A pastor this week, one of my coaching clients, said to me: “My church is working on reopening. We have a plan in place to maintain social distancing. I think we are doing everything we can. But, Cameron, how am I supposed to hold services for people in person and keep up with services online? Oh, and by the way, our community food bank just ran out of food and people are literally hungry.”
I don’t know of any church leader right now who ISN’T feeling this tension. How do we “do” hybrid church and meet the increased life needs of people in our communities?
For most leaders, this crisis is dynamic. How do you produce enough content for both physical and virtual experiences? How do you nurture both physical and virtual communities? And the bigger question: Is Sunday morning worship still the pentacle focus of an effective pastoral leader, especially in the face of unprecedented human need? Could we collaborate with other congregations to free up resources to meet all of these needs?
I’ve named often that the mainline church has been living through a transition from organized religion to “organizing” religion. We have been living within the tension of shrinking congregations (in many places, but not all), shrinking staff and volunteer capacity, and increasing social need and demands for activism. Long before the pandemic, congregational leaders were beginning to function more as organizers grounded in a living theology than resident theological scholars grounded in years of sermon preparation and intellectual study.
The pandemic has accelerated that transition, inviting us to now ask “What is Church?” and “How do can we order and organize ourselves for spiritual deepening and social transformation?” I continue to reflect on the insight of 20th-century theologian Karl Rahner who once famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or . . . will not exist at all.”
COVID has invited a reckoning to our institutions: Are we structured for engaging the living, moving spirit of Love among us, or are we structures for keeping church buildings open? How do we build a movement of Love and Justice that uses its buildings, people and money in a free-flowing investment into creating a more just and generous world? What are we learning of the Easter promise – life, death, and life again?
For those of you caught in the day-to-day tension of these questions and need some ideas and support, Rev. Jim Keat is offering what will be an amazing 3 week intensive on “How to do Hybrid Church.” We strongly encourage you to check it out and join a cohort.
For those of you who wish to think deeply about the meaning of this moment, I’d encourage you to join us for the Courageous Church Online Summit where I will host conversations with national thought leaders about these questions.
I will be writing more about this moment of unprecedented opportunity for the Church in the coming weeks. For now, let’s turn our eyes to Easter and the promise of life, death, and life again. After all, this year of all years, we know so much more about that sacred journey.