By Pete Phillips, Premier's Head of Digital Theology
During the lockdown, I was asked to produce a booklet for Grove Books looking at Hybrid Church. I asked some digital friends to share their thoughts and the book turned into a celebration of different approaches to continuing church in a pandemic. Many thanks to Bryony, Matthew and Joanne who contributed to the final piece.
In the concluding chapter of the booklet, I talked about digital or hybrid church being "a domestic, safe, interactive church". The key for me is that hybrid offers a place to include people - to include disabled people, to include unwell people, to include the housebound, to include those who have fears stopping them coming into a strange place with 'strange' people, to include those who work or rest when we worship on a specific timetable. Hybrid Church offers a new opportunity to include more people in the body of Christ.
Hybrid Church is essentially a fresh expression of Church for a networked society.
Lots has changed during the pandemic. Some people have lost the habit of coming to church. Some people have grown the habit of joining zoom meetings and prayer meetings and coffee groups and bible studies online. More people have sat on the comfy sofa at the back of the church from the safety of their own homes and begun to get accustomed to what we do to give honour and worship to God. As we go back to in-building worship, Carey Nieuwhof has pointed out - most of your congregation may not be in the building any more!
Hybrid Church is not the same as doing everything online
Have you heard about phone church? Creating a phone conference using mobiles or wired phones and doing a sound-based service over the call. Everyone can hear, everyone can sing, everyone can contribute. I heard of church in the Pennines which grew from three regulars to over a dozen. It doesn't sound like much but that is 400% growth - a figure which is often repeated in Hybrid Church Research. If that church goes back to in-building worship, the number is likely to go back to three!
Have you heard of the prayer meetings which now have dozens of people attending? Or the choirs which have sprung up over lockdown? Or of the spouses encouraged to attend alongside their believing partners now that they can watch online? have you heard of the food banks using church networks to help people, or the prayer groups offering prayer for those in distresss? Have you heard of the coffee groups for those who have been bereaved? Or the vicars offering online sermons on the end of a phone?
Have you heard of the churches who are buying tablets and laptops for those in their church that can't connect? Perhaps they need some broadband installed, or some training, or just someone to sit with them to talk it through (in the safety of the back yard/garden). Beating digital poverty rather than simply pointing to it as a block to opening up the church to digital engagement. remember that over 90% of the population is digitally active according to OfCom research - digital is where the people are.
Hybrid Church is using any technology (including church building based worship) to open up the presence of God for people, to include people in the body of Christ seeking to worship God, to offer help to those in need and prayer for those in need, for the dying and the bereaved.
Hybrid Church is church for today's society. Whether it's for discipleship, business meetings, or worshipping God, Hybrid offers the point of inclusion in today's society - a place where digital and offline have the potential to meet and enhance each other.
We have seen that this church without walls is a church of many faces: of choirs and music groups; of impromptu readers and people leading prayers; of those from BAME communities; of those doing all age crafts; of keyworkers and Covid19 volunteers. This is a church where the housebound are welcome, the disabled can play a full part and those in care homes are included. Church with a human face, even when that is a blackboard and table at the end of the garden path.
Last weekend, I presented at local Synod for the Methodist Church in North/East Yorkshire. I addressed the idea of Hybrid Church in the context of an ongoing Pandemic/Endemic and encouraged people to rethink how they were going to go back. I've included a version of the talk below and we'll be sending this out as one of the videos for this week's Premier Digital members offer. The talk is based on research from ComRes, Queen's Belfast, Durham University's Centre for Digital Theology and the Brendan Institute for the Scottish churches. Further research can also be found from York St John University including their latest survey on Coronavirus and the Church
Premier is supporting the new MA in Digital Theology based at Spurgeon's College. We're currently recruiting for students for the September intake which will be for students online and onsite - a hybrid MA for the hybrid Church.