“Hybrid Worship: Reaching People Here and There, Now and Later” featuring Jason Moore

Leading Ideas Talks
Leading Ideas Talks
“Hybrid Worship: Reaching People Here and There, Now and Later” featuring Jason Moore

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Podcast Episode 119

How can your worship connect powerfully not only with those in the room on Sunday mornings, but with those worshiping online in the moment and after the fact? Hybrid ministry expert Jason Moore outlines simple changes that can make your worship more meaningful and participatory for online viewers in the moment and “evergreen” in its ability to remain relevant and accessible to anyone at any time.

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Announcer: Leading Ideas Talks is brought to you by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Subscribe free to our weekly e-newsletter, Leading Ideas, at churchleadership.com/leadingideas.

Leading Ideas Talks is also brought to you by Discovering God’s Future for Your Church. This turnkey video tool kit helps your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for your church’s next faithful steps. Learn more and watch an introductory video at churchleadership.com/vision.

How can your worship connect powerfully not only with those in the room on Sunday mornings, but with those worshiping online in the moment and after the fact? In this episode, hybrid ministry expert Jason Moore outlines simple changes that can make your worship more meaningful and participatory for online viewers in the moment and “evergreen” in its ability to remain relevant and accessible to anyone at any time.

Ann Michel: Welcome to Leading Ideas Talks! I’m Ann Michel. I’m a senior consultant with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and I’m also one of the co-editors of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. And I am so pleased to be your host for this episode of our podcast. My guest today is Jason Moore. Jason served on the staff of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio. Currently, he runs Midnight Oil Productions, and for many years he’s been a sought-after consultant and coach helping churches with worship and worship design. But since the earliest days of the pandemic shutdown, Jason has become one the go-to sources across the United Methodist connection and beyond, helping churches navigate this brave new world of online worship. And earlier this year, he published a book called Both/And which provides all kinds of practical advice on how congregations can conduct hybrid worship in ways that maximize the experience for both in-person and online worshipers. And that’s the focus of our conversation today. Welcome to you, Jason.

Jason Moore: It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning.

Ann Michel: To start this conversation off, I thought we could begin in the heart of your book where you describe how in a hybrid world there are a number of distinct and different audiences, if you will, that constitute a church’s worshipping congregation. So, I thought it might be helpful for our listeners if you just name and briefly describe those different segments of people that we can connect with through online worship.

Jason Moore: Absolutely. Well, when things changed for us, when the pandemic hit and so many churches went online, we had to move beyond the one audience or one congregation that we always had gathered. Now some churches were online prior to the pandemic. But whether you were online beforehand or you went o online with the pandemic,

these other audiences or segments of your congregation began to develop.

So, I always think that congregation number one or segment number one of your congregation are those who are in the room — the people that are right there in front of us, in our physical space. Number two, you have people who are worshiping with you online in real time. You have a third audience of people that you know who are worshiping with you at home and then a fourth group of people that you don’t know who are worshiping with you online. So, we’ve got the people that we know in the room. We’ve got people at home worshiping with us that we know are worshiping with us that we’re connected to. And then we have folks that we don’t know who are worshiping with us.

And the reason it’s important for us to consider all those different groups is that the way that you communicate with them has to be a little bit different. For people who don’t know you at all, you have to explain your rites, your rituals, the practices of your worship. If you want to allow them to participate in meaningful ways, you’ve got to equip them to do that.

Another way that I’ve been saying it since the book came out is to consider that we have people here and there and now and later. And what I mean by that is that we have people that are right here in the room with us now. So, they’re here. We have people that are there, which are those folks that worship with us online right now as we’re doing it in real time. But a really important thing that we have to consider is that we have a lot of people who are worshiping with us later. So, here and there and now and later, and we want to focus on all of those groups.

Ann Michel. Thank you. That’s a really helpful way of making it clear. In your book you write that in a truly hybrid worship each of these different audiences, if you will, feels like they’re the primary audience and none of them are allowed to feel like they’re just an afterthought or an onlooker. In order to create that sense of welcoming connection with these different segments of your worshiping community, you talk about how some of the standard aspects of our worship may need to be tailored or tweaked a bit. I thought it might be helpful if I just named some of the topics that you address in the book and gave you a chance to briefly explain how each might need to be changed in this new world of hybrid worship. The first is the length of the worship service.

