Broadcasting your service doesn’t make it “hybrid”

Okay, so here’s a hot take: having a livestream of the service does not mean your church has a “hybrid” service. What is it about a livestream at the average church would differentiate it from a broadcast on TV, recordings on the website, or the CD and cassette tape ministries of the past?

When churches say “we have a hybrid service” what they really mean is “we distribute our service through multiple avenues.” Now, I don’t want to disparage that, but I also want to make a case for redefining “hybrid” services so we can all get on the same page and move online ministry forward from being just a distribution channel!

I don’t know about your ministry experience, but in mine, the CD duplicator was never a particularly good tool at helping build Christian community… it just kind of sat there making scary noises most of the time! 🤣

Church livestreams are kind of weird!

So if you’ve ever been on a livestream that isn’t hosted by a church, you might be surprised to discover that the hosts are usually interacting with the online guests. There’s usually an active chat and the hosts are picking out and interacting with the chats. They can be a lot of fun because it’s something you are a part of rather than something you feel like is being watched.

You’ll almost never find anything remotely like this in a church livestream. A church livestream is more like watching the televangelists who, even as far back as far as the 80’s, so rudely interrupted the morning cartoons! 😤 So, let’s stop pretending that broadcasting online is by itself “hybrid” given we never acknowledged and will never credit Jimmy Swaggert or Tammy Faye Bakker as holding “hybrid church services.” It’s time for us to move beyond an online broadcast.

What does an actual hybrid service look like?

An actual hybrid service moves the online audience from viewer to participant. There are a variety of platforms and methods to do it, you can do it on YouTube, Discord, Church Online Platform, or Altar pretty readily. By themselves, those platforms will just host a broadcast, to take it into the realm of hybrid service you need to include the following:

  • Volunteers who are moderating chat and engaging with the online participants.
  • Calls to action that are specific to the online participants (giving, volunteering, etc.).
  • The ability for things that happen online to impact what is happening in the service (i.e. having questions from the stream get answered by the host/pastor in the physical room).
  • BONUS: There is some mechanism for tracking attendance of online participants and following up with them to provide pastoral care.

I would argue that you can’t call a service hybrid unless it meets at least the first three criteria above. If those things didn’t happen in an in-person service, we’d probably all be a concerned… so why does online service get a pass?

Closing thoughts

It’s great that churches are embracing the technologies that allow them to easily broadcast their services. I don’t think it’s a must per se as there are other online ministry strategies… in fact, I prefer recording and formatting specifically for the online platform of choice… but it does fit into many churches’ overall strategy pretty well. That being said, I think we can all agree that a broadcast online by itself it just isn’t enough to call a service “hybrid.” Let’s continue to build out those livestreams to create something truly hybrid that is acting as a pathway into church community.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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