What comes after online church?

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“As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we are at a crossroads in the life of the contemporary Church. What do we do going forward? Do we return to how things were before and abandon online church? Or can we take our new learnings and skills to progress with a new format of ‘hybrid church’?” asks digital coach Evan Englezos, while also offering tips for running a hybrid church

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This year most churches around the country shifted very quickly from familiar face-to-face services to an all-online experience. In doing so, churches have grown in capability, learning about and implementing additional technologies. In fact, this challenging season has been a monumental opportunity to make much needed changes to the way churches think about and engage as the Church.

Never in our lifetime has the western church been so forced into the unknown, both in how we are the Church and how we do church. In our weakness and vulnerability, we know that God can do anything and will achieve His purposes.

During this season of online church, stories of God’s goodness being poured out have emerged. For example, the flexibility of online streamed or recorded services has led to new people ‘coming to’ church for the first time. Others who have not stepped foot in a church for years are returning. Jesus is alive and well, folks!

But we have a lot of difficult decisions and great opportunities ahead.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we are at a crossroads in the life of the contemporary Church. What do we do going forward? Do we return to how things were before and abandon online church? Or can we take our new learnings and skills to progress with a new format of ‘hybrid church’?

In the same way that online church was a new experience for everyone, hybrid church will be as well. For the online congregation, the focus will not be solely on them anymore. For the face-to-face congregation, there will be many changes with physical distancing, new health and safety regulations and new technologies in the space. For the ministry team, their focus and attention will be divided between two very different audiences and mediums.

How can we prepare ourselves for another massive shift and the new reality of a hybrid church experience?

Of course, prayer for strength, wisdom, grace and clarity is of primary importance. Practically speaking, there must be new levels of trust, reliance and resourcing of staff and volunteers, particularly in the technology and AV space. To resource them well, we need to invest in training and the right systems so they can carry out their tasks with increased skill and production.

I pray that His purpose and plan and your ministries will be aligned for years and generations to come.

Top tips for running a hybrid church

  1. Design a long-term strategy for hybrid church: First, pray for wisdom and God’s eyes, heart and imagination for your church. Ask the hard questions about the future of your church. Put it all out on the table. Think big and think long.
  2. Your job will not look the same: You cannot do everything, especially online. The demands required of clergy and lay leaders keep increasing so you cannot do it all. Prioritise wisely where and how you invest your time. Be prayerful. Again, think big picture about what your church needs, what unique combination of strengths you bring and what will need to change.
  3. Grow your team: We need to be strategically working at growing our base of volunteer leaders and helpers, particularly with tech and AV. Do you have tech gurus in your community? Keep inviting new people on board to train up and share the load. If you are not in this enviable position, find easier systems so that willing volunteers can be recruited and trained. Form strategic partnerships with other trusted local churches to share resources, lighten your load and outsource some of the tech.
  4. Invest in your team: Your team is one of your biggest assets. Share your vision and help them to ‘get’ you. Build relationship and trust with your ministry teams. Communicate regularly and clearly, and be transparent, open and available. Give your trusted leaders plenty of scope to work with you and make decisions. Provide parameters and guidelines for what you want done and how you want a job done, even if you do not know all the details.
  5. Invest in your systems: Great systems and processes serve you and your team. They provide clarity and solid access and they make the job easier and teams more productive and happier. In addition, the quality of the work improves and you get consistently high-quality production. For the sake of your valuable time and that of your team, set up the right systems properly to support your ministry. The investment will pay you back many times over.
  6. Focus on the majority audience: As you move to doing hybrid church, you will have two distinct audiences with different expectations and modes of delivery. It is extremely difficult to give them your equal attention and meet their needs. Determine who the main audience is and focus your attention on them. You can still create contact points with the smaller audience to make them feel included.
  7. Communicate openly and set expectations: Coming back to church will not feel familiar. There will be more hygiene and safety measures and seats will be spread out to adhere to physical distancing requirements. Cameras and technology might be where people used to sit. Provide realistic expectations, care and guidance to help win over your in-person and online congregations.
  8. Celebrate what God is doing online and offline: Rejoice always! Celebrate the God stories and testimonies. Share stories from all walks of life in your community. Celebrate every person in your community. Make each person in your community feel valued. Celebrate your tech wins and laugh at the glitches. Notice God at work in every detail. You are helping your community connect with Jesus. That ought to be celebrated!

The Parishes and other Mission Agencies Commission is working with Digital Team Coach to provide churches and ministries with online training in a range of digital technologies and approaches, including digital systems, digital solutions to assist churches with government COVID-19 compliance, online storytelling, Facebook advertising, communication tools and websites, among others. For more information, visit the Digital Team Coach website

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