Is a Hybrid Church the new way following Lock down? A brief report by Marion and Tom Watts following attendance at two virtual meetings organised by the Learning Network, West midlands. Led by Deacon Kerry Scarlet, John Pedley and Geoff Bond.
Marion and I and others from Sutton Park Circuit were at two interesting and exciting virtual meetings on the mornings of Tuesday and Thursday 28 and 30 July about worshipping in a Hybrid Church. What is a hybrid church I hear you ask? Well very simply it is “a gathering online and in person”. Prior to the virus lock down we met for worship in church and since lock down some of us have worshipped in virtual congregations via technology, face book etc. A hybrid act of worship could combine the traditional worship in our buildings for those able and interested and link it to those who want to be part of worship via the use of modern technology.
Note for number geeks: Some figures from the first meeting, if every link counted on a virtual worship on average represents two people worshipping (some just one, others couples and up to families of five) then the Birmingham District Easter Day Service had well over 1,000 worshippers during the service and we have over 500 worshippers on a typical Sunday. I have included those thoughts to let you know about surveys mentioned in our meeting. Three separate surveys have recorded that between 24% and 27% of people in the UK are joining in a virtual act of worship on a Sunday. Surveys prior to the virus showed 7-10% attended worship in a Christian Church on a typical Sunday. We don’t have to be a number geek to see the potential!
I’m sure that everyone who has watched a virtual service cannot fail to be impressed by the number of different people from all ages and all backgrounds who have taken part in the leading of such services; demonstrating its potential. The first grouping of these additional numbers applies to the younger elements of society. It has been a breath of fresh air to be part of the Birmingham District acts of worship on Sunday mornings, the music has been to an exceptional standard, the sermons have been challenging with real Good News and the testimony supplied by the younger members of our churches has been amazing. We would all agree that the future of the church lies with people younger than 40 and particularly those aged below 25 and it is these age ranges that have shared their faith so openly and so meaningfully.
The hybrid church is seen as worship that is available both in our re-opened buildings and also available to people’s homes by technology. This means that our churches have the opportunity to attract those tasting the Christian Faith by technology, those who have difficulties in making it to church on many Sundays and those who want to return to the building; particularly for direct fellowship with each other. If we are unable to sing in the building, then there will be those who may for a change want to join the services online so that they may enjoy singing along. All of which demonstrates the wonderful potential for bringing worship into today’s world and attracting new people and others that have previously given up. One thing that this will mean is that congregations need to brush-up on their evangelism, sharing with new people online, discussing worship styles and introducing new ways and telling people that church now offers the possibility to worship within a building or at home, all making use of exciting technology that we can share together and with our communities.
The second meeting was particularly showing interest in inclusive church particularly for people with disabilities. Hybrid church will mean that we can be available to people who may consider themselves on the margins of society, those for whom going to a church building is fraught with difficulties, those who can’t always get the transport organised and also those for whom Sunday morning is simply too much hassle. Some more figures: 20% of children have special needs and therefore this often means their families find it impossible to attend a church building; yet it does not necessarily mean they’re not interested in the Christian Faith. 45% of people with disabilities are over 65, how many of these might find hybrid church as their way to Jesus? Finally, 90% of families with children, who have special needs are unchurched; surely the church should be able to respond to such families with the love of God.
The leaders of these meetings will shortly be letting us have more details about the meetings and the way forward for the Christian ‘Hybrid’ Church and we will hope to be able to share these with our circuit churches.
So, Hybrid Church! How exciting is that, how many more people will be given the opportunity to come to Christ because God’s gift of technology is at last being put to real use, how many of our churches will be able to share the love of God with people on the fringes of faith?
With prayer, discussion in house groups, reading of the new ideas as they are born, more discussion in church meetings, with volunteers and of course the direction of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, as has happened so many times throughout the history of God’s people, just perhaps, this terrible time of lock down and suffering will, with God’s Grace, enable us in the Sutton Park Methodist Circuit to bring hybrid church to our community, country and, who knows to play our part in reaching out to the world the world. With God’s help we may become a church that doesn’t sit and wait, but a church that reaches out; Alleluia amen!
Marion and Tom Watts