Category Archives: covid

Hybridge Ministry

Hybridge Ministry: Bridging the In-Person and Digital Divide

As your church considers the future of digital ministry in a post-pandemic world, you are probably contemplating what is referred to as a hybrid (combination of in-person and digital) model of ministry. This is often experienced through live-streaming in-person worship services or providing the ability to allow small groups or discipleship classes to have digital participants join the in-person participants through video conferencing software.

Although some churches will embrace different digital and in-person strategies and ministry methodologies, most will adopt a hybrid ministry model for a variety of reasons (most commonly, limited time and resources). To better communicate the desired outcome of this ministry model, I have started to use the term “Hybridge Ministry.” Hybridge Ministry seeks to close the digital gap and connect both groups.

Like all bridges, they are only as strong as their foundation. Thus, I want to suggest four foundational columns for effective Hybridge Ministry.

Column One: VALUE Digital

Digital ministry and the technology that allows it is still in its infancy. Social media, live-streaming, and video conference technology continue to develop rapidly, and the emergence of the Metaverse™ and other iterations of the digital domain (including the Neuralink™) will continue to evolve. One thing’s for certain, we never really go backwards with technology. Like it or not, technology always frogmarches us into the future.

Digital will have an increasing place in our collective futures. Consequently, I believe thriving churches will have a robust and reflective (understanding its potential and its perils) digital ministry strategy that embraces the way people will increasingly connect and learn. Digital is a growing means of engagement and community for people in our world.

As culture and the church comes out of the pandemic, you may be tempted to make digital the scapegoat of your post-pandemic church problems: people’s lack of engagement, decrease in giving, lack of disciple-making, etc. Although it may be convenient, these problems can’t be laid at the feet of digital ministry. The reality is that these were all very prevalent and well-documented pre-pandemic problems. The pandemic only accelerated them. Digital has its issues and challenges, but it is not necessarily the reason for all the Church’s challenges. As a result, be cautious about making it an easy scapegoat, ignoring the more significant and critical issues and problems.

As you engage in Hybridge Ministry, be very careful not to make digital second-class citizens. Recognize that some people engage online because of family challenges, social anxiety, health issues, lack of mobility, disability, etc. One of the benefits of this season is that the church has become more accessible to people. It would be unfortunate to regress, close the doors, and devalue this access as the church re-engages in person.

As a result, treat digital with dignity. Assign online hosts, call on Zoom small group participants during discussions, and welcome and acknowledge your online community, helping both communities feel valued and integrated.

In summary, Hybridge Ministry is best done when ministry occurs in the middle of the bridge. This is challenging (as we will discuss), but it is foundational to its effectiveness. Although there will be a temptation to accentuate the in-person (out of convenience or for philosophical reasons), don’t overlook the digital.

Column Two: RECOGNIZE that Digital is Different

One of the dangers of Hybridge Ministry is the assumption that in-person and digital cultures work the same way. This is not the case. Digital is not just a different platform; it is a different planet. I talk about this at length in my book, Digital Mission and the Digital Mission Course. Relationships, community, authority, communication, and how we understand the world operate differently online. This is why Hybridge Ministry is uniquely challenging if not done with sensitivity and intentionality.

Take time to consider more than what you are doing and the technology and platforms you are using. Take time to consider digital culture and how you will effectively engage your digital and in-person participants, knowing they will experience things differently. Asking “how” is challenging, but it is also vital in the success of your Hybridge Ministry.

Column Three: RESOURCE Digital

For effective Hybridge Ministry to take place, it needs resources. I am not primarily talking about technology or platforms (although necessary). Instead, Hybridge Ministry needs resources in people and attention. For example, if you are doing a Hybridge small group, class, or worship service, it is vital that you consider the digital audience as important. Staff it (paid or volunteer). Let people know that those who are online are valued and welcome. Be sure to welcome and acknowledge digital participants, making them feel like they are part of what is happening, and translate between in-person and digital cultures. The digital audience will be disenfranchised as second-class citizens if you don’t, and they will fade into the digital distance.

One effective means to evaluate the effectiveness of your Hybridge Ministry methodology is to ask how the in-person audience would feel if the meeting, service, or event were primarily online and the people in the room were only watching on a large screen. What if they were the passive audience? This would be rejected as inconceivable but consider the reverse. How does our Hybridge Ministry make the digital participants feel? Are they ignored? What would it mean to meet the two groups in the middle?

