March 2020 marked the beginning of an unprecedented time in the church’s history. For the first time in the modern day, churches worldwide shut their doors. Overnight, church leaders had to learn to share the word and participate in worship with their congregations without seeing them face to face.
For those churches out there that had an already existing online church presence, the shift was pretty simple: they kept doing what they were already doing. But for churches that did not have a digital presence, the shift was not as smooth.
Regardless of our preparedness, this was still uncharted territory for the church. However, we learned to shift and still tend to our communities throughout the pandemic.
Slowly over time, churches began to meet again in person, but the digital church was not completely abandoned. What we learned throughout the pandemic is that online church was a vital component of our church organizations and even an essential ministry component.
Consider a few statistics about online church practices in 2020, the height of the pandemic:
These statistics say something remarkable about the church’s strength even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — it persevered even through the toughest of times. People were reached with the Gospel and countless lives were changed. Without the digital church, this couldn’t have happened.
Now, we look at what the church looks like in 2023.
The end of the pandemic was certainly not the end of the digital church. The majority of churches continued with a hybrid model of church. In short, the hybrid church is a model which combines both in-person services with digital services. Attendees have the option to freely come through the doors of their physical church or join their church from the comfort of their homes.
The hybrid church had its origins amid the pandemic when churches began to meet in person again (with certain restrictions) but still wanted to reach those who were unable to attend in person for various reasons. Digital presence ensured that regardless of how churches met in person, online services were always an option.
Now we find ourselves almost 3 years from the beginning of the pandemic and the church looks completely different than it did before. Though there was growth in various areas, it is no question that the pandemic landed a massive hit on church attendance.
The pandemic surely affected church attendance, but it was also the catalyst we needed to boost (and even launch) our digital church services to reach those who could not meet in person.
But is the digital church still a necessity? Is the hybrid church even a relevant concept anymore now that we can meet in person?
We truly believe that the hybrid church isn’t going away nor should it. Though it may not be as attended as much as it was during the pandemic, a digital church option will continue to be relevant in the modern church.
Digital church lends the opportunity for churchgoers to:
While we do not believe the digital church will ever replace the physical church, we do believe it is an essential component of our ministries that should be maintained. How can you utilize the Hybrid Church model in 2023 and beyond?
It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that online church is just another part of ministry, like an “a la carte” item. However, digital church is not just an add-on — it is another campus for your church.
We must treat those joining us online as part of the church family. They are not merely passive church consumers, they are members of the Body of Christ.
You can make your digital church feel included by treating and addressing them just like you would in-person attendees. Addressing them during announcements, worship, and the message is an easy way to make them feel like they're an important part of the life of the church.
One of the fears regarding online church is that those who attend online never attend in person. In some cases, this is certainly a reality.
Online church makes it possible for anyone in any location to access your church’s services, small groups, and other online gatherings. These people may not ever get the chance to check out your church in the actual building. We must also consider the people who are unable to attend due to health concerns, scheduling issues, and other reasons.
On the other hand, some people attend online who could attend in person but they either haven’t or don’t do it regularly. For these people, it is good to encourage a healthy balance of both types of attendance. You can suggest attending mainly in person but reminding them to consider attending online if they are out of town, unable to attend because of sickness or scheduling, or any other reason.
Including your digital congregation and emphasizing both types of attendance are integral to a healthy Hybrid Church. The glue that helps hold all of this together is a full focus on a healthy community.
In this modern world, community is not just found in coffee shops, book clubs, and church meetings — it exists online too! When we consider how to cultivate the overall community, including our digital congregation and social media following is key.
We can strengthen the bond between online and physical in the Hybrid Model by creating opportunities for the overall community to connect. In a nutshell, you can extend the Hybrid Model found on Sunday to every other day of the week!
Hosting virtual small groups, discussions, and casual hangouts for both in-person and online attendees is a great way to bring the community together even more. It may take some work to figure out how to mesh these two worlds together, but it is possible!
The Hybrid Church is still alive and well. Although the origins of it were difficult at first, they acted as a catalyst to bring the digital and physical world together in a meaningful way. In the end, we believe that maintaining a digital presence will help you reach more people and make sure that everyone, everywhere, has access to the Good News of Jesus!
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