The pandemic brought the church new and exciting ways to engage members, visitors, and prospects. Conversely, it allowed them newfound agency to choose when and how they engage and connect with the church.

For the church to be relevant to digital natives (Millennials are now 41), we must engage them in ways they find attractive and convenient. In doing so, we will be following an ancient tradition that Jesus modeled for us.

we must go where the people are gathered To share the Good News! 
For the majority of Americans, that Space is online.

To follow Jesus' example of going where the people have gathered, a new engagement strategy is required where physical and digital engagement is intentionally weaved together into a single strategy. The space where the physical and digital meet is commonly called a phygital environment.

The future of the church lies in removing the separation between bricks and mortar and digital engagement into a single strategy that unites both to create an immersive experience, no matter what method the person chooses to engage with the church. 

Going Phygital is Easier than You Might Think

Most churches, regardless of size, can easily launch a phygital engagement strategy and you probably already have the tools you need:

  • Smart TV, internet, laptop/tablet/smartphone, and Zoom Meeting (or other services).
  • Most laptops, tablets, and smartphones can project a Zoom Meeting directly onto a smart TV. 
  • A device called an Owl can greatly enhance the phygital experience by swinging the camera and microphone toward the in-person speaker when your group is present both physically and digitally. There are many similar and less expensive devices widely available.  
  • A computer screen, laptop, or tablet can substitute for a TV when viewed by online participants. 

Administrative Meetings and Leader Training Applications

Many phygital practices are as mundane as conducting administrative meetings and leader training online or giving those unable to attend in-person the opportunity to attend online.  The result for most churches:

  • Improved participation.
  • New pools of volunteers that had difficulty participating in evening in-person meetings for reasons such as young children or work travel schedules.

Small Groups & Sunday Schools Applications

A Phygital small group/Sunday School strategy can increase participation, connection, and care.

  • Offer a Zoom connection for those unable to be physically present.
  • Celebrate life events in real-time with Facebook Live. Group members can share, celebrate, or simply be present for important life events such as weddings, births and birthdays, retirement and award ceremonies, blessings of new homes, prayer before surgery, and just about any life event friends would want to share together.
  • Phygital events can be organized quickly for moments like emergency prayer events, allowing everyone to participate in doing life together, even if they cannot be physically present.

Rural and Small Church Applications

Churches limited by geography or size are also benefiting by pooling resources with other churches to:

  • Provide meaningful teaching and social times for children and students.
  • Sharing sermons, music and bible studies, and leader training events.
  • Planning service and mission events too large to be launched alone.
  

The Greatest Phygital Opportunity? Worship

Perhaps the most used digital engagement tool is online worship. Tragically, it is often a space where the divide between physical and digital is the greatest. Here is why it matters.

Make Online Worship Interactive

These simple and easy-to-do interactions provide a sense of connection and belonging during the service.

Acknowledge and welcome your online audience by identifying that you are speaking directly to them. If this feels awkward, film a short welcome message and run it while you are welcoming your live guests. 

Invite online worshippers to actively participate in worship. It will greatly enhance their worship experience when you intentionally make them feel connected to and part of the service- not just people invited to peer in and watch those in worship. The failure to take this small step is a primary reason many of your most committed members participate in worship in a different church when they are not in person with you. 

  • Open your online chat feature to online worshippers.
  • Use a dedicated online host by training a volunteer, staff member, or pastor to welcome folks, encourage them to sign in, and engage them in small talk before the service, like would occur in person.
  • Encourage online worshippers to react with the in-person worshippers by posting emojis (such as clapping, thumbs-up, and hearts) in the online chat. 
  • Have the online host post the key sermon points in the chat. This will encourage people to react with emojis and comments to the sermon point.

Curated interactivity in the chat feature is extremely meaningful for most of those taking part in online services. 

Once you have the basics of an interactive worship experience in place, there is so much more you can do to enhance your phygital worship strategy.

