Dumbarton Adopts a Strategy for Hybrid Worship -- For the Pandemic and Beyond

Body: 

Amid the fear and sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic, our congregation, like so many others, adapted to new ways of worship overnight so that we could be together in a time when we could not safely gather in person.  In March 2020, we began worshiping solely online, using the Zoom platform.  Returning to in-person worship after the worst of the pandemic subsided, we saw an opportunity to rethink our worship experience in light of what we learned as a virtual Christian community.  We decided that we now can conjoin the advantages of a virtual church with our traditional in-person worship to make Dumbarton a more powerful and far-reaching witness to God’s word in the years to come. 

The result of our rethinking, approved by the Church Council on June 8, 2022, was a strategy document that sets forth our vision for digital ministries as an integral part of the church’s mission.  It finds that hybrid church is here to stay, although our worship services and other church activities will continue to adjust as technology evolves and creates more possibilities.  Our online tools already permit our Sunday services to include both more of our local congregants who have difficulty attending in person and more remote participants nationwide -- and eventually, we hope, globally.  These tools also enable both local and far-flung members of our community to participate remotely in our Discovery Groups, committee work, study groups, and all aspects of the life of our congregation. 

The strategy document also commits us to develop an implementation plan to improve virtual participation in all aspects of the church’s life while also restoring and enhancing the attractions of in-person worship and post-service fellowship.  The plan will be reviewed periodically and adjusted as needed to address changing technology, changing opportunities to reach new audiences, and changing practical needs, including those for protecting people’s health and safety.  As a starting point, some measures the implementation plan might address are presented in a temporary addendum to the strategy document.

 

Candidate Measures for

Hybrid Worship Implementation Plan

 

-- Distinguish between ephemeral vs. evergreen content for the website to maximize content that does not need frequent updates.  Worship content should be posted on the website by topic as well as by date.

-- On the Worship and the Communications Clusters, include an advocate (preferably the same person) for online worship and the needed internal and external communications that support it.

-- Continue to support our Director of Digital Ministries and lead tech person for the virtual component of our hybrid worship services.  Ideally, this support would include the Music Director, someone from the Worship Cluster, and a backup person with technical and social media skills, along with someone from the Diaspora or a local congregant who cannot usually make it to church.  This could be an opportunity for the church to invite tech-savvy younger people into leadership roles, creating a possible gateway for recruiting a new generation of church leaders.  As we improve our ability to track and contact virtual visitors, we may also want a volunteer on this team to see what kind of support remote participants might need, and consult a few of them from time to time to reassess their needs.

-- Rethink the “jobs” that support the pastor during the service.  How has the pandemic changed them and what should they look like when we are operating a hybrid service during normal times?  Who and what do we need to make hybrid church welcoming and inclusive? 

-- Rethink what we need for an appealing in-person worship experience and thriving post-service fellowship. Should we consider distributing a sign-up sheet for area congregants to commit to periodic in-person attendance to ensure sufficient numbers for after-service fellowship?  Are coffee and snacks essential for this fellowship?  If so, do we need to return to a sign-up sheet, or can we make do with pot-luck contributions?  In addition to our existing sign-up sheets for greeters, readers, and liturgists, should we consider a sign-up sheet for in-person worshipers to fulfill such non-liturgical tasks as operating the audio system, cleaning up after fellowship, turning off fans, closing windows, turning out lights, and locking doors so that we won’t become unfairly dependent on the same small group of volunteers for these tasks?

-- Perform regular technology audits to ensure that our technology remains up to date and that we are using what we have to its best advantage.  The large television screen in the sanctuary showing remote worshipers is helpful, and we should be keen to adopt new technology as it becomes available to further link our remote and in-person audiences. 

-- Interview local and distant Zoom participants in hybrid worship to learn what features and functionalities of hybrid worship work best for them and what ideas they have for improvements, with particular reference to improving their integration into the worship service.  One possibility, assuming that there is an after-service fellowship opportunity:  Hook up another laptop to one of the large-screen TVs to allow in-person worshipers to participate in the remote worshipers’ virtual “coffee hour.”  Another possibility:  Give virtual worshipers an opportunity to provide their phone number to a volunteer technical support person who could relay their request for a two-way conversation with an in-person worshiper.

-- Give remote worship attendees the option to share their joys and concerns in Zoom’s “speaker view” from the large screen.

-- Monitor trends in activity on our social media sites, and periodically analyze these trends to assess what we can do, including search engine optimization, to attract more visitors and/or new audiences. 

-- Gather and publicize within the congregation the number of persons attending worship remotely.  Determine, if feasible, whether they stay for the entire service, what level of participation they want to have in the service itself, and, if they live in the DC metro area, why they typically attend remotely and what, if anything, the church can do to promote more in-person worship.