Jason Moore: You know, we have different attention spans in the room than I think we have at home. And part of that is that we get to control the space when we’re gathered physically. You get to control the lighting and the symbols in the room and the seating and all those kinds of things. You can’t really control those things at home, so you can’t prevent someone from ringing my door, or my dog needing to go out, or the constant dripping of the coffee machine that might distract me. We just have shorter attention spans in our living rooms than we would in the building, so one of the suggestions I make in the book is that, if you’re doing worship in a both/and way, you might alter the length of your worship. There are ways to do this in real time and there are ways to do it after the fact. You might invite your online congregation to come in partway into your worship and/or dismiss them early. They’re allowed to hang around as long as they would like, but dismiss them early.

Nona Jones works for Meta, and at the time that I wrote the book she was the director of [Global] Faith-Based Partnerships for Facebook. They’re now Meta. I think she has a different title now. She said that they had been studying the data and found that most people will only stay tuned in for about 40 minutes for an online broadcast. And you know most of us do worship that is around an hour, or even a little bit more, and in the room you have a captive audience who will participate.

What I found in doing hundreds of seminars on hybrid worship over the last couple years is that most people tell me they don’t sing at home. You know, some of them will pray the prayers along with us and things like that. But there are multiple aspects of worship that don’t transfer so well at home, so I encourage churches to think about how we might create an experience that for the room is the full experience — the full hour, the full hour and a half, the full hour and 10 minutes, whatever it is — and then maybe create an experience for those online that is a little shorter. One thing I’ve been saying more recently is that you can take that full experience that you have on Sunday morning, if you’re broadcasting it or streaming it, and people can hang around for as long as they want. But we might take that and create a curated version of that experience. So, we might edit that down to a 30-minute experience of worship, which maybe has a little less in the way of singing. Maybe there are some things that we cut out that wouldn’t translate to those worshiping on delay. But you may find kind of a side door entrance into your church through a curated experience of worship where you continually make the invitation to people to come be with us in the building where you get the complete experience as well.

Ann Michel: That actually goes to the next point I was going to ask about. And that is the question of when people worship because I think we’re locked into this idea that everybody’s going to tune into worship at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. But that’s not necessarily the way people consume online content. When you talk about a curated worship service, you’re suggesting that there are many people who may want to take advantage of this worship service at a totally different time. Can you help us think about that a little bit?

Jason Moore: Think about how much the rest of our lives have been disrupted because of Covid and the way that we experience content now. In the world of entertainment, you stream movies from home. Rarely ever do you tune in to watch your favorite show when it airs live, I mean unless it’s a sporting event. A lot of us binge-watch our shows, or we watch them so we can fast-forward. Why would we think that worship would be any different? I’m not suggesting that worship is the same thing as consuming entertainment, but our practices, our habits, the way that we consume information and data and participate in experiences has changed quite a bit.

Consider that now we have people who worship with us on Sunday evening or Monday afternoon. Maybe they work on Sundays. Maybe they’re third-shift workers that can’t get up on a Sunday morning. I have heard stories about nursing homes where they will worship after the fact at a later time. Maybe they’re not early risers. But they gather together in a common space and worship at a later time.

I have had the privilege over the last couple of years of coaching hundreds of pastors in monthly cohort calls. And what I’ve been hearing from so many pastors, maybe three quarters of them, are that their on-delay or on-demand worship numbers are much greater than their Sunday morning live numbers. I’ll have people tell me, “I look, and I’ll see four people streaming or five people. And then we look at our numbers through the week, and those numbers go up dramatically.” You know, we don’t want to take attendance anymore just on Sunday. We want to take it all throughout the week, leading into even a Saturday. You know, those numbers accumulate.

Ann Michel: Really forever. It may not just be within the seven-day calendar week. People choose to come back to a worship service weeks or months later if it’s a topic that’s of interest to them. So, you already mentioned singing and music. But could you just say a bit more about that?

Jason Moore: Well, I think that music and singing are important aspects of worship. I mean I’m a musician. I love music. I love to sing. But I think that there’s something about the communal experience that is different than sitting on your couch, maybe with your family, or being in a hotel room or wherever you may be for the day. So, I don’t think we should eliminate music altogether from worship online. But I do think that we might abbreviate it a bit or maybe do less singing online than in person. One of the suggestions I make in the book is that you might have one or two songs. If you do your entire worship service online you might have people join you after you’ve sung a couple songs and say, “Hey, if you’d like to experience our entire worship set today, you can do that at a link on our social media.” And then post the entire thing. Give people the opportunity to opt in rather than sit through something that a lot of folks at home just aren’t doing.

