July 1, 2020

The New Sunday Morning: Hybrid Church Ministry

For now, online church is the new norm, but eventually people will start meeting together again. Will churches stop offering an online option to participate? Just like church websites, the option to participate in church virtually is about to become a standard.

On August 6, 1991, the World Wide Web became accessible to public, and people everywhere began to create websites. Just two decades ago, if you had told a church they needed a website, you would’ve heard, “Why do we need one? Everyone knows where to find us. Our service times are listed on the sign outside.” Today, it’s a given. A church without a website is like a home without a front door.

Fast forward 30 years. Online and live-streamed church services have been the trend, and luxury, of well-resourced and tech-savvy churches. Then in one swift movement, the pandemic did what it took decades to do for churches and websites. It moved all churches into a new standard for communication and church services online.

Is online church participation here to stay? Even as some congregations are beginning to meet together again, not everyone will feel comfortable or be able to join in person. Pre-pandemic, most regular church attendees had the luxury to choose whether to attend in-person or sleep in on a Sunday morning. But that wasn’t true for everyone. While some might be counting the days until things go “back to normal,” virtual engagement has been an unexpected gift for one important group.

Online platforms have allowed people with disabilities, immune-compromised systems, or alternative work schedules to attend and participate in spiritual and social activities that previously did not always accommodate their needs. With unexpected benefits like these, we should be cheering on statistics like Barna study’s report that 72% of churches will be offering both in-person and virtual options for the foreseeable future. Just like church websites, the option to participate in church virtually is about to become a standard — hopefully for good.

Hybrid church ministry should be the new normal. It’s a “both/and” mindset of including people both virtually and in-person. The new Sunday morning for the average local church will mean setting up the musicians AND setting up the live stream camera feed. It will be turning around in your pew to welcome a new family to church AND greeting first-time visitors online. It will be welcoming someone on stage to give an announcement AND live streaming someone in to read scripture. The church has always been bigger than a building, anyways.

So how should churches prepare for the new reality of hybrid ministry? Churches have a tough job figuring out how to include everyone on a Sunday morning, but if these past few months have taught us anything, it’s a long-term strategy worth investing in.

  1. Find technology that is specifically built for what churches need. The good news is, as everyone is adapting to this new reality, there is also new technology emerging built specifically for churches. Technology like Altar, an engaging two-way live-streaming tool built for churches, is the kind of tool made possible by this new innovation wave.
  2. Prioritize active participation over high-quality production. When the production of a high quality church service takes more time than authentic connection — be careful. Technology should allow your community to be an active part of church, not just a viewer. Involve members from home! Show them giving announcements or reading scripture from home. Opt for technology that allows you to create a two-way conversation and interaction, not just a one-way live stream of the service.
  3. Community over content. While Biblical teaching is still the core function of the church, people don’t just want a sermon online. They want to feel seen and known by others. Real gospel-transformation happens when people are in real relationship. Consider how you can utilize smaller viewing parties or have volunteers be online greeters. Again, look for technology that will allow you to facilitate real conversation online.

Churches have a tough job ahead of them navigating the new, hybrid Sunday morning, but also a huge opportunity to creatively engage new and current members.