This may seem like an impossible goal, and one must choose one or the other. However, with some thoughts and tweaks on how you engage people and bridge the digital divide, you can ensure the online audience feels as engaged as the in-person congregation. Attempt to meet in the middle of the Hybridge.

Column Four: FOSTER Two-Directional Contextual Community

In the next year, there will be an influx of companies offering to outsource your digital ministry. As the church moves back to in-person gatherings, the resources allocated to digital will need to be split. This is understandable. However, digital ministry outsourcing will be ineffective. In a sea of content, what makes your digital ministry unique is your church’s proprietary stories, your pictures, your recaps, your people, your community, etc. Generic graphics outsourced to a team unplugged from your community will lead to disengagement and reduced effectiveness. Digital Ministry is like fine art; its value is in its provenance (the story connected to it). Effective digital ministry is all about contextualization and authenticity (made in your community, by your community, and for your community). Artisanal content is always better even if it means less content with less polish.

As you engage in Hybridge Ministry, move your community and content in both directions. Mix your content and cross-pollinate between digital and in-person. You probably take pictures of your in-person gatherings for social media, but what do you do to bring the digital into your in-person gatherings? Make contextual and authentic content in two directions. This will help to build community in both directions.

Hybridge Ministry

Hybridge Ministry is probably the most efficient model for most churches in this season. Yet, it is also the most complicated. It comes with a temptation to disenfranchise digital and see it as an afterthought or bonus. As you engage in Hybridge Ministry, be sure to build the bridge over the digital divide using the four columns and keep learning as you do. We will not go back when it comes to technology and so moving forward with an innovative impulse paired with a constantly evaluative lens is vital for the church to be faithful into the future.

If You Want to Make It Through This Next Year, Do This!

Sometimes the world works counterintuitively.  Sometimes you must go backwards to go forwards.  Sometimes you must steer right to go left.

For example, when you navigate a sailboat, you must turn the tiller in the opposite direction you want the vessel to go.  Or, when riding a motorcycle, if you’re going to make a hard right turn, you must turn the handlebar sharply to the left.  Sometimes things are counterintuitive.

This same principle is true for resilience and promoting physical and mental health during increased and prolonged stress.  What we want or are inclined to do is often the opposite of what we need.

As we persevere through this pandemic, the stress is prolonged and compounded.  It is both cumulative and exponential.  The way to survive this sustained stress is counterintuitive. 

This should not come as a surprise.  The way to health is often the opposite of what we are prone to.  For example, you expel energy (through exercise) if you want more energy.  Additionally, if you struggle with inclinations to withdraw from others in times of stress, the opposite is a better choice: embracing healthy relationships and community.  Health is often found in the opposite direction that we are prone to travel in times of stress.

When times are challenging, and we are experiencing extended seasons of stress, we all have a tendency and impulse to focus on ourselves.  However, counterintuitively, the healthiest thing we can do is care for others.  Research states that when we care for others, check in on them, practically care for them and pray for them, we feel better.  And it is not for the reasons you think. 

It is not because you will realize someone else has it worse than you.

It is not because you will get a warm fuzzy feeling for doing a good deed, although that may occur.

Instead, there is something intrinsically life-giving when we love and care for others.  When we care and show compassion for others, we begin to recalibrate our self-talk and become more compassionate with ourselves.  We rewire our brains towards compassion. 

“Research also shows that when we do focus on caring for others in times of stress, it changes our brain chemistry in such a way that produce feelings of both hope and courage.” (Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before by Julie Smith, pg. 253)

Thus, if you want to survive this season of prolonged stress as a church leader, family member, business owner, etc., one of the best things you can do is find others to care for, not just others to care for you.  Although it may be counter-intuitive, it is one proven strategy in building resiliency.

Now, I need to make an important distinction that this is not about removing healthy boundaries with people.  Or, if you are suffering from compassion fatigue, this is not calling you to feel guilty for not caring for others or having the ability to do so.  It is essential to draw healthy boundaries and keep them in those circumstances. Instead, I am referring to those just struggling to find hope and courage in this stressful pandemic season. 

Therefore, if you are wrestling with hope and courage, find resilience by counterintuitively giving them away!  As you encourage and bless others, you will be blessed as a result. 

