While churches are starting in-person worship services again, many parishioners remain uncomfortable attending. They prefer watching our online services from their own homes. Churches that pivoted towards offering online services and other online events last year should consider continuing to serve their church members, particularly those most at-risk for COVID-19, in this way. In some cases, this involves offering online-only opportunities in addition to in-person services or events; in other cases, this involves finding a way to blend physical and digital experiences together.
So we move forward into the “Phygital” Space of 2021, creating both physical and digital experiences those who attend our services will find meaningful and compelling.
What will it take to keep people coming back and growing in their faith, whether in person or online?
Keep the “Phygital” Blend in Mind when Planning. As we enter 2021, our planning meetings may need to be a little longer in length as we give attention to both our in-person services and their online counterparts. Will the services be mirror images? Will they have differing components? How will we encourage engagement that is socially distant in person and somehow engaging online? How will we create connection in a world that is increasingly disconnected? We must consider these things carefully both for the physical space and the digital space. Digital can no longer be a “stop gap” solution to a short-term problem. It is a medium that is here to stay, and we must give it the attention it needs to be effective.
Market Programming to Specific Audiences. As the church staff and elders plan for the distinct physical and digital spaces, it will become clear that each medium draws specific audiences. When promoting programming for these spaces, take time to create marketing and promotional materials that will be attractive to those audiences. Take into consideration demographic information of each audience, but also spiritual walk information and emotional readiness. Show people that you see, hear, and understand them as you plan services in the physical and digital spaces that will meet their needs and help them connect more deeply with God.
Create High Quality Programming for All. The digital space is no longer a second thought or mere add-on. It is part of your high priority programming. For all of church history, pastors and church staff members have been focused on producing the best in-person services possible with the resources at their disposal. Now, as we enter 2021 and the “Phygital” space that is so new to many of us, we must create quality in-person and online services. We are challenged in these days to devote just as many resources to our online products as we do to our in-person services. This may require us to hire additional staff and purchase higher quality equipment. Make the investment. It will be worth it as we see the results in the lives of individuals whose lives are bettered for the sake of the Kingdom.
Give Staff Ownership for Both Platforms. Now is the time to create the position of Online Pastor if we’ve not already done so. Someone must be given full ownership for the nurturing of the digital space. Staff members can be assigned to the digital space to create engagement and connection every week and to conduct follow-up with those who join online. Just as we have Campus Pastors, Lead Pastors, and Worship Pastors for our in-person services, Online Pastors can be considered the “Campus Pastors” of internet ministry and given full duties for the care and shepherding of the online flock. This kind of ownership is vital to the ability of the digital space to thrive in a world where there is competition for everything, including the online interest of our church-goers.
2021 will be a year like no other and we as the Church have a chance to make it one in which we glorify God and grow in our relationship with the Father as never before. Wading into the “Phygital” Space and creating meaningful Physical and Digital experiences for our parishioners is the first step in this incredible process. Let’s do it with great intentionality and purpose.