As I said in these trainings that I would do online, I always had the chat open, and I would ask “How many of you are singing along with the worship online?” And it was only like 10 percent of the people. And I would get comments like “I’m the music director, and I don’t sing with online version.” I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter. I just went last night to a choir concert. And she had a solo. She loves to sing. It’s like her gift. Like she just loves to sing. When we worship at home, though, I’ll tell you that during that portion of worship I can barely keep my kids in front of the TV. In church, they will sing. They’ll belt out the songs. I don’t know if it’s like self-consciousness, because you can’t hide amongst the other voices, or I don’t want to sing in front of my brother or my mom or dad, or whatever. But it’s just a different experience in the room than it is online.

Ann Michel: Yeah, I guess I’m an old-fashioned enough Methodist that when I worship online at home I do sing and often in the nice weather I’m out on my patio. I think it’s a very good witness to my neighbors! But let’s talk about announcements. Because I think you have an interesting thing to say about worship announcements and how those might come across to an online audience.

Jason Moore: Well, I think it’s so important that we remember that we don’t have a captive audience online. In the room, people are not going to get up and leave if you go on for five minutes or 10 minutes with announcements that don’t feel are very compelling or very relevant or whatever. But online, it’s just a simple click to close the window, so I make the pitch in the book — and I’ve been actually saying this for many years, even before the pandemic — that we ought to consider not doing announcements as the first thing in worship. Let’s not start with the least compelling thing that we have to offer in the way of information. But let’s start with inspiration and give people a sense of what their “return on investment” for hanging with us is going to be. “So, this morning, we’re going to share a message about …” Just give them a little overview of where you’re going and all those kinds of things.

Then I make the pitch that announcements ought not be announcements. They ought to be action steps. So, if we move them to the end and don’t make them announcements but say, “Friends, today we have been talking about how to find our faith in a season of fear. And I’m going to give you four opportunities to do that very thing this week. First, one of the ways that we find our faith in a season of fear is by gathering with other people. Our Women’s Ministry is gathering on Monday night, both here in the building and on Zoom, and you can find relationship and face your fears together. Second, we’ve got a bake sale coming up for the kids who are going to camp. Camp is a place that we find our faith in major ways, so we want to send the kids to camp because their faith will develop there. When you’re a young person, you’re dealing with all sorts of fears.” Basically tying it back into the message for that day makes those things feel very intentional. It makes those things feel like an extension of the sermon. They feel purposeful, rather than starting off with “Good morning. Welcome to worship. Our Women’s Ministry is meeting at seven o’clock on Monday night. We’re going to have a bake sale next weekend.” It’s so easy to turn that off. But when it feels like it’s purposeful, I’m much more likely to want to actually follow through. And then I get to put into practice what I heard in the sermon that day and not just make it theoretical.

Ann Michel. Yeah, that’s brilliant. When I read that part of your book, it really made so much sense to me just to reframe that. Because I think announcements also tend to be so insider oriented. And for someone who’s not in the building or not part of the immediate community, you know, unless you frame them the way you do to really give them relevance, it’s probably not very important to them. So, I think that’s a brilliant suggestion. One last aspect of this I wanted to pick up, and that is the style of preaching.

Jason Moore: Well, I think that we have to consider, when it comes to preaching, that when you are in the room you preach to the whole room. You know you preach to the people over on the left and on the right. If you have a balcony, you make sure to preach to them as well. And I think it’s so important that we preach to people online as well and include them in the experience. I think language really matters, and we’ve got to be really careful about not just talking to the people in the room. One of the things I will hear pastors do sometimes to connect, is to say, “Hey, let me just ask by show of hands, how many of you …?” And they’ll ask a question or say “just shout out” whatever. The people at home can’t shout out enough for us to hear them. They can raise their hands, but we’ll never have any sense that they’re there. So, I want to encourage pastors to think about how we include everyone in the experience.

