This week's Premier Digital Workshop highlights the importance of Hybrid Church as we move beyond the COVID19 pandemic. As part of the workshop, I wrote a piece on what we mean by Hybrid Church and why it is central to our understanding of Church. I also think that hybridity is in the very DNA of the Church and point out biblical and post-biblical examples of this. We think the current model of imposing church buildings has always been the norm, but we're wrong. The Church has at many times and in many places chosen not to manifest herself in grand buildings proclaiming her social power and elite status. More often than not the Church is where two or three gather in the name of Jesus, where they sing songs both to and about God, and break bread together. Hybrid Church calls us to renew that vision and create a church for the future which is both online and onsite.
You can endorse the Hybrid Church Charter as an individual or a church here: premierdigital.info/charter
What a year or so that has been!
We have come through a pandemic (we hope and pray!).
We have experienced so much loss, so much change, so much pain.
But we have learnt many things on the journey. We’ve learnt to do things digitally. We have learnt that closing building isn’t the end of everything. We’ve learnt to protect one another and to include voices who just haven’t been able to get into our physical buildings. We learnt to welcome the curious onlooker who gathered in our churches on the sofa behind the back pew. We learnt that we have a lot to learn from people with disabilities and long term illness who have been doing the digital thing so much longer than many of the rest of us.
We’ve learnt that we still have a lot more to learn.
One big lesson is that online church is here to stay and yet at the same time many people crave onsite engagement too. We see all the celebrations of being able to sing together, of the Eucharist in person. But we see too the joy around the Methodist Church’s decision to allow online communion. We are moving into a plural future – a future where we do church both online and onsite – a future where church goes hybrid.
One big lesson is that online church is here to stay
The Hybrid Church
Premier has launched the Hybrid Church Charter – a framework for accessibility, inclusion and outreach through hybrid church. The charter has ten principles which pick up on how every aspect of church could be covered both online and onsite – from worship to evangelism to small groups to safeguarding and including today’s topic of governance – how we run the church.
So we’d encourage you to go over to premierdigital.info/charter and endorse the charter either as an individual or as a church. We think it’s really important to support online engagement alongside our rush to get back onsite. But that’s going to mean lots of changes for us.
Hybrid - is the word a problem?
Hybrid is a strange word. It can be negative. So, a hybrid animal is usually infertile – such as when a horse and donkey produce a mule. It’s sometimes used to sound like two things come together and make a defective third thing. In in car design hybrids are often developed as a stop gap while later technology develops. I have a Ford Puma. It’s an eco-hybrid car. It has a small battery in the engine which picks up power form braking and gives the engine a boost when it is needed. Lots of people say that I should have a proper electric car. But they are too expensive for me and since I need to make long car journeys across the UK, an electric car does not have range I need. We’re waiting for good electric car technology to be developed. In the meantime, I went with the eco-hybrid.
Looking for hybrid models in the New Testament Church
Some people see online church as a poor reflection of onsite church. It’s almost as if we think church buildings were established by Jesus or by Paul or one of the other apostles. Remember, Jesus invited the Jews to tear down the Temple and said it would be replaced by his own body (John 2) and told the Samaritan woman that people meeting in the spirit of truth was God's idea of proper worship (John 4). The early church had a much more hybrid existence – borrowing houses, flats, public halls. Peter’s mother’s simple courtyard house in Capernaum (later a Byzantine Octagonal Church pictured above) gradually turned into a tourist hotspot, graffiti on the walls, the local Christians gathering there on Sunday, later a synagogue and back into a physical church building. Indeed, the first basilica churches we know of are post-Constantine but at that point we seemed to think the Church building had arrived and we could maintain that design – a church building as a centre for mission, as a preaching house, as a place to meet God - until Jesus returned.
And yet now we see the power of the church online.
We see the evangelistic potential.
We see how we can include those who need more protection.
We see how we can include so many other people than those who come to onsite church on Sunday mornings.
We created hybrid church without really knowing it because that’s how God urged to respond to the pandemic. Not to create a mule of a church, but to redesign church to include more, to do a great new thing.
Indeed, such ideas are nothing new. We see this in both Peter and Paul’s ministries in Acts where the hybridisation of early Jewish Christianity and early Gentile Christianity led to new forms of church life and cultural patterns. Peter’s experience on the roof at Joppa in Acts 10 seems to be a straightforward unpicking of a Hebrew Bible commandment not to eat unclean food, but it is also a shifting toward embracing Gentile culture into the newly developing hybrid faith developing out of Jesus’ teaching. Later in Ephesians, we’ll hear of this as God’s purpose of creating in himself one new humanity out of the two.” But the concept of a hybrid identity is already established in John's image of the Church as a vine and Paul's concept of the Church as the body of Christ.
Katharine shifts to cultural development in her essay – looking at the way cultures merge and how languages are always hybrid, always in the process of change. So, in times of cultural shift, we look for hybrids to be developed. Hybrid cars, hybrid working, hybrid education. And, indeed, as we’ve seen during COVID19, pandemics don’t just create new situations, they also seem to speed up what was already happening. So, anyone could see that in education terms, we were already shifting towards hybrid patterns – with classrooms being flipped so that students were asked to watch videos or read papers preparing for the class – we were always shifting towards the classroom as a place to practice conversation, debate, problem solving, data analysis and manipulation. Classrooms are where we do things. We tend to leave the information or ideas retrieval to private learning time. Of course, because we all have our own learning habits and routines, this suits some more than others.
The pandemic church witnessed a shift away from the onsite church to the online church – mostly because the onsite was shut down. Note the vocabulary there – onsite. In person church doesn’t help because human beings are always in-person. Virtual Church doesn’t help because human beings are only really virtual in sci-fi or when they are represented by an avatar onscreen. Onsite describes church activities that have traditionally taken place within a building at a specific geographical location. Online describe church activities which now take place using electronic means – on zoom, teams, google hangouts, facebook, streamyard, youtube, and probably many, many other platforms.
Hybrid Church is where we seek to encourage both onsite and online forms of worship in whatever ways people decide is best for their church. There are lots of different ways that we can mix and match that: On-site + zoom; on-site + livestream; on-site sunday, online weekdays; on-site am, online pm; adults online - youth on-site.
Hybrid Church asks us to look at how we do Church and how we can include more people in everything we do both online and onsite. Technically that’s going to raise some difficulties. But today’s webinar is all about making the shift even in our business and governance to doing things in a hybrid fashion – to bringing the whole church together both onsite and online into the hybrid future.
Please endorse the Hybrid Church Charter and support us with your prayers and action.
We'll be issuing a recording of the full webinar to our Premier Digital Members in the coming week or so. Please join the membership scheme (as a free or Premium member) to ensure you get your copy.