Why Is the New Hybrid Church Model not Reversing the Trends of Church Decline?

Did you attempt to digitize or or create a hybrid church model for your church in response to the pandemic? What are your results?

hybrid church model

Question: What Do You Get When You Digitize and Hybridize an Outdated Hybrid Church Model?

Answer: An outdated model with Instagram.

I realize the question sounds like the beginning of a bad church joke, but there’s nothing funny about dying churches. I suspect you’re not laughing if you are struggling to lead your church in our new normal.

Hybrid Church Model

Let me ask you another question. Did you attempt to digitize or or create a hybrid church model for your church in response to the pandemic? What did you do? How did you evaluate success? What are your results?

I’m watching church after church after church move to a hybrid church model while seeing their influence, attendance, and engagement continue to decline. These churches are evaluating digital options and doing their best, but their hybrid strategy is not working.

Why is the new hybrid church model not reversing the trends of church decline?

Perhaps our hybrid implementations are still too new to be thoroughly evaluated.

That’s possible. But I sense that’s not the bigger issue.

I don’t believe more time will somehow reverse our trends. And I don’t think simply making our current church model digital makes it modern.

No doubt, we must integrate in-person and online channels. The future church is hybrid. But it’s more than a digital version of what once worked well. It needs to be something new.

Actually, that’s what “hybrid” means. Scientifically, hybrid is what happens when two dissimilar origin stories marry together to form something altogether new. This definition is what must be applied to churches today. We need a new approach, not a digitized version of an old method.

I can confidently say this because I know our church issues didn’t begin with the pandemic. Nearly every church began experiencing versions of plateau and decline well before March 2020. Almost every church watched metrics level and decline years before the pandemic disruption. Now, too many of us are blaming the pandemic for our struggles. We’ve forgotten the prior problems – and they were plentiful. Our 2019 ministry models weren’t necessarily working. Why do we believe for a second that digitizing them will fix the problem? Church issues aren’t viral, but societal.

The Bottom Line:

Churches absolutely need to combine in-person and online experiences to create a new expression of church. But, adding some digital options to an antiquated and outdated ministry strategy is a recipe for failure. I bet many of you are finding that out right now.

So what should we do?

First: We need to own the issue. We must stop blaming the pandemic, people, and our communities. The problem is our approach, and it’s been a problem for a long time.

Second: We must realize the significant implications of Christianity no longer being cultural. People no longer see church and pastors as helpful. People still need hope, but the word’s solutions appear more trustworthy than God’s. Or at least as reliable. How we got here is less important than what we do about it.

Third: We must take action. Specifically, we need to adopt a new ministry model designed to help those far from God and apart from our church like us and trust us. The death of cultural Christianity combined with a growing indifference to faith and increased mobility of people collectively doomed our old approach. Previously, people mostly liked and trusted churches. Twenty years ago, our models didn’t need to support these relationship elements. But that has changed. And our new models must reflect this reality.

We don’t have to invent a model from scratch.

I’ve got great news. We don’t have to invent a model from scratch. Businesses have operated from this reality for centuries. Companies that desire your patronage build a model to engage you on a customer journey. They want you to like and trust them so you’ll be more apt to buy from them. It’s a fundamentally basic customer journey.

This is what we as the church need to do, too. We can no longer operate as if we are liked and trusted by our communities. We must engage new models and strategies that specifically help us be more liked and trusted.

I wrote about this business framework HERE.

But what about spiritual formation and discipleship?

I’ve got even better news! This same approach is how people personally come to faith and grow in their Christlikeness. Unbelievers begin their faith journey by first knowing and liking a Christian. As this relationship progresses, trust is built and even tested. As trust grows, curiosity and openness to faith grow. In time, God intervenes as only he can, leading the lost to become found.

The Christian faith is a journey from not knowing Jesus to liking what he can do for you to trusting that he died for you to following him in faith. Our church model can and should replicate this journey.

That is what I am helping churches do all over the world now.


This article about the fate of a hybrid church model originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

If you’d like to know more about the Comprehensive Church Model Cohort, email me: gavin@gavinadams.com I’d love for you to participate in my next cohort group.

Gavin Adams
Gavin Adams believes the local church is the most important organization on the planet, and he is helping to transform them into places unchurched people love to attend. As the Lead Pastor of Watermarke Church, (a campus of North Point Ministries), Watermarke has grown from 400 to 4000 attendees in five years. A student of leadership, communication, church and faith, Gavin shares his discoveries through speaking and consulting. Follow him on Twitter or at his blog.