The metaphor has been coined recently that church leaders just wrapped up running 26.2 miles and, as we crossed the finish line, we were handed a bicycle, only then discovering we’re really in a triathlon. That pretty accurately sums up ministry during the COVID era, does it not?

We have moved from gathering together primarily in person in February to mainly gathering online for several months to now navigating hybrid ministry where many congregations are learning how to bridge together both online and in-person members of their church family. This “phygital” (physical and digital) model of church ministry is both exciting and exhausting. The Holy Spirit has continued to move and work throughout 2020, but it is undeniable that church ministry currently feels like it requires twice the effort for half the kingdom harvest.

Yet we believe God is still able to produce amazing fruit during this time and that we may be entering an exciting new chapter in the history of the church. What might God be up to during this time? With that question in mind, here is a guide of tools and resources to help you engage your entire congregation and impact your community for Christ during these days of hybrid church life.

1. Worship Services. During this time of hybrid ministry, we have learned how important it is to provide both in-person and online ways to worship together and hear God’s Word as a church family.

Facebook. One of the easiest ways to bring together the online and in-person church attenders on Sunday morning is through Facebook Live. It is a user-friendly and effective platform by which to share your church’s sermons, teachings, and worship. With Facebook Live, you can livestream videos through your personal or church Facebook page and allow online attenders to participate in the same live service as your in-person members. It is also a great way to invite your congregants to share your services and sermons with their friends using the Watch Party feature, which allows your online attenders to host conversations through the comment section during the livestream. Now is also a great time to create or update Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups for your church (and for specific ministries of your church as well).

YouTube. Another popular platform for sharing video content with your congregation is YouTube. Simply go to YouTube and search for tutorials for setting up a YouTube channel for your church. There are multiple videos that can walk you through it.

Vimeo. If you are interested in a website to share your sermons and services with online attenders of your church but would like to avoid video advertisements, Vimeo may be a great choice for you. It is not as popular as YouTube (meaning that fewer people may accidentally stumble onto your content), but the elimination of ads may make the tradeoff worth it for you.

Church Online. This free platform from Life.Church (who also created the YouVersion Bible app) provides livestreaming for your services with additional tools to allow for more meaningful interactions and conversations with those who tune in. One major strength of this tool is assisting you in providing calls to action for those attending online in addition to those attending in person. Providing options for engagement is key during this time of hybrid ministry. Another option for livestreaming your church’s services and messages is this free platform from Outreach Magazine.

Anchor Podcasts. A great app if you want to create podcast content of your teachings, announcements, or Bible studies. This tool makes it simple to record content on your phone or laptop and share it as a podcast without a large investment in equipment or time. Anchor is an effective way to distribute your church’s discipleship content to all major podcast platforms without needing to become an IT expert.

*Important note on copyright licensing: Make sure your church is within legal requirements for streaming services with copyrighted worship songs. The easiest way to protect yourself is to acquire a copyright license from CCLI.

2. Small groups and Discipleship.
As humans, we are built for connection. And the body of Christ is especially dependent on each other since we are exactly that—a body. Encourage your Sunday school and small group leaders to provide hybrid options for continuing connection and discipleship during this time.

Conference calls. Whether it’s a Sunday school class or youth group gathering, you can use audio-only or video-conference calls to allow for discussion, teaching, and games.

Zoom. This popular video conferencing tool is an effective way to host a virtual missionary deputation service, church book club, or special trainings for members of your church. One of the unique options Zoom offers is dividing your group into breakout rooms if you want to have multiple smaller groups discussing a topic simultaneously. Zoom Support offers video tutorials to aid you in making the most of its platform. Research is finding that one of the most effective ways to use Zoom is in small groups of 3–12 people where you are still able to engage in meaningful interpersonal dialogue. If you are looking for a hybrid option, consider using Zoom along with an omni mic (a microphone that records 360-degree sound). With a computer using both an omni mic and Zoom, you can incorporate both in-person and online attenders in your class in a way that increases connection and the ability for everyone to hear one another in the class. The most important logistical piece you will need to navigate with hybrid discipleship groups is audio because that is the key to everyone in the class truly feeling together.

Facebook Messenger. If you create a group on Facebook Messenger, you can easily have an interactive call to discuss Scripture readings or book studies. Since it is through Facebook, most congregants will already have access to this tool. This website offers another cost-effective alternative for audio or video conference calls that can be tailored to hybrid classes as well. There is even an option to create a prayer line for your church.

Marco Polo. As a video group-messaging app, Marco Polo provides the opportunity for building relationships, accountability check-ins, and funny social interactions for small groups. Depending on your need, it can be used primarily for informal relational ministry or for deeper discipleship conversations.