Encourage Generosity Phygitally

  • Share a great offering talk in worship (in-person & online). This is normally a two to three-minute moment when you connect giving to impact and generosity to spiritual growth. Tell the story of a single life that was changed through a church ministry. Enhance it with pictures and B-Roll. Connect giving of money and time to the story of life change you just told. Then transition to how a person can join in what God is doing through your church by sharing ways to give and get involved.
  • Invite online worshippers to participate in the act of giving during the service. Use a specific call to action to invite online worshippers to give during the worship service. You can speak directly to your online worshippers with specific instructions for them, or play a pre-recorded video during the offering time for a very specific offering talk and call to action for your online worshippers. In addition, have the online host offer words of thanks and encouragement and share the giving portal link in the chat. The book, A Better Offering, by Don Smith, does a great job of outlining best practices in developing effective offering talks.
  • Make it easy. Make it fast. Make it recurring. Since restaurants started using QR codes during the pandemic, most people have become comfortable with their use. In addition to including one in your in-person worship guide, display a QR code to your online giving portal to both your both online and in-person audiences. Make sure your online giving software offers a "quick giving option." Be sure the donor is invited to make their gift recurring. If you need help, there are a number of resources covering online giving in Horizons' free resource library, Giving365.com.
  • Give thanks! Ensure the automatic response to an online gift communicates your thanks for the impact the donor is making. Too many automatic replies look like impersonal receipts from a fast-food restaurant. Most giving platforms allow this type of customization, but the online giving providers usually only install minimum functionality unless asked for more. This is also a place your online host can encourage online giving and give thanks to those who have.

Leverage Social Media to Promote Worship

Social media is a great way to reach a wide audience and connect with people in meaningful ways.

  • Utilize platforms like Twitter and Facebook to share exciting visuals and messaging related to your upcoming worship series and the ways you can join in-person, online, or on-demand (recorded).
  • Create and share video content on your website and social media, such as sermons, special musical performances, or behind-the-scenes footage of your church’s services. This will give viewers an inside look at what your church is all about, creating an atmosphere of community and connection. 
  • Take advantage of marketing tools such as social ads, which allow you to target specific demographics. Investing in these tools can help you reach a larger online audience and encourage them to join your services. 
  • You have other front doors. While viewing worship online is the most common front door, some people are more moved by a small group offering, service opportunity, or by giving to your ministry impact. In the same way you promote worship using your website and social media, be sure to apply the same principles to all the ways people can connect with your church.

Promote Future Engagement

Providing easy access to resources such as devotionals and Bible studies can create a stronger connection between online worshippers and pastoral staff.

  • Both in-person and online, run a pre-recorded promotion of upcoming sermon series and activities. Your online host can post websites and links to downloadable resources. 
  • Have one-click options to request information about small groups/Sunday School, membership classes, serving opportunities, etc. You can do this with QR codes or sign-up sheets in person.
  • Have links to what it is like to be in-person for worship- childcare, parking, worship times, etc. Pictures and videos will enhance the experience.

By delivering meaningful content to your audience, you can nurture an ongoing relationship with them and increase their engagement by providing new opportunities throughout the year. 

Be Intentional

By taking full advantage of modern technological capabilities, churches of all sizes can share their message of hope and reach more people than ever before. This allows everyone an opportunity to come together in unity, no matter where they are located physically. 

By having a single phygital engagement strategy, which covers both in-person and online audiences, you can create a feeling of community and connectedness to worshippers near and far.

Some phygital strategies may require innovation and new learnings. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel by yourself, spend time looking at what growing churches are doing in the phygital space. When you find something you like, reach out to them. Most churches are willing to share what they know, even if you are from a different denomination. For example, I was recently at an event hosted by the Wesleyan Impact Partners, that brought together 100 pastors from six denominations and independent churches to share ideas with each other and equip these leaders to return to their churches and creatively address the opportunity found through digital discipleship. Together, we are better!

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