Is Hybrid church the best of both worlds?
As many of us are excited about returning to our church buildings to take part in live worship again, Robert Ashton explains that there are also advantages to the various on-line services that have been available recently, and suggests a way forward.
I was intrigued to receive an email from Peter Kerridge the other day, inviting me to sign the ‘hybrid church charter.’ I had met Peter a couple of years ago, when I visited his Premier Christian media group in London, and been impressed by his entrepreneurial approach to spreading word about God in print, through radio broadcasts and digitally.
Peter’s message was blunt and clear: ‘As the building doors slammed shut the digital doors swung wide open.’ He went on to explain how, for many of us, online worship has replaced attendance at church, or in my case at the Quaker Meeting House, with the added benefit of being accessible to those who, because of infirmity or distance, had been unable to attend in person for some time.
His message ended with a heartfelt plea: ‘As social distancing regulations are relaxed it is vital that, as we re-open the doors of the church buildings, we do not shut the digital doors!’ This struck at the heart of the conundrum I am currently wrestling with. Why should I return to driving into Norwich to attend Meeting for Worship in person, when for more than a year now, I’ve been attending perfectly happily online?
Of course, it is the range of activities usually centred on a church building that makes the worshipping community a true community, but for people with busy lives, unless really committed to their faith, it’s all too easy to stay away and not attend at all. This perhaps is one reason why congregations are ageing, and why younger people, who grew up in a digital age, are finding other ways to spend their spare time.
Thinking back to my first Quaker Meeting, when curiosity and the growing realisation that something was missing from my life, drew me to the door of a building full of people I did not know, I was painfully unaware of the protocols and traditions. Had a Friend not spotted and kindly guided me, I could easily have embarrassed myself and fled, never to return. It would have been so much easier had my first experience of Quaker Worship taken place online, in the familiar surroundings of my home. It is no wonder that many churches have found new members when offering online worship.
We are all being encouraged to drive hybrid cars, so the idea of a hybrid church should not be too alien, and Peter is hoping that as many churches as possible will sign up to the hybrid churches charter.
Image by István Kis from Pixabay
Robert Ashton is an author, social entrepreneur and Quaker.
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