Flipgrid. For youth ministry, Flipgrid is a similar tool to Marco Polo and allows for video group discussion in an interactive format. This tool has grown in popularity in educational settings this year.

YouVersion Bible App. The top Bible app has an amazing tool for group Bible reading plans. As a small group or with any interested members of your church, you can use the app to read the same passage of Scripture on a daily basis and also have one place to comment and share what one hears God speaking through the scripture that day. This is a great way to journey through Scripture together regardless of geographic separation. Consider this for women’s or men’s ministry as well as young adult ministry.

Multi-Use Content. One innovative way to provide discipleship content to your church and community is through developing content that can be shared in multiple ways. An example of this would be to schedule a meeting over Zoom for an interview between a church leader and the senior pastor. This interview could consist of follow-up questions from the previous Sunday’s sermon. By hosting this interview over Zoom, you are able to both record the interview and livestream it to Facebook. You could then use the audio of the interview for a podcast episode (using a platform such as Anchor) and the video recording for content on your church website or social media platform. This strategic approach allows you to make the most of your time and impact as many people as possible with the good news of Jesus Christ across multiple platforms.

3. Prayer
. It is important to remind your congregants to stay connected to one another and to God through prayer during this time—a Christian’s most effective tool for connection regardless of the circumstances. Prayer connects, uplifts, calms, calls to action, and intercedes. Encourage your faith community not to neglect this important spiritual practice, especially now. As with everything else, there are various options for engaging in community prayer even if we cannot gather physically.

Regular online prayer time. Using Zoom or Facebook Live, livestream a time of prayer every day or once a week, and invite your congregation to join and participate. This can be done entirely online or with some attending prayer time in person while others participate online.

Zoom. Consider creating a Zoom link for a post-service prayer room where online attenders can go to pray with one of your pastors or church leaders after the service. This is one way to incorporate a call to action for those worshiping online and ensure that they are also provided the opportunity to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit from the service.

Email. Send out prayer requests weekly through email. You can do this using Mailchimp or whatever newsletter service your church may already have in place. Another option for your church is to provide your prayer warriors with weekly prayer prompts and prayer requests through a group text message, Facebook message, phone call, or messaging app (such as WhatsApp or GroupMe).

4. Church Communications. Now more than ever, it’s important for churches to make sure they are keeping in touch with their communities in as many ways as they possibly can. Although it can feel tedious and difficult to do the same thing in many ways, it is the best way to reach as many people as possible—and you never know whom you might draw in or keep from fading away simply by ensuring that people are up to date.

Mailchimp. Mailchimp is an easy-to-use email newsletter tool that you can use to send ongoing resources and updates to your congregation.

Social media. Be sure to keep any existing social media accounts for your church (along with your church’s website) updated with the newest information and resources for your church. Aim for your posts to be both meaningful for your church members as well as inspiring enough to share with others. A key to social media is that you must post consistently for social media platforms to prioritize sharing your content with your audience.

Phone calls. Put simply, phone calls are the most important tool at our disposal as church leaders right now. With in-person interactions limited in many areas, it is absolutely vital for pastors to check on parishioners with phone calls. This is also a great opportunity to empower board members, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, and associate staff. Challenge your lay leaders and other staff members to share with you the joy of calling and checking in on those in their groups and ministries. Two important notes: make sure the phone calls come from a phone number people will recognize (in-state area codes), and use this time to update your church directory if needed.

Text messages. In addition to phone calls, send text messages to check in on members of your congregation. You can also create group text messages to have larger conversations about prayer requests, daily scriptures, or church updates. One example would be a group text for a specific ministry group with a daily scripture every morning.

Unsplash. This website provides free, high-resolution photos that can be used for church communications. Unsplash can be especially helpful on social media platforms, where a poor-quality photo discourages people from paying attention to your post.

Unfold. If you want to create your own graphics for social media or marketing pieces for church groups, Unfold is a free phone app that makes it easy to design basic graphics. You can easily add content (like a sermon quote) over a high-quality photo (it is connected automatically with Unsplash) for a great graphic to share on your church’s social media platforms.

Pastors are called to be with their flock—whether online or off. Thus, it is essential for you to find the right combination of opportunities that allows you to strategically lead your church into this new season of church life. As you continue to journey through this time of hybrid ministry, may this guide be of service to you and your local congregation. And may we discover together what God might be up to during this time.

A Hybrid Church Resource: The Acts Pastor’s Resource was created to guide your church through Acts—and to journey together through the story of the church and what it means to be in community.

Acts: A Pastor’s Resource complements the Shaped by Scripture: Acts study guide. During this 7-week study, each member of your community will read Scripture together, engage in daily practices together, and discover what it means to be the church no matter where you are physically located.