Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Think back to February 2020. Your experience of church was decidedly analog. Aside from some media-savy evangelical and "ex-vangelical" movements, most religious organizations had yet to see the value in digital connection. Estimates vary, but it's assumed that more than half of all churches didn't have a website. Most weren't on social media. Many didn't have internet in their buildings.
Throughout COVID-19, we've learned what it means to worship, learn, pray, and practice our faith online. Our most pressing question is no longer how to "do" church online. While there are still incremental improvements to be made, most churches have risen to meet this season of digital distribution. Rather, all church leaders must now engage the question that lies just on the horizon, of what it means to be a "hybrid" church. Now is the time for church leaders to determine what it means to be a ministry that blends the online with the offline, the virtual with the face-to-face.
In response to this pressing question, authors Dave Daubert and Richard E.T. Jorgensen produced an accessible and compelling guide, "Becoming a Hybrid Church"($11.99 USD, available from Day 8 Strategies). Taking a collaborative approach, the book includes recommendations for hybrid worship, stewardship, spiritual practice, and other aspects of Christian ministry, alongside discussion starters and prompts for further discernment.
Daubert and Jorgensen's work is compelling in that it casts the church's digital vocation not as an "add-on" or "extra." For the authors, digital ministry is essential to Christian practice in a tech-shaped culture, one that church leaders ignore "at their own peril."
Accordingly, their ideas go well beyond superficial suggestions to add a dial-in to a meeting or position a web camera at the back of the sanctuary. Instead, their ideas are grounded in the conviction that there ought to be parity between the online and offline experience of church, that digital and face-to-face expressions of Christian community should afford equal levels of connection to God and to one another. This moment demands considerable thoughtfulness and intentionality, with collaborative processes inclusive of both lay and ordained leadership.
"Becoming a Hybrid Church" is at the leading edge of a new movement within the Christian tradition. Savvy church leaders would do well to actually use the conversation guides that conclude each chapter, just as they would do well to put many of the tactics explored within this book into practice. But as a church, we need more than the implementation of these ideas.
We need church leaders to share their experience in moving towards hybrid ministry. As you begin to discern what it means to be a hybrid church, as you begin to launch practices that will build the bridge between online and offline forms of Christian connection, you ought to consider sharing your stories. Document your findings. What works? What flops? What facilitates authentic connection, what facilitates meaningful faith practice? As I read this important work, my hope is that more church leaders will use it as a jumping-off point for sharing their own ideas. With the hope of widespread vaccinations in the coming months, the "new normal" of hybrid church is just around the corner. This moment needs our experiences and stories, shared publicly for the benefit of the broader church. Daubert and Jorgensen have teed up the conversation starters. It's up to all of us to engage the conversation.
@ryanpanzer is the author of "Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech-Shaped Culture."