Be of Good Courage

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,

I have never seen so much discouragement in ministry!  Almost every ministry friend and colleague across denominations and traditions are feeling beat up by an onslaught of discouragement.

Like you, I have felt the dirge of discouragement that echoes in Covid’s wake.  Although I hesitate to assume what others are experiencing, I think it is fair to say that a long season of disconnection, isolation, disruptions of the feedback loops we relied upon to gauge effectiveness, constant pivots, and relational divisions have taken a compounded toll.  Maybe you can relate. 

If your hope has been pillaged in Covid’s wake, I want to infuse some courage into your leadership veins.  Like Joab to David in 2 Samuel 10:12, I want to call you to good courage.

 “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12, ESV

As you look ahead with weary eyes and worn souls, may you embrace “good courage.”  Sometimes we can embrace a false or counterfeit courage that seems brave on the surface but only carries the veneer of valour. 

Counterfeit courage is easy to conjure.  It is often based on self-confidence and self-sufficiency.  Because it is based on us, it is fragile and brittle.  But that is not the courage Joab calls David too.  Joab calls David to good courage rooted in God’s goodness for what seems good to God.

False courage is easy to pass off in times of abundance and excess.  But when times are difficult and good news is scarce, counterfeit courage wears thin.  In seasons of trial, our courage is sifted. 

Not only does Joab give David a call to courage, but he also defines it in such a way that we can evaluate and sift courage in our lives to see if it is good or not.  To sift the courage in your life, ask yourself who your courage is for?  Joab calls David to good courage for the people and the city, not for David and his self-preservation. 

Good courage is always for others. Thus, if you are looking for the courage to fan your reputation, puff up your pride, or advance your position, it ceases to be good.  It has become corrupted by selfishness and is no longer found in a good God.  However, if your courage is for others, your church, your family, etc., it proves to be genuine and good, able to weather the storms of leadership in self-sacrifice, discomfort, and suffering for a greater good and God’s Glory.

Pastors and church leaders, as you enter the season ahead, may you hear the invitation: “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” 

Jesus is where your living hope is found, your good courage is rooted, and where the rest for the weary is discovered.  Reject counterfeit courage rooted in prideful arrogance and embrace good courage focused on others and rooted in a good and gracious God for His Glory.  This is the courage that will carry you through!

Pastors and church leaders, be of good courage!

Five Things to Consider This Christmas

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,

How are you doing…really?

If you are like most pastors and church leaders these days, the longevity of this season of change, division, lack of volunteers, decrease in giving, etc. has depleted your limited reserves and you are past empty.

Covid has taken its overpriced toll and you are not alone.  According to Barna Research, 38% of US pastors (it is probably the same in Canada) have seriously thought about quitting (an increase from earlier in 2021). https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being

As we enter our second Covid Christmas, I want to offer five things to consider as encouragement and advice for both your soul and your ministry:


Take Time to Disentangle Your Life from Your Ministry

The pandemic has been an accelerator and amplifier.  It has accelerated change and amplified challenges.  One of the challenges for pastors that has been amplified is ministry entanglement.  It is understandably hard for pastors to separate their ministry from their marriage, friends, family, personal life, etc.  They are by nature interconnected and intertwined.  Thus, when there are stresses and challenges in ministry, it can suffocate the other areas of their lives.  In fact, the very challenges Covid has amplified (feeling disconnected, incompetent, and beat up from division and hurting people) may be strangling the life and joy out of you and making you feel increasingly isolated and alone.

When you are being suffocated by ministry entanglement, it is not a simple task to disentangle yourself and begin to breathe again.  It is a complicated web, formed over time and tied in knots by lies regarding your identity.  It is possible to untangle yourself, but it is not easy.  Like all knots, the first thing to do when you look to untangle them is to find the ends.  One way to do this is by creating an identity statement that states who you are separate from what you do and your role as a pastor.  Write a paragraph statement that you can read daily as a reminder of what your life is supposed to look like when untangled from what you do.  Second, create a relationship inventory to see gaps in your relationships and discover how many of them are personal over professional (ministry-related).  It is vital to have relationships that exist outside of what do you and feed into who you are apart from your ministry role.  Thirdly, you will need help.  These kinds of knots can’t be undone alone, and you need the help of a trusted friend and/or counsellor to guide you.  Finally, begin to rediscover joy in life by intentionally doing things you enjoy (or if it has been a while, things you once enjoyed) with people you enjoy, seeking to laugh each day (with the goal to laugh so much it hurts once a week) and embrace God’s gift of fun.