I was just in Baltimore, about 2 months ago, worshiping with a Baptist church there. And they brought me in to help evaluate their worship and do a little training on hybrid. And the pastor said, “Hey, I want to just ask by show of hands in the room, how many of you have ever googled a restaurant before you’ve gone there to see what it’s like? And I want to ask those of you who are worshiping with us online right now, go ahead and put in the chat what restaurant you googled and is it worth going to?” And then a moment or so later he picked up his phone and he said, “Oh, I see about five different places I can go for lunch today.” And he included those who are worshiping at home in the experience of worship. So, everybody got to be a participant in that moment.

Another thing I talk a lot about in the book is making sure we give eye contact to everybody, including those who worship at home. Since this is a video podcast, I can demonstrate that if I only talk to my room and I don’t ever look at the camera, it’s a little weird when you’re in this conversation, and I’m not talking to you. But when I look at the camera, I make you feel like you’re a part of it. I encourage pastors to think about it. If you’re a manuscript preacher, put a camera icon in your notes, maybe at the top of each page. I don’t mean preach to the camera. You’re not filming a television show. But in the same way you look at the people on the left and the right and in the balcony, you want to do that for folks online as well.

Then the last thing I would say here is that with most of the churches that I consult with these days, I do a lot of what I call “secret worshiper consultations” where I basically come to worship as a guest. I used to just do that in person. When the pandemic hit, I did a lot of it online. What I noticed all the time is that we tend to acknowledge the online congregation at the very beginning and the very end and then we forget about them in the middle. So, we’ll say, “Hey. If you’re worshiping with us at home, thanks for coming today” at the beginning. And then that’s a last time we talked to them. We talk to the room. And then at the end we say, “Hey. Thanks for worshiping with us today.” I want to encourage pastors to think about, when you’re preaching, are there opportunities maybe in a couple of places to both name that we’ve got people here and there.

So, one day when I was secret worshiping at a particular pastor’s service, he said, “Hey, I want to tell you I’m wearing my favorite suit today. This is a suit I got married in. I look out and see all of you, and I see that some of you have your favorite suits on.” It was Easter, and he kind of moved on from there. Afterwards, I said, “You know one opportunity there to include the online congregations is to say, ‘I wonder if those of you at home today got up and put your favorite outfit on — or many your favorite pajamas on — this morning.’” Just that acknowledgement makes it feel to me, when I’m worshiping at home or I’m on vacation or I’m at the nursing home or I’m wherever I am, that you are thinking about me, too. That I’m a part of it. I’m not a viewer of worship. I’m a participant. I’m not a watcher of worship. I am a worshiper online. And I think that’s a distinct difference that we need to really consider.

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Ann Michel: I think, too. When you talked about preaching, something I found helpful was that you talked about the length of the sermon, and I know it varies so much in different traditions. You know, there are some congregations where it’s always 20 minutes, and there are others where it’s always 40 minutes. Somewhere, it can even be longer than that. But you talk about how TED Talks are 18 minutes long, and that’s probably more what we need to be thinking about in an online sermon. Right?

Jason Moore: Absolutely. Again, I think our attention spans are different in the room than they are at home. And I think TED Talks are a great example. I even put an outline in the book for how TED Talks are done. And there’s some great material out there on how that is done. Now I know some churches prerecord their online worship, and so I’ve seen pastors do their 18-minute version for the recording and then the full 30-minute version or 25-minute version online. Also, that idea of the curated experience might be that you could stream it live and do the whole thing the way you always do live in the morning in the room and then stream it. But you could also take that same thing and create an 18-minute version of your sermon that you might post all by itself, and people might find a side door into your church because they’ll watch that 18-minute version, whereas they may not watch the full 30-minute version.

You know most podcasts are in the 20-minute or so neighborhood. I think that if we can start to deliver an experience of worship that can considers the audience who is tuning in or consuming that content, we may have the opportunity, I think, to bring more people into the relationship with our churches.

Ann Michel: You focus a lot on how online worship can be what you call “evergreen” worship.

And I wanted to ask you to explain what you mean by that and then maybe describe some of the changes in mindset and language and practice that might help our Sunday morning worship live beyond Sunday morning.

