You Can’t Go Home Again: Leading a Hybrid Congregation

by The Rev. Ken Howard

This blog post on leading a hybrid congregation includes registration information for a webinar of the same name

You can’t go home again
because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory

John Steinbeck
Travels with Charley in Search of America

I recently watched a YouTube video of “The Dancing Priest” performing a parody of the popular Broadway tune, “You’ll Be Back,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play, Hamilton

Right from the start it was good for laughs watching an Anglican priest sing and dance this number, especially since we know that George III was not only King of England but also Defender of the [Anglican] faith. And it’s so easy to see the parallels between the original and the parody.

You’ll be back – wait and see – just remember how it used to be.
You’ll be back – time will tell – when we kick this virus back to hell.
When we finally open the door, we will get back together even better than it was before.

The humor in these lines is real. But they are often poignant when you think about them a little in light of the possibility of instituting a hybrid congregation. Because at the same time it helps us yearn to believe those words, it also reminds us that our wishes to return to our pre-Covid ways are no more likely to be granted than those rebellious colonies were to return to the “loving” arms of Mad King George.

No. We can’t go home again. It is time we look at what’s necessary to lead a hybrid congregation. Of course, we may eventually return to our buildings. But while they may look the same and evoke fond memories of a feeling of being home, it will never feel the same. It can’t. Because as individuals and as congregations, we have changed. In many ways for good, both literally and figuratively.

Think about it. Unless your congregation has been trying to limit online services to “members only” (which some have, intentionally or unintentionally), you now have new people participating in the life of your congregation that are there only because of your online presence: Family and friends participating from out of state, who geographically could not have otherwise. Shut-ins participating from the places that are caring for them, who are unable to otherwise. Older people who could not risk participating otherwise. And young people who would not be caught dead in a church building.

Unless you are willing to cut off all of those people, you can’t go back to the way it was, or you will never see most of them again. And until we have a vaccine, you can’t have more than a fraction of your congregation at any one service.

We need to face the fact that we will be leading a hybrid congregation for the foreseeable future and beyond: partly online, partly in the building, and partly in small groups. To do that we will need to clarify our ideas about what God is calling us to be and be willing to unleash our creativity in experimentation.

Those of you who join us for our September 16 webinar, Reopening in a New Reality: Leading a Hybrid Congregation, will explore ways to restart in-person worship, fellowship, formation, and other ministries, without abandoning the gains (and the people) of our online church presence.

Want to help your congregation more effectively engage the neighborhoods it serves?

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Important Note: A Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report can also be a useful tool for identifying the prevalence of at risk groups within your membership and ministry areasand a Neighborhood Missional Assessment can help you identify the neighborhoods where they are most prevalent.

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FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is carried out under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.