And just as everyone predicted, the pandemic arrived at an abrupt conclusion! Everyone returned to worship in person, and the church quickly returned to what it was on March 1st, 2020!...
...This is what I would have written, had my predictions from the early days of the pandemic materialized. As we now know all too well, the disruptions of 2020 persist. As cases of the virus ebb and flow, economic uncertainty takes hold. And as individuals and families return to their normal weekly schedules, church attendance is no longer routine. By some estimates, at least 1 in 4 active church-goers are still missing from the pews.
The church continues to navigate uncharted territory as it emerges from a pandemic, addresses economic turmoil, and seeks to make sense of its new normal. Today's church leader faces innumerable questions and challenges. The location of Christian community is among the most perplexing of these concerns.
Should we, as church leaders, continue to offer online worship? Or does online worship incentivize members to avoid their communities, passively consuming church from the comfort of home? Should we continue to invite members to Zoom into gatherings? Or does digital access diminish the quality of the gathering for all involved? Should we encourage our communities to return to the localized experience of church we knew before the pandemic? Or should we seek to discern what it actually means to be a "hybrid" church?
These are the questions I couldn't stop thinking about when I began work on my latest book. Written for church leaders, staff, board and council members, and church attendees everywhere who are short on time and energy, it is a book about sustainable and purposeful ministry in our new normal.
In "The Holy and the Hybrid," I present hybrid ministry as a practice of utilizing digital spaces to extend an invitation to Christian community, and utilizing analog gatherings to equip communities for discipleship and service. Far from a summons to be "always-on," this model of hybrid ministry is rooted in purpose and a commitment to community.
Based on countless conversations with church leaders, researchers, and digital ministry experts, the book traces the evolution of hybrid ministry from the first days of the pandemic. I contrast the three models of church we have collectively experienced since March 2020: entirely analog, entirely virtual, and a hybrid of online and offline. I explore the strengths of each model, providing specific ideas and change management practices that will resonate with the post-pandemic church.
Available now for pre-order, "The Holy and the Hybrid" arrives wherever books are sold this September!
Praise for The Holy and the Hybrid
“Two decades and one pandemic into a religious reality dramatically changed by digital technologies, social media, and the new modes of communications they have prompted, Ryan Panzer’s The Holy and the Hybrid advances an essential conversation for church leaders and communities responding to the ministry needs of the digitally integrated world. An important exploration not only of communication practices required for meaningful ministry engagement today, but also a guide to innovative structural changes that will encourage and support revitalized ministries, The Holy and the Hybrid should be on every pastor’s, priest’s, and lay minister’s digital or old-school wooden desktop.”
—Dr. Elizabeth Drescher, adjunct associate professor of religious studies, Santa Clara University; author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones
“The coronavirus pandemic required us all to examine our way of life. What was essential? What could be modified? While we all scrambled with that in some way, churches and ministry organizations had the challenge of sharing the gospel and cultivating faithful community when most of the traditional communal practices of church were considered unsafe. In The Holy and the Hybrid, Ryan Panzer analyzes the emotions that came with the pandemic but also helps us learn and grow from the ways in which we had to adjust. Covid-19 forced us to examine the ‘that's the way we've always done it’ mentality in our churches and to look at how technology and digital practices can help our churches in their mission of sharing the gospel and cultivating faithful community. This book is not a ‘how to do’ but a ‘how to think about’ our ministry, allowing the logistics of tech-enhanced ministry to meet the culture and context of each congregation. The Holy and the Hybrid is a roadmap, or perhaps a GPS, pointing us to where the church can go in this next era of our ministry lives together.”
—Ross Murray, deacon, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; vice president, GLAAD Media Institute; founding director, The Naming Project; producer, Yass, Jesus! Podcast; and author of Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry
“In this timely book, Panzer skillfully identifies and interprets the moment we are in. With one foot in the church and one in the tech industry, he speaks with a hybridized authority that few of us can muster. The Holy and the Hybrid offers a feast of insights that will be beneficial to a wide range of church leaders navigating monumental cultural changes.”
—Michael J. Chan, executive director for Faith and Learning, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
“Part memoir, part manual, this readable book will help readers make sense of their own journeys into hybrid ministry—the places where the physical and the digital offer both old and new ways of doing ministry. Panzer is both committed to digital ministry and aware of its limits, which makes this book an honest and helpful guide for readers reflecting on how God is calling them to design the next chapter of ministry in their own settings.”
—Dave Daubert, pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL; lead consultant, Day 8 Strategies; and author of Becoming a Hybrid Church