The Church of the Future Does Hybrid Worship
We’ve all heard of the various labels for the generations: The Greatest Generation, The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z. While I do fall into the Millennial category myself (those born between 1981 and 1996) there is a smaller subgroup that I fall into, called Xennial (born between 1977 and 1983). This subgroup is smaller than the other generational categories. As a Xennial, I’m old enough to remember what life was like before the internet was everywhere. I remember when everything was in-person and I had to pick up the phone connected to the wall to call my friends to make a plan to meet somewhere. I’m also young enough that my teenage years to the present day have been dominated by technology: first computers in my teen years, then the internet in my older teen and young adult years, and then social media in my adult years (I was a Web developer for 7 years after all).
As a Xennial, I experienced the transition from no internet to the internet. This means I occupy an in-between space when it comes to the internet. At times I loathe the “always on” connection the internet gives us and crave interaction in the physical world. But at other times I post to one of my social media accounts and enjoy seeing people like and share my posts.
We are in an in-between space in the church at large as well.
At the beginning of the pandemic we, myself included, worked so hard to livestream our worship services to the internet. Now, two years later, while many people have returned to worshiping in-person, there are those who have not. We are currently in an in-between space with some worshiping in-person and some worshiping via livestream.
We all wonder, when will everyone return to in-person worship? When can we stop livestreaming our worship services?
I believe we will always stay in this in-between space, with some worshiping in-person, and some worshiping via livestream. The church of the future will do hybrid worship.
Looking at the Numbers
I’ve been looking at our numbers for the Facebook livestream service. We average about 5 people who view the service from 10am to 11am on Sunday mornings. After that timeframe, 6 more hours on average are watched after that point throughout the rest of Sunday and the week. Facebook doesn’t reliably track how many people view those 6 hours (Yes, Facebook tracks total views, but that number includes 1-second views when someone simply scrolls past a video on their news feed). My best guess for how many people view our worship video after 11am on Sunday morning would be 10 more people. This would mean on average, we have 15 people watching the worship service from any given Sunday. For in-person worship we have been averaging 20 people since I was called as your pastor in May. If we add in the livestream numbers, that gets us to 35 people total. This number is near the average of worship attendance before the pandemic (I have an Excel spreadsheet that shows all of this - very Millennial of me).
Looking at data never tells the full story. We always have to look behind the data to understand why.
I’ve heard that some people from St. Stephen have been watching the livestream worship service to check us out. I’ve heard that some people who are home-bound or unable to physically come to our church service watch the livestream worship service. I’ve heard from some that mornings are hard for them, and so they watch the worship service on Sunday afternoon. I’ve heard from those who are on vacation who watch so that they can keep connected to our church family.
From all of this, what I see is a real need and desire to be able to participate in the life of Christ United, including the worship service, when not able to physically be here.
My First Goal for Christ United
My first goal for Christ United is to improve the livestream worship experience.
This is because I believe the church of the future does hybrid worship. The church of the future will fully integrate technology into the life of the church, so that people can fully participate no matter if they are joining in-person or online.
One concrete step to achieving this goal is improving the sound experience in our livestream worship service. Currently it is hard to hear people without a microphone, such as during the readings or when people speak from the congregation. How can we still be a participatory church, but still have those joining us on the livestream hear everyone? One option is to have everyone come to a podium to speak. Another option could be to add drop microphones suspended from the ceiling throughout the worship space. I’m sure we could brainstorm other options.
What this all does is become our outreach. For anyone thinking of joining our church, but still uncomfortable coming in-person for whatever reason, viewing our livestream worship service is an easy, low risk way to check us out.
I want to stress, however, that I do believe in-person gatherings will continue to be important for the life of Christ United into the future. This goal I have for us is not to go fully online. The goal is to add and supplement what we are already doing in-person so that those who aren’t physically here can still participate in the life of this church. It’s simply to add to and enhance.
My Spiritual Direction Experience
Once a month I meet with my spiritual director, who lives in Chicago, over Zoom. During our first video conference when I moved to Michigan, he told me that people who are fully attentive and present with each other erase any amount of distance between them. He said that even though we were miles apart, it was like we were in the same room. The spiritual realm doesn’t measure distance in the physical world.
Spiritually we are all together, no matter if we’re physically here, or on Facebook, or in another state, or even in another country. Our spirits are one.
Peace and blessings,