During a recent worship consultation, I was taken aback when a well-intended church member asked, “Can we stop doing hybrid worship now?” The church had invested significantly to have me there for several days to explore the depths of hybrid worship, so the thought of ending their online stream seemed counterintuitive.
“Why would you want to do that?” I asked. He reasoned that since 80 to 90 percent of their members had returned to in-person worship; continuing online worship didn’t seem worth it.
His desire to end online worship stemmed out of a place of concern for their pastor who was working hard to pre-record and edit their online services each week. He feared this heavy workload could lead to burnout.
Despite the validity of these concerns, I countered with several reasons why I thought ending their online church stream was a bad idea. The following day, during their worship service, I discovered an even more compelling reason not only to maintain their online presence but to double down on their hybrid approach to worship.
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The Surprising Hybrid Worship Front Door
As I diligently took notes during the service, a couple at the end of my row caught my attention. They had been watching me closely throughout the service. After the service, the woman inquired if I was a blogger due to my extensive note-taking.
I explained that I was a consultant helping their church with their hybrid worship. She lit up saying, “You tell them they’re doing a great job! We were looking for a Good Friday service in the area and couldn’t find one anywhere. And then we found this church’s service online. We started worshiping with them online after that, and when they started coming in person when they resumed in-person services a couple of weeks ago.” (I was conducting this consultation in June of 2021 when many churches were just beginning to go back to in-person).
The woman went on to tell me they were new to the area, and that they wondered if they might never have found this church had it not been for online worship. I think there’s an excellent chance that they might not have.
This couple’s story was a testament to the impact of online worship. Sharing their story with the group I’d been meeting with the day before caused the gentleman who initially doubted the necessity of hybrid worship to exclaim, “Now I understand! We absolutely can’t stop offering online worship.”
Even though the pandemic is officially over and many members have returned to the church building, I believe wholeheartedly that we should not end or slow down our emphasis on hybrid worship.
Online Worship a Bridge to In-Person Attendance
Online worship serves as a bridge for many, like the couple I met, who find their way to our physical gatherings through our digital offerings.
Though there was a time when we had no choice but to be online, hybrid worship now appears optional. But now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to hybrid worship.
Here are five reasons we should double down on hybrid worship, and pour lots of energy into making it great:
Reason #1 – Not Everyone is Back Yet
While most people are back in person, believe it or not, a portion of our people still aren’t quite comfortable gathering with large crowds yet. COVID may be over, but the fear of getting sick isn’t completely gone. Let’s keep those folks in mind as we continue our hybrid worship.
Reason #2 – Everything Has Been Disrupted, Including Church
Everything in our culture was disrupted when the pandemic arrived and hybrid opportunities have gained more prominence. People now work from home and Zoom in, and schools have options for both online and in-person classes. Grocery and other stores began offering shopping services where you just pick up your stuff, (or have it delivered). Services like DoorDash and Uber Eats took off and became mainstream. Movies began releasing digitally and in theaters simultaneously (or with very little delay). The way we consume content, entertainment, education, work, and sustenance has changed. Why would we expect the church to be any different?
A pastor I coach said to me the other day that he was considering ending their online worship. When I asked why, he said, “We want people to come back to the building.” I told him, “If my favorite restaurant ends delivery service, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get in my car and go to the restaurant; it means I’m going to find another restaurant that offers delivery service.” That doesn’t mean I’m never going back to the restaurant, it just means that the rhythms of my life have changed and now that delivery service is available, I take advantage of it regularly. This disruption hasn’t changed my love for the restaurant, but the way I consume what it offers.
Reason #3 – Some People Can’t or Won’t Come to the Physical Space:
Homebound people have been blessed by the shift toward hybrid worship these last three years. From health reasons to social anxiety and other things that prevent them from coming in person, these folks have had the best experience of worship they’ve ever had since they entered into this category.
Let’s face it, some people don’t feel comfortable in church. My brother-in-law, who sadly passed away recently, used to say that he could never walk into a church or God would strike him down with lightning. He thought he was “too sinful” to come to church. Of course, he was wrong, but that was his perception. The building is a barrier for some people, so let’s make it possible for them to worship anyway.
Reason #4 – Online Worship is Like Offering Free Samples
I was recently on vacation in Mexico and our tour bus stopped at a market where everyone wanted to offer free samples. I was offered roasted/candied pecans, ice cream, and adult beverages. The hope (of course) is that you’ll like the sample so much that you’ll buy the bag, cone, or bottle.
Online worship is an evangelistic opportunity that is not only a worship experience, but a chance for people to try us out. If they like what they experience, they’re more likely to come for a visit. Now that they can, most if not all visitors will start online and then migrate to the building. Ending online worship means missing these people.
Reason #5 – Hybrid Worship is a “Great Commission” Moment
In the “Great Commission,” we are tasked with taking the gospel to people everywhere, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Online worship erases geographic boundaries. It makes it possible to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those scattered anywhere there is access to the internet.
This means that people who move away can stay connected. When families are at Sunday morning soccer tournaments, ballet recitals, or other activities that conflict with worship, they can still participate. It means that business travelers or vacationers can still worship with their home church.
Are you ready to double down on your BOTH/AND experience of worship?
Have questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a deeper dive into hybrid worship check out my book, Both/And: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences for Online and In-Person Engagement.