Jason Moore: Well, that’s really it. Evergreen is just the idea that it would live beyond the moment in which you do it. It’s hard to believe after living in this hybrid world for a couple years, we used to just do church on Sunday and the only people that got to benefit were the ones that were there in the room, and then it was a thought in their heads. But that was really it. One and done. And now our worship lives forever, and to me that’s really exciting — the idea that I could preach a sermon on Sunday and, if I have the right keywords and the right title, somebody five years from now could be searching for something and those keywords could line up with the sermon that I preached that speaks directly to what they’re dealing with.

One of the things I’m regularly encouraging churches not to do is to title your video in a very utilitarian way. I see churches just call their video like “First United Methodist Church Sunday Worship.” And then they have the date. Nobody’s going to click on that. The only people that are going to click on that are people from your church. But if you say “Finding Your Faith While Experiencing Fear,” I’m much more likely as somebody just searching YouTube who is dealing with some fear and looking for faith to click on that video and find it.

I want to also just remind folks — and for some people I think this has been an aha moment,

Paul’s ministry was hybrid. You know Paul did ministry both in person — all throughout Acts he’s preaching to the people in person — and then he finds himself in prison and begins to write these letters, these epistles, that led the church from a distance. But not only did it lead the church from a distance but it also led the church from a distance in time as well, so the letters that Paul wrote 2,000 years ago still have incredible impact in our lives today. Our theological foundations, what we preach from, is based on those letters.

I’d like to think that the worship that you do this coming Sunday can have the same impact. Somebody can find it hundreds of years later, through these archived media files that exist on the World Wide Web or whatever comes next, and you can have just as much impact. That’s why I try to help people think about here and there and now and later. And so many of us have to think about later.

I guess the last thought I would share here is just again language matters. One of my pet peeves is that all of our language is for the people right now in the room. We forget about those right now online and those later online, so we’ll say, “Let’s stand together as we sing. Let’s stand together for the reading of scripture.” Do we really think that people in their living rooms are standing up at that moment? If I’m on a bus watching the stream as I’m taking a trip or something, am I going to stand up at that moment? Probably not. What if our language was more inclusive of the different ways that people worship now? If you’re here in the room I’m going to invite you to stand. If you’re worshiping with us online, find a posture that will allow you to fully participate in this moment or maybe we say, “stand in body or in spirit.”

I also think that we can consider now and later evergreen language. Be careful about saying, “Good morning” or “Happy Sunday” or “Boy, it’s really cold out today.” You know, if people are worshiping with you six months later, it’s now summer, and they’re not worshiping on Sunday, they’ll know you’re not recording it in that moment. But we might open the language up by saying, “Welcome to worship. Hope you’re having a great day!” and not trying to be so temporal in the way that that we invite people in.

And then I guess the very final thought is that we might also think about what instructions we want to give people to participate in a now and later way. Sometimes, when it comes to prayer, we’ll say, “If you’d like to pray with someone, you could come forward. We have care pastors that would love to pray with you.” Or “Come to the altar. The altar rails are open.” Well, that only works for the people in the room. What if we said, “If you’d like to pray with someone, we have care pastors here in the room. If you’re worshiping with us online right now, we have folks in the chat that would love to pray with you. If you’re worshipping with us at a later time, you could drop your prayer request in an email that’s listed along with this video, and someone will pray for you or even reach out and pray with you if you request that this week.” That way we make worship something that people can participate in at any time in really meaningful ways.

Ann Michel: Yeah. There’s so much potential in that. I really appreciate you explaining that. Just really quickly, you’ve already mentioned the idea that this can live on the web and we want to make it easy for people to search and find it. What are some things that congregations can do to help people find and engage this evergreen content online? For churches that are doing a really good job of curated and presenting their content, what does that look like?

Jason Moore: Well, you know, I think that oftentimes branding is not considered nearly enough in the church. We have incredible content. We have the best content out there, but sometimes we don’t market it very well. We don’t really brand it very well. I think sometimes in the United Methodist Church we don’t do a great job of telling our story in the most compelling way. So, I think number one is just to start branding a little bit better. How can we wrap compelling themes and titles and all those kinds of things around what we’re creating? Number two, ask people to share your stuff.

There’s a church that I talk about all the time in my trainings. I’ve gotten to consult with them a couple times. It’s a United Methodist Church out of Columbia, South Carolina, called Journey United Methodist Church, but they just go by Journey Church. The pastor is George Ashford. And every weekend worship, they invite people to open the chat in worship whether you’re there in the building or at home. They say, “Right now, go down to that bottom left corner and hit that share button. Let’s invite people to worship with us today.” And I have noticed a trend on their Facebook page that they get between 30 and 50 shares every single week, which means that their online attendance continues to grow all the time.

