There’s rarely a days goes by at the moment where I don’t see a piece or column on a Christian news and affairs channel via twitter that isn’t commenting on the mass migration of churches into digital media. In many ways I’m glad, because it is something worth much discussion and hopefully all the pooled knowledge and ideas can be fruitful.
One resounding phrase that seems to be travelling through these conversations and articles like a drop in an echo chamber is ‘hybrid church’. By this, people are usually referring to the way that churches should start using digital tools and content not in lieu of meetings, but as a compliment to them as congregations are slowly able to start coming back into buldings. I would say this approach is certainly the best one, for a number of reasons that we won’t go into here – perhaps refer to my other posts about that. But something I noticed is that it appears when people talk of this ‘hybrid,’ they think it is new, pioneering, innovative….something on the cutting edge of communications and relationship-building technique. Do you agree?
I have to say that I don’t. I acknowlege that for many churches it may be a new approach. But friends, for the rest of the world around us – for any organisation with effective communications and customer relations – using both digital media and ‘in-person’ events etc has been the norm since probably somewhere around fifteen years ago with the esablishment of companies’ and organisations’ social media presence, and smartphones or tablets becoming so widely used by the general public. The world has been a digitally-integrated and hyper-connected place for some time.
This statement may seem a little harsh to hear at first. So if it does, please don’t get me wrong – I am genuinely excited and greatly encouraged that digital media has been recognised as a crucial component in how the church communicates with the world around it, and the people in it. But, the perception of this being ‘new’ or ‘radical’ in some way is actually something that I think could hinder progress. Primarily, this is because people usually do not like change. Often, we tense up at words such as ‘new,’ ‘radical’ and ‘pioneering’. It creates unease, and whilst people with visionary gifting embrace such words with pleasure and find excitement in them, not all people in congregations or church leadership teams will find this as easy. To many, these words equate to ‘the unknown’. As a result, those of us trying to implement or champion the ‘hybrid’ church will soon find themselves meeting resistance, opposition, unwillingness to invest finance or resources, and general apprehension. If we are met with these things, we can quickly feel discouraged and rejected. But what if stepping into this ‘hybrid’ digital and physical approach to church is not presented as new to congregations or CLTs? What if it is presented as simply ‘catching up to the world we live in,’ which is the reality of it? Right away, there is change in response here. People don’t like to feel they have been left behind. People don’t want themselves or their church to be seen as ‘out of touch’ with the world around them. When put this way, you’re not asking them to step into the unknown, but instead something that is already well established, tried and tested by many others. Integrating digital media into the church becomes an action required by neccesity rather than optional luxury.
So before we default to throwing exciting buzzwords behind the emerging digital revolution in churches, let’s take a moment to have a little care in how we present it, and acknowlege that for digital media to work in church, for the hybrid approach to take root, the whole congregation must be on board.