available, within the allotted time available? How on earth can we run a major table tennis tournament? How can large churches reopen in any meaningful way? How can people get on with their lives after being confined for months?
Surprisingly, I feel like I may be in a unique position to answer these questions, at least partially. Before my life as a table tennis coach I had a career with United Parcel Service. I recall when their logistics campaign began. Many of my coworkers had no idea what the word actually meant. All the time we had been loading, sorting, and driving, we thought we had been in the package delivery business. It turns out we had been working in the world of logistics all along. Thirty nine years of working in this environment can give one a perspective for, and maybe even an aptitude for solving logistical problems.
I’m not sure how an industrial engineer would approach these issues. There seemed to be plenty of these at UPS, but the average worker quickly learned that most problems came down to lack of either time or space. A driver is committed to make a delivery by 10:30, but is blocked in by fifty other UPS vehicles, making it impossible to even get on the road….scheduling problem that could be fixed with adequate space. Or, could the spacing problem been fixed with a schedule that eliminated logjams in the system? The sanitized view of life at UPS shown in the video belies the experiences of most veteran employees. Logistical challenges were a daily occurrence.
Now that going to the grocery store has become a logistical challenge, running a table tennis tournament might seem impossible. Au contraire! What if a one day tournament was stretched over two days? Would tournament directors be capable of scheduling matches accurately enough that players could arrive thirty minutes before their events? Tournaments are supposed to be well coordinated anyway. It is possible to control the flow of people into a tournament venue. It will take some extra efforts, and a different mind set. Additional time or additional space is essential to avoid overcrowding.
I think the pandemic provides an excellent opportunity for churches to rethink traditional models, and perhaps completely change the logistics for church gatherings. Rather than building bigger houses of worship, why not significantly increase the times available for worship? Having grown up in church, I’ve long thought that far too much emphasis was put on Sunday services, the minister, and the music ministry. I’m not against any of these, but they far too often define the church, and can even hinder members from getting involved in other ways. A little creative thinking could enable a church to be open for worship nearly every day. That doesn’t mean the lead pastor preaches a sermon every day, or that choirs put in any overtime. If churches need more space, they’ll need more time, and they’ll need more leaders.
I realize these are pretty ambitious ideas, and changing old habits isn’t easy. But, I can’t help believe that many of the challenges ahead have logistical solutions. Getting through this pandemic will take time. Until then, just give everybody a little more space.