Embrace Neo-nostalgia this Christmas

As you lead your church this Christmas, embrace the new and creative but do it with a sense of traditional nostalgia this Christmas.  Embrace the traditions of your church, sing classic Christmas songs, light lots of candles, and embrace the familiar.  There is comfort in familiarity and this Christmas I sense people need the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soap-on-a-rainy-day-Christmas over the hyper-creative-gourmet-meal that sees familiarity as the enemy.  Take a new spin on traditional (the neo of the neo-nostalgia) but embrace the familiar rather than shy away from it.

Personalize Care this Christmas

If it has been a while since you have checked in with your congregation, now is the time to personalize care again.  Make phone calls, do creative deliveries, mail personalized notes, etc.  Every church context is different, but regardless of your context or church size find a way to personally care this Christmas.  In a season of disconnection, these connection points (although taxing for you, your staff, and your congregational care team) are the lifeline for your church family. 

Be Flexible and Have Backup Plans

This should be second nature by now, but whatever you do, don’t put all your eggs in one regather basket.  Every jurisdiction is different, but it is key to have backup plans for your backup plans.  Covid can change in an instant and having a way to move online or that allows for more people to gather in person is key to adjusting in this season.  Having alternative plans is a little more work upfront but it can reduce stress and anxiety for you and your team, allowing for quick and effective pivots if needed.

Keep Going!

In every pastoral coaching call I do, every pastoral ministry class I teach, and pastor group I speak to, I end with an encouragement to “Keep going!”  Covid has been a leadership marathon, and, like all marathons, the runners don’t need cheers at the beginning of the race.  Rather, the runners need it most as they approach the “runner’s wall” when the impulse to quit and give up is at its peak.  It is exactly at this point that they need to be reminded that a breakthrough is coming and that things are better than they appear.  I sense we are approaching the wall and as we do, we are also at our most vulnerable to despair and hopelessness.

Maybe this Christmas is the pastoral ministry wall for you.  If so, I want you to hear me, and many others who are cheering you on.

You can do it!

Don’t give up!

Keep going!

It is worth it!

Jesus is worth it!

PLOD: Encouragement and Advice for Pastors in the Fourth Wave

As we enter the fourth wave of Covid and press into the fall ministry season, I want to offer some words of encouragement and some practical advice.  To do so, let me share a very old hymn by AB Simpson, Plod.

This hymn embodies great advice in our current ministry climate.  In a season where you are trying to figure out what ministry looks like in constantly changing restrictions, hybrid (in-person and online) formats, digital fatigue, divided churches (over Covid and vaccines), and empty seats (most churches I know are running at a fraction of pre-Covid in-person attendance), it can be hard to know what to do and one can easily become disoriented and discouraged.

I want to suggest a simple course of action from the old hymn, Plod.  Plodding may sound strange and even defeatist in a social media and success-driven culture that compulsively celebrates “amazing.”  We are used to hearing triumphant leadership advice that promised to skyrocket your success and effectiveness.   In contrast, perhaps God is calling us to unfettered faithfulness.  A faithfulness in our calling as pastors to pray diligently, preach the gospel in season and out of season, attentively care for people without expectation, and regularly offer the sacraments.  What if this faithful persistence to our calling is the main thing to focus on in a season like this, trusting that fruitfulness (whatever and whenever God determines that to be) will result? 

It may seem glib and defeatist to some, but God is calling us to plod.  Not in a defeated acceptance of seeming ineffectiveness but in faithful service to our King and our calling, regardless of immediate reward.

Now…the temptation in a post like this is to end with a triumphant declaration that victory will come, that the night always precedes the dawn, and that “success” is right around the corner.  Perhaps!  But…what if it isn’t?  Is Jesus still enough?  Is faithfulness to the King and His Kingdom worthy of my life regardless of accolades or perceived “success?”  The answer of course is “yes” and maybe the unexpected gift of this season is a sifted view of success that elevates faithfulness and fruitfulness over effectiveness and success in our lives and ministries.

As you endure the fourth wave, embrace faithfulness for, in the words of AB Simpson, “Plod will win the day.”