Hybrid church

May 25, 2022 | Editorial | Volume 26 Issue 11
Virginia A. Hostetler | Executive Editor
(Photo by Samantha Borges/Unsplash)

When you hear the words “church,” the first thing that pops into your head is probably not “tech team.” And yet, as we’ve lived through two years of pandemic worship, those folks operating the video camera, microphones and the Zoom controls have been vital to the church’s life together. The people managing the congregation’s YouTube channel and Facebook page have played important roles.

COVID-19 restrictions brought physical distancing to our congregations. During those times apart, we missed so much of what goes into being a church together. And yet, in the past two years, we have found new ways to connect—through technology.

Five years ago, you and I could not have imagined that sitting in front of a screen was how church would happen for months on end. But livestreamed and recorded worship services have helped us stay connected with each other, whether from the living room, the backyard or a cottage. Via technology some of us worshipped with congregations we were formerly a part of. Some have “visited” new congregations virtually, to see if they’re a good fit for ongoing involvement.

Virtual church activities have included people who, because of disabilities or illness, could not—even in pre-COVID times—be in the church’s physical space. Church committee meetings have become easier when committee members don’t have to scrape ice off the car and drive half an hour to a common meeting spot. And speaking of driving, virtual meetings have cut down on transportations costs, both to our wallets and to the planet.

Now is a good time to publicly thank those people who have kept your congregation’s digital presence going during the past 26 months. Thank you to the church staff and lay leaders who acquired new tech skills even though “virtual church” was not in their job descriptions. And thanks to all of us for the patience and flexibility required when the technology sometimes failed.

Now, many congregations are meeting in person—and celebrating that happy reunion. Some are continuing with hybrid services, the combination of in-person and screen-mediated activities that has helped us stay involved during the pandemic.

Despite technology’s limitations, congregations and denominations are finding that their reach has expanded because of life in the virtual realm; technology has brought new opportunities for ministry. Now may not be the time to shut off the camera and retire the Zoom and YouTube accounts.

At the beginning of July, I plan to attend, virtually, the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly, to be held in Indonesia, 11 hours away from my time zone. Many others from the global Anabaptist family will join via technology. Later that month, people from Mennonite Church Canada will take part in our first hybrid nationwide gathering. There’s still a chance for you to register for both. Check out MWC’s Indonesia 2022 at mwc-cmm.org/stories/join-mwc-assembly-together-online. See more about MC Canada’s Gathering 2022 at mennonitechurch.ca/gathering2022.

Neither of these events will be the same as before. But we might discover new gifts, new opportunities for connecting in a hybrid way.

What if the church’s “new normal” is a hybrid reality? What would it look like if we continued to cultivate this new way of being church together?

  • We would invest more dollars and energy into ongoing recruiting, training and supporting tech teams, recognizing their role in the church’s ministry.
  • Congregations would offer practical help to people who would like to connect technologically but don’t have the knowledge or equipment to do so.
  • Pastors, elders and deacons would keep finding new ways to offer pastoral care via phone, email, video conferencing and social media chats.
  • Churches’ Facebook groups could be places for ongoing chats and conversations.
  • Congregations would make sure their websites are up to date with calendar events, announcements, recorded services, and meeting guidelines.

How might our creativity and adaptability lead to new ways of being church in a new hybrid reality?

New team member

This month we welcomed Daisy Belec to CM’s team, in the role of social media intern. Daisy is a student at Canadian Mennonite University and has an interest in communications and the church. This summer she’s working alongside Aaron Epp, CM’s online media manager. We’re happy to provide Daisy with a space in which to practice her skills, and we welcome the contributions she is making to Canadian Mennonite.

Read more editorials:
Two things not up for debate
Speaking of faith
Steps on the path
Trusting the Easter story
‘For the joy of ear and eye’

(Photo by Samantha Borges/Unsplash)

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