The third thing I would recommend that we do is give people an opportunity to participate. Share a comment. Share a reflection. Then, when people do that, make sure that you actually respond and acknowledge their comments. I have a lot of people say to me, “We try inviting people to chat, and nobody chats.” Well, if I go to chat and I put something in there and nobody ever responds to it, then it doesn’t feel like I’m really a participant. I kind of feel ignored. But if somebody worships with me on Tuesday, and I say, “Hey, share something right now. Here in the room I’m going to invite you, or if you’re at home, in the chat or later online I want to invite you to share something you’re thankful for today. You know, if somebody puts on Tuesday afternoon, “I’m thankful for great weather,” you’ll get a notification that it has hit your Facebook account or your YouTube account. It only takes a second to jump on and say, “Hey, great reflection. I’m thankful for great weather, too.” And then I feel acknowledged. I feel like there’s an actual dialogue happening and I’m a part of it and you’re a part of it. And I exist.

Those are some of the ways I would encourage churches. You have to foster a culture of dialogue and participation. It’s not going to automatically happen, so I think, if we go out of our way to build that, really great things happen in our online or hybrid communities.

Ann Michel: Thank you for that. Zooming this discussion out a little bit, I want to ask about what overall trends you’re seeing, and how you assess the overall state of what churches are doing online now in 2023. I hear some people who are still so bullish about the growth of digital ministry, and I hear other people who are just deeply disappointed now by the fact that it seems that so many churches are kind of taking their foot off the pedal and wanting to get back to emphasizing in person. What are you seeing in the work that you’re doing? And what are the metrics that give you a sense of what’s really happening out there?

Jason Moore: Well, I think it’s a great question to be asking. I think we’re living in a critical time in the life of the church right now because we get to either use this last couple of years as a springboard to help more people connect. I see this is a Great Commission moment. We have the opportunity to take the Gospel to people everywhere. And I don’t know if we ever considered that we might do that digitally. There were certainly some who did. I think what has been really disappointing to me is in the last six or eight months I’ve seen more and more people talk about ending their hybrid worship, or they saw this as a season we had to get through. And I think that we reached so many new people during that time. And the reality is, and this is a pretty harsh reality, I think some people are never coming back. I think that they were content with worshiping online. I spent 20 years teaching people how to do in-person worship. It’s still my favorite form of worship. Nine times out of 10, I want to be in worship on Sunday morning with other people. I’m a both/and guy. Not an either/or. But I do believe that there are opportunities online that are different and exciting.

My old mentor, my boss, my pastor, Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, is now serving in retirement, doing other things. But I was there when Mike was the pastor. Mike would say something pretty regularly that I love to quote, and I think it really applies to today. He said, “If you put it up for a vote, the people always vote to go back to Egypt.” And I think the reality is that a lot of us have made our way all the way through the wilderness into the promised land of this new reality. But some of us felt more comfortable in the captivity of the past. And we’re reverting to the way things were. But the world around us is not reverting. I mean we’re pushing into new ways of experiencing the world. There’s a lot of exciting things happening right now. With the metaverse, you know, people are buying these virtual reality headsets and starting to create expressions of church online and those kinds of things. I mean it’s in its early days, but I think that, if the church doesn’t embrace this moment, we’re going to miss something and, unfortunately, our world is becoming less and less churched all the time. If you don’t do hybrid, I think you’re going to miss a lot of people.

I had a pastor say to me recently, “We’re thinking about ending our hybrid worship. We’re going to stop streaming because we want people to come back to the building.” And I said, “My friend, I appreciate the thinking behind that. But you know, if my favorite restaurant, who offers delivery service that I can just go on the app and order food for lunch, stops offering delivery service, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to get in my car and drive to the building to pick up lunch. I don’t have time to go to the building. I’m going to find somebody else who allows me to order lunch and have it delivered because it’s part of the rhythms of my life these days. So, I don’t think that we can just say, ‘Well, if we stop online worship, people will come back to the building.’”

