Hybrid Church is the new church buzzword these days. I get it. We all spent the better part of 2020 pivoting from principally in-person to primarily online. Overnight, churches launched digital church service streams and on-demand alternatives. With in-person gatherings coming back, churches are trying to discern how to best balance online and in-person offerings.
Before we address the “new” hybrid church, we should recognize that the church has been hybrid for a long, long time. This isn’t a new phenomenon. The hybrid church may be new to you, but it isn’t new to the community around you. For at least a decade, most people in your community watched or interacted with your church digitally before attending physically. Even if you didn’t stream your church services, people visited your website, Instagram, or Facebook page before showing up. Many read Google or Yelp reviews, too.
What is new in the post-pandemic is how to best balance the hybrid church approach, especially for church services.
The questions many churches are asking today go something like this:
- What should we stream online?
- When should we stream online?
- Should it be on-demand, live, or a combination?
- Should our online experience be the same or different than our in-person gathering?
- Should we treat church online as a separate, online church like a campus location?
Every church leader I meet seems to be asking these questions. And for a good reason. The people who attended church in 2019 will not participate or interact in the same way today. The world has permanently changed.
Interestingly, though, the pandemic might not have created the changes, but instead accelerated what was already changing. When I look back at 2017, 2018, and 2019, the trends are pretty clear. People attended church in person less frequently. So did their children. Overall small group participation was flat to slightly declining and giving plateaued, too. I realize this is not the case for every church, but it is the reality for the average church (or 80% + of churches).
The pandemic didn’t create this trend toward hybrid church; it accelerated what was already trending.
Now, on this side of the pandemic, churches are trying to decide how to best respond. I believe you need a more robust hybrid church strategy. I’m not sure your church will survive without it. More, I think churches should utilize every channel possible to reach people and grow disciples. Can you imagine how excited the Apostle Paul would be about Instagram?
That said, I believe your hybrid church strategy needs to begin with a better question. “How should we become hybrid?” is the second question.
The First Question a Hybrid Church Must Answer is “What Are We Trying to Accomplish?”
Too many churches are developing (or attempting to develop) hybrid church strategies without considering what they hope to achieve as a church. A strategy without a goal is like a race without a course. You’re running, and that feels good, but you’re directionless without a path or a plan. A hybrid church plan without a goal in mind is a counterfeit win. It feels great to be “hybrid,” but you might accomplish nothing.
Bottom Line: Your church mission and vision must dictate your hybrid church strategy and implementation.
When we think about today’s hybrid church, it must be designed with an end in mind. What do you want to accomplish as a church? What is your mission? What is your vision? And — this is extremely important — how are your mission and vision best achieved?
These questions necessitate thoughtful answers. Otherwise, you’re likely to engage in a hybrid church execution that might be working against what you want to work for. Being hybrid for the sake of hybrid isn’t wise. And it may be catastrophic.
Now, with your mission and vision answers in hand, you’re ready to ask the primary hybrid church question:
The BIG Question for Hybrid Church: How can we Strategically Utilize Digital and Physical Experiences to Achieve Our Mission and Vision?
If you’ve already moved to a new, hybrid church model without answering these questions in the proper order, I challenge you to pause, go back, and rethink your hybrid strategy. Otherwise, you may end up with a collection of competing digital and physical church experiences that work against your mission and vision.
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This article appeared here.