Digital Ministry

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Hybrid worship: Finding the balance

An iPhone streams the online worship service on Facebook Live at Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many churches are turning to online streaming to share worship. On the altar is the Rev. Stephanie Dodge, lead pastor. Photo by Steven Adair, United Methodist Communications.
An iPhone streams the online worship service on Facebook Live at Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many churches are turning to online streaming to share worship. On the altar is the Rev. Stephanie Dodge, lead pastor. Photo by Steven Adair, United Methodist Communications.

 As churches begin to go back in-person worship, we may find that people are returning at different rates. While many are excited to come back to church, others are still cautious of gatherings that may put them at risk of contracting COVID-19. Hybrid worship, a blended approach to in-person and online ministry, has become an effective way to reach both audiences, but has also stretched church leaders beyond their pre-pandemic role. Learning new skills and applying them while pastoring a congregation can feel like an overwhelming and endless amount of work. This article will explore ways the church can find a healthy balance between in-house and virtual worship without becoming a burden so that your ministry can thrive.

Many of us have worked tirelessly to create an online presence, and we have an opportunity to prayerfully discern how to be good stewards of that investment of time. As we relaunch onsite worship services, we may want to consider the consequences of losing the digital momentum. We’ve learned a lot about church online during this pandemic, such as how online giving can help churches with their struggling budgets. Virtual worship also allows access to those who are unable to attend onsite, and best of all it’s a new means of bringing people to Christ who may never come to our church building

Re-envision worship 

Pre-pandemic, many churches did not include an online worship presence in their vision or mission. Reimagining your vision and mission will help encourage unity, provide purpose for hybrid worship, generate support for new resources, help sustain the ministry and ease the burden of doing ministry alone. 

 Some questions to consider are:

·       Does your church vision statements include online worship?

·       Where do you sense God is leading your church?

·       What will your church look like in the near future? 

Keeping Online Worship Simple

The world of hybrid ministry can be overwhelming, especially if you were thrust into it amid a global pandemic. The small-to-average church has a new load of struggles and is now juggling multiple demands. All this while caring for the needs of a still changing congregation. Larger churches are more likely to have the resources to maintain an online ministry, but they also will experience new struggles with returning congregations and weakened budgets. They, too, will benefit from keeping it simple. While some resources are needed to continue an online ministry, it does not have to be complicated. To help ease the frustration, I want to give you simple, cost-effective next steps. 

Using Facebook as a streaming platform 

There are many social media platforms to choose from: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat. However, Pew research found that Facebook remains one of the most widely used social media sites. Facebook is an excellent platform because it is where the people are. More than two billion people use it every month. With Facebook, a smartphone, a well-lit room and a good Wi-Fi connection, you can livestream worship for free. For the church, this is a blessing when it comes to limited time and resources. You don’t need third-party software or cameras, but you certainly may use them to enhance the viewer experience.

Do I need a Facebook account to view livestream?

Facebook Livestreams are available to viewers with or without an account when done from your church’s public page by providing the Livestream URL. Closed Facebook Groups require membership. If your goal is for public worship, you will want to be sure you are streaming from your main church page so that everyone can view it.

Should we livestream from multiple places?

Multiple platforms may mean more work for your church. Ideally, you should limit your livestreams to one or two locations. It’s easier to set up and manage this way.  If you are able, choose a livestreaming platform that integrates with your church website or stream directly from their website, or the most cost-effective way is to stream directly from Facebook. For more details on Facebook livestreaming, see their guide. Facebook currently has no music licensing coverage, so you will need to be sure your music is in compliance with Christian copyrights and can learn more by visiting their website.

At Pendleton Center UMC, where I serve as an online minister, we offer evening worship, prayer, and devotions livestreamed from Facebook several times per week. Most evening livestreams are led by laity, freeing our pastors to focus on the in-person congregation. However, a few times per month, our pastors can engage with online viewers more personally during the evening livestreams in a way that Sunday worship does not permit.

Many of our online leaders were not from our congregation when we began. They were Christian musicians and teachers who reached out to us during the Pandemic because they wanted to join our mission to “spread hope faster than the coronavirus,” as became our slogan. Many of our leaders and viewers are now very much a part of our church because of their participation. Our Facebook ministry has grown to a fellowship of believers who share an authentic and personal connection. We use the chatbox during our sessions to pray for one another, celebrate special occasions, and have fun typing the lyrics to familiar hymns in one accord. We have also seen substantial growth in the number of followers who participate in live evening programming.

Develop your team

Doing Hybrid ministry alone is a heavy load for anyone. When you have a solid team, your church can make a difference for Christ. We are good at building up the church in-person; we have our services, choirs, Bible studies, missions, fellowship groups, etc. We may have had to focus less on these activities during the pandemic and more on connecting digitally. However, as we resume our regular programming, we have less time to commit to the digital audiences. Here are some suggestions for expanding the ministry team to reach both.

  • Encourage volunteers with the gifts of hospitality to serve as online chatbox hosts
  • People with the gift of teaching can lead livestream evening devotions or Bible studies 
  • Those with the gift of music can lead livestream evening worship
  • Those who are gifted leaders can organize online ministries to lighten the load for the pastor
  • Seek out those who love to do photography and have technical abilities to help out
  • Cast the vision to the community and see who is willing to join your efforts to spread the gospel. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and knowing how they can make a difference will make all the difference in recruiting help.

Conclusion

Hybrid ministry is the way for the future that does not have to be burdensome or limited to Sundays. It may be that the goal of the hybrid church is not just about offering two worship options, but offering ways of engaging, discipleship, teaching, and reaching the community that has never before in history been a possibility.

Lori Jagow is the online minister at Pendleton Center UMC in Western New York. She is also a ministry development consultant, Healthy Congregations facilitator, and contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can read more of her articles by visiting her website deeplaunchmedia.com.