Switches, Cameras, and Platforms, Oh My

Like many other churches, Old South has been an online church during the pandemic.  Worship, meetings and other gatherings have been almost entirely on Zoom.  And, for the most part, this approach has worked well for us.  Also like many other churches, we have come to the realization that we should not simply return to our pre-pandemic lives, now that restrictions are starting to loosen.  We have become something new already, and we ought to continue to embrace this evolution.  Discussions have focused on a hybrid approach to church, one that incorporates both in person and online components, allowing those who wish to gather in person to do so and also welcoming those who cannot join us in person.

We are not alone.  Lots and lots of churches are doing the very same thing.  And, that means that there’s lots of information, workshops and webinars, to help churches in this transition to a hybrid existence.

I have read many blogs and articles on hybrid church.  I’ve explored opportunities to engage in this work with a group, or groups.  I’ve watched a few webinars as well.

In a word, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed.

One of the biggest issues for me is that one of the first pieces of advice offered from several different sources is:  gather your tech-savvy people to help.  One webinar went even further in encouraging a group of tech-savvy people:  “the more the merrier!”

The problem for Old South is that gathering the “tech savvy” is not exactly an inspiring prospect.  There are two.  Not much of a group, and certainly not especially merry.  To complicate the situation still further, one of the two is the music director, who really cannot manage music and technology at the same time.  The other is my husband.

We face the next dimension of church with some clear challenges.  While a couple of people have indicated a willingness to learn the new technology, and that’s certainly a good thing, the path ahead feels decidedly thorny.  When talking to a small group about the work to create a new, hybrid church, one person was taken aback that we would want to maintain an online existence at all.  Why should we bother with such a thing, because, well, church should be an in-person experience and we should all be glad to cast off our virtual existence as soon as possible?

The path ahead will surely be a strange, new thing, with lots of strange, new questions:

  • What does it mean to gather as church?
  • Can we have meaningful worship with no singing, or at best, limited singing (until we get the green light for more singing)?
  • Will we be able to acknowledge and appreciate the various ways through which people feel connected to Old South?
  • Do we have the capacity to learn new things, and to embrace the winds of change that swirl around us?
  • Do we have the ability, and the desire, to learn about the technology and the equipment needed for a hybrid existence to our church life?

We’ve come a long way in our pandemic journey.  It is my hope, and my prayer, that we will embrace the knowledge that we have learned new things, and we can learn still more new things, that we can become what’s next, rather than slide into what was. We may never have a “the more the merrier” sort of tech savvy group, but a small group of willing tech novices would be pretty good.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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