This blog post written by the Rev. Eric Murray is a result of Leaders for Hybrid Futures, a community of learning and practice created by Rev. Tim Schenck and Learning Forte’s CEO, Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan, to reflect on and experiment with hybrid ministry. This innovative program is a partnership with LEAD, TX, and Learning Forte’s Digital Ministry Initiative and is funded by a leadership grant from Trinity Church, Wall Street.
I wish I had a bitcoin for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t want anything to do with technology.” It’s sort of like saying, “I don’t believe in evolution.” Evolution is not a matter of “belief,” it is simply the way the biological, chemical and physical processes of life proceed. Whether or not you believe in evolution does not change the reality that evolution is happening to you and to the world around you. The same goes for technology. More specifically, digital technology is the way in which the communication, commerce, and activities of our daily lives proceed. Whether you like technology or not, whether you “do” digital tech or not, does not change this reality.
According to researcher Joseph Johnson and Statista, “as of April 2022, there were five billion internet users worldwide, which is 63 percent of the global population. Of this total, 4.65 billion were social media users.”(1) According to Pew Research Center, “85% of Americans say they go online on a daily basis. That figure includes the 31% who report going online almost constantly, as well as 48% who say they go online several times a day.”(2) We shop, make vacation plans, buy homes, chat, post, interact with our physician, watch entertainment, learn, communicate, pray and worship on a daily basis digitally. This is the new reality.
So, the question is, what does the church do in response to this new reality? For all that was tragic about the global pandemic, one silver lining is it forced the church to explore the digital reality that is our world. We, the church, had to get out of the safe comfort of our buildings and meet people where they are on a daily basis. As a result, congregations experimented by combining “in the building” participation with “online” participation. The “hybrid” ministry that has resulted has been effective in keeping congregants connected as well as serving as a doorway for newcomers to participate. Even so, this new hybrid ministry is not without cost in terms of financial and human resources.
As of the writing of this blog, many perceive the pandemic to be waning. Along with this, interest and energy for continuing some form of “hybrid”ministry has also begun to wane. Many congregations are once again focusing much of their energy toward “in the building” activities all the while debating whether “to hybrid” or “not to hybrid”. Yet, with 85% of Americans and 63% of the global population online in the digital world, should whether or not to engage in “hybrid” ministry even be a question?
In my opinion, ‘To hybrid or not to hybrid?’ is no longer the question. The church must engage people where they live, move and have their being, and that is in the digital world. This is the new reality, the new and evolving mission context to which the church is called into ministry, like it or not.
(1) “Global digital population as of April 2022” Published by Joseph Johnson, May 4, 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/
(2) “About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online” by Andrew Perrin and Sara Atske, Pew Research Center, March 26, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/26/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-say-they-are-almost-constantly-online/
The Rev. Eric Murray is Co-Lead Pastor with Saint Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN. Along with his spouse, The Rev. Pauline Farrington, Pastor Eric began serving Saint Andrew in July of 2021. Besides contemplating the future of the church and our place in it, Pastor Eric enjoys Sci-fi movies, travel, and building out his smart home. And yes, Pastor Eric looks exactly like his Memoji.