Hybrid services have become a regular church feature since the end of lockdown. Paul Morrison shares tips on how to make the experience more enjoyable for online attendees
The arrival of the pandemic has ushered in a new era for churches across the UK and beyond. Even churches that were previously slow to adopt new technologies have found themselves embracing it to keep their congregations connected. Fortunately, there were many readily available, easy-to-use tools that made getting started with online services easier than ever, and many churches turned to Zoom to connect with their congregation during the period of lockdown.
Now that churches have returned to in-person worship, there are still some pre-pandemic churchgoers who have chosen not to return to the church building but have continued the habit of joining Zoom meetings, prayer meetings, connect groups and Bible studies online. This presents new opportunities for churches to implement a strategic plan around having a hybrid church.
Hybrid church blends the in-person experience with those who are unable to attend church for whatever reason — whether they are in care homes, prisons, sick or are elderly. Some churches are no longer offering any remote option to their congregation, but why abandon an online presence and miss out on the opportunity to engage with new people and build stronger relationships with those already in our online communities?
So the question is: how do we include everyone in our worship and service experiences, and how can we utilise tools like Zoom to offer more than just a one-way broadcast? Live streaming was a significant first step, but eventually churches will need to think about ways to make experiences more interactive. A true hybrid service is an immersive, memorable and engaging experience that unites both in-person and remote congregations. With the right planning you can implement a successful and meaningful hybrid strategy.
At Zoom, we have successfully run countless large hybrid and online events using our own technology. We know that events will take many different formats and Zoom offers a solution tailored to fit any situation. When you’re planning a hybrid or a large event, think about what you want your user experience to look like, and ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I ensure the services run smoothly?
- What level of interaction do I expect from my online congregation?
- What will my physical setup be like, and how will I optimise my church space for both in-person and remote attendees?
Consider your digital setup: What software and tools will you use? If you are using Zoom, then ensure you have the correct subscription.
For large events, where attendees mainly just listen, you will most likely require Zoom Webinars. When you need more back and forth between the audience and the host, Zoom Meeting might be the better option. Or why not try the Zoom Events platform? This is the virtual event platform for hosting multi-day, multi-track virtual and hybrid events.
Think of webinars like a lecture hall or auditorium. Webinars are ideal for large audiences and events that are open to the public. Typically, webinar attendees do not interact with one another. Though Zoom provides options for you to get more social with your attendees, your average webinar only has one or a few people speaking to an audience. Zoom meetings, however, are great for hosting interactive sessions where you’ll want to have lots of audience participation or break your session into smaller groups. Zoom Events was built specifically for virtual and hybrid events, and features innovative tools to showcase your content, connect attendees, and keep your audiences engaged.
Hybrid church is all about bridging the gap between the people in the physical building and those who are remote. The first step is to plan your digital setup, ie. the platforms, tools or software you’ll use to connect everybody in the service.
You then want to design the space in a way that allows remote attendees to see as much as possible. How can you ensure they feel like they’re in the service? Ideally, those remote attendees will have a clear view of the speakers and be able to see the congregation. Likewise, remote participants should be as visible and as present as possible.
In my experience, getting the physical setup right often takes some trial and error, so it’s worth trying out a few different setups during the week, before the service, to make sure everything runs smoothly on the day. No matter how simple or advanced your technological setup is, it needs to be optimised for the hybrid environment. Most importantly, you want to ensure you have a stable internet connection, good quality video and clear audio.
Hybrid events are here to stay. Make sure you utilise online tools to make them an enjoyable experience.
Paul, a global award winner, is the UK education lead at Zoom. He is the founder of idare2inspire and is the Chair of the professional advisory board at the University of West Scotland.
Written by: Paul Morrison