Communications Toolbox: Hybrid Church
By Janis Greenbaum, Director of Communications
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
"Hybrid Church" is a term that few of us had even heard before COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, the term seemed to refer only to getting our Sunday worship services online so we could keep our communities of faith together during the lockdown. We learned hard and fast! Two-and-a-half years later, nearly every parish in our diocese has new digital capabilities.
And now that hospitalization and testing numbers are declining and we can begin returning to our church buildings, what does "Hybrid Church" mean and how do we move forward?
Defining Hybrid Church
Yes, hybrid church involves technology -- cameras, microphones, computers, social media, and more -- but let's think a little bigger to define the concept. I found this definition that I really love:
Hybrid Church is essentially a fresh expression of Church for a networked society.
- Pete Phillips at Premier Christian Communications, LTD:
Think of hybrid church as more than just the technology we use. It's using that technology to create opportunities for spiritual connections. It's a new way and a new place to create relationships.
Think of hybrid church as more than livestreaming our Sunday services. It's a creative new space to spread the Good News. Even though many of us can return to our church buildings, some may have underlying health conditions, others may be housebound, and still others may have found they prefer interacting online instead of in-person. And hybrid church allows us to include everyone.
Responding to New Habits
A study from the Barna Research Institute shows that one in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church during the pandemic. People have changed their habits. Many have lost the habit of coming to church. Will our congregations return to our church buildings? Some may continue to carry a fear of disease for a long time.
As we move past the pandemic, we need to remember that hybrid church is not the same as doing everything online. Our new "normal" has to include both in-person and digital options. We may choose to use online communications for certain things -- perhaps our Vestry meetings or small group discussions run more efficiently on Zoom than in-person. Morning prayer and compline have been very successful on Facebook. Certain things lend themselves to the digital world.
But it's no longer good enough to just "broadcast" your event. We have to help people connect. Online worship -- just like in-person worship -- should be an experience. People should feel that God is there with them. Consider having digital ushers at your online events to greet people, answer questions, and start discussions. (It's okay to message each other during church when you're online!)
Define a Digital Identity
Just as our red doors and stained glass windows help define our physical space, we also need to define our digital identity. What is it that makes our digital church events unique?
- Branding is important -- create a logo and color palette that make your events immediately recognizable.
- Be intentional with digital hospitality -- assign online greeters or moderators for all your events.
- Refresh or rebuild our church websites -- they're our new front door! What does your website say about your parish? How easy is it to find information?
- If people have a good experience online, they are likely to eventually visit in-person.
Renewing our Mission
So as we welcome both old and new friends, both in-person and online, our communications need to stay focused on our church mission. We need to connect within our walls and beyond our walls. We can no longer rely only on our old methods of communication. It may all sound a little scary, but this gives us new opportunities for practice creative Christianity.