This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, worship leaders DK Kim (Mariner’s Church) and Abby Burley (New Life Church) join Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman to discuss Christmas worship services in a hybrid church era. They offer practical ideas for worship services for any church size and talk about the shifts they are seeing with worship online.
On Adapting Worship to Online
Eight in 10 churches (82%) are planning on doing a hybrid Christmas this year. Half (52%) say they’re holding an online livestream plus in-person, while another three in 10 (30%) are planning in-person plus on-demand services online. Just two percent of churches are planning on doing online-only services for Christmas.
Kim and Burley share some of the challenges of serving both an online and in-person audience. Kim admits, “Sometimes it’s easier to forget that there’s a church on the other side of that camera. There are people in their homes or in hospitals, and they’re craving an encounter with Jesus. [It can feel like] you’re just performing for a camera, but then you realize it’s a holy invitation moment and you’re inviting people into this.”
As people are returning to in-person gatherings from being online, Kim notes, “There was a passivity. They got so used to watching worship on a screen and maybe unknowingly became a passive act. Once we started getting them in person, we had to teach worship again […] Sometimes that response is physical, sometimes it’s through singing, or [sometimes] it’s through the raising of our hands. Rebuilding worship culture became one of our big challenges coming back.”
Despite the challenges of online ministry, Burley has been encouraged to hear stories of ways her church’s online stream (through a local television station) is reaching new people. She says, “People who haven’t set foot in a church building in 10 years [find] this local church is airing a service, and they’re able to engage. We heard the services were airing in a prison that is about 30 miles outside of our city, and we have gotten so many letters from inmates about the power of God working in their lives, speaking to them in prison.”
On Avoiding an Over-Produced Service
Last year, most pastors described their Christmas services as “traditional” (38%) or “blended” (34%). A much lower percentage considered their services “contemporary” (12%), “liturgical” (7%) or “modern” (2%).
Kim and Burley both speak to the importance of leaning into the simplicity of Christmas traditions and gatherings. Burley explains, “Especially if you’re a bigger church that tends to be a bit high production like we are, it becomes kind of like a holy unsettling when you suddenly take [the production] down so low. It’s jolting and beautiful.”
Even for smaller churches, Burley advises, “Lean into what you know your strengths are. If you have a small band, great, make it really simple and beautiful […] Look at what your strengths are and lean into that to do the best that you can with what you have. It’s going to minister to your people.”
Kim agrees, adding, “It’s easy to think that in order to pull off wonder and awe, it has to be at this really grand and big scale with all this production, but I do believe authenticity, simplicity and being yourself wins. Whatever is an authentic expression of your church, go hard at that. Present that to your guests and to the people that show up to your service, point to Jesus […] and do music that’s true to your setting.”
On Imagining a Church of the Future
Kim and Burley talk about how they see online and in-person worship gatherings continuing to adapt for the future Church.
For Kim at Mariner’s Church, online will continue to be a major priority of the production planning. He says, “We’re building out two different pathways right now, and of course, we also acknowledge there’s a omni-channel reality going too.”
He continues, “The online world feels like it’s going to stay, and we’re going to continue to experiment and find new ways to bring even deeper connections. We’re meeting people online who feel like they don’t know when they’re going to come back again, if ever, and they’re super happy with the online community.”
Burley talks about her church’s decision to continue streaming to television, saying, “You come to a place where you say, ‘Any way that we can create an encounter for people to encounter Jesus is worth it, so [television streaming] will stay […] We want to serve those congregants at home just as much as we want to serve the ones who showed up in person.”
About the Research
ChurchPulse Weekly Pastor Poll: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 422 U.S. Protestant pastors. The interviews were conducted online from August 13 to August 17, 2020. The margin of error is +/- 4-percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
ChurchPulse Weekly Pastor Poll: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 507 U.S. Protestant pastors. The interviews were conducted online from October 12 to October 28, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2.5-percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021