What I have seen over and over and over these last two years and it’s been really exciting, in these monthly cohort calls I do, I will ask the question, “How many of you have had visitors in your building as a result of your online worship?” And hands go up in every single call. In fact, some pastors are lamenting to me that a lot of their regulars are now worshiping at home and that they’ve got a sea of new faces who found them online who started worshiping online and then migrated to the building. So, I like to say that our online worship is like the taster spoon for in-person worship, like when you get ice cream. People will taste what we’re doing and then eventually come and see what we’re doing in person. And I think it’s an incredible opportunity. Let’s not end our hybrid worship. Let’s lean into it. It’s got to continue. And we’ve got to think about how we move from online worship to online discipleship and other opportunities to connect deeper.

Ann Michel. To begin to wrap this up, one of the most remarkable things in the early days of the pandemic was how just about every church, large or small, had to figure out how to do worship in a digital sphere. But there has been this nagging question in the back of my mind as to whether, as time continues to unfold, we’re going to end up with kind of a bifurcated reality where online worshipers, who aren’t bound by time or place, may end up being attracted to the offerings of those churches, typically larger churches I would think, that have the resources to offer really high-quality online content. And maybe smaller churches that can’t offer that same kind of experience, may find their niche in small or more localized expressions of ministry. I guess what I’m asking is, do you think the future of every church is going to be hybrid?

Jason Moore: You know, I think that’s a fair question to ask. I think in the same way that not every church is called to have a screen in their sanctuary or not every church is called the do a contemporary style of worship, I would say that not in every church does it fit their context to do a hybrid experience of worship. But I think it’s an important aspect of life now. We do life hybrid. My wife is studying to get her teaching degree and has been going through a program where she will never step foot on a campus. She has to do all of her teaching hours in the classroom and all those kinds of things. But she’s attending a university she’s never going to walk into. I think that it’s an important way for us to communicate the Gospel to people.

I am actually of the belief that production values don’t matter near as much as authenticity does. You saw this in the book. I talk about the idea that authenticity is more important than being slick or perfect. There’s one church here in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, near Dayton, Ohio. It’s a Filipino church that does a living room worship service with just a cell phone. And I believe they’re reaching 1,500 people a week, all over the world. And they do Bible study online. They’re doing extended worship in song. You know, all sorts of things.

What I think we need to start focusing on, regardless of the size of our church, is: What is our discipleship pathway from our online experience into our faith community? And that may mean into the building, but it also may mean deeper relationship online. So, you can come to an online Bible study that could be Disciple Bible study or membership classes or whatever. I hope that we will think about how we take people deeper in their faith, because your entire faith formation can’t happen in an hour on Sunday — in the room or online. We’ve got to take people deeper in their faith and have a process for them.

Ann Michel: And I will just say that there are some really good processes outlined in your book that give you a very clear step by step of how you might continue to contact online worshipers in a way that leads them toward deeper engagement.

To bring this to a close, I wanted to share a quote that comes in the beginning of your book, but I thought it might be a good way for us to conclude today. You say that “Worship has the potential to be more powerful, connective, and resonant than ever before, if only churches will take advantage of their newest and best resource, the internet.” And I just thought that was such an inspiring and powerful way to think about it.

I’m grateful that you have provided so much really helpful information for so many churches that really do want to grow in this important and promising area of ministry. Thank you so much for all that you shared today and for all the work you’ve done over these last years to help churches really begin to realize this potential.

Jason Moore: Well, thank you, Ann. It has been an incredible God thing. I have been riding this wave that God put out in front of me. And “for such a time as this,” I feel like I got to be the beneficiary of the right time and the right skill set at that time and, again, it’s just been an incredible God thing. So, thank you for the opportunity to share more about this.

I really do believe that both/and worship, hybrid worship, is within the grasp of any church that would care to do it, and I hope that we will not run away from it but double down on it because, as I said in the quote, they are just some really incredible opportunities ahead of us.

Ann Michel: Well, thank you. Thanks for talking with us today.

Jason Moore: My pleasure.

Announcer: Thank you for joining us for Leading Ideas Talks.

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Both/And book coverJason’s book is Both/And: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences for In-Person and Online Engagement (Invite Press, 2022) by Jason Moore, available at Invite Press and Amazon.

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About Author

Jason Moore runs Midnight Oil Productions and was a co-founder of Lumicon Digital Productions in Dallas. He was also served as a graphic and animation artist at the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio. An expert in digital ministry, Jason is a sought-after speaker and trainer.

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.