By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
This is the final installment of a three-part series on what a hybrid-informed strategy for church growth entails. I’ve written an entire book exploring this titled, Hybrid Church, but let me introduce its depth in a simple way. Again, here’s our six-step strategy.
Meck’s Six-Step Hybrid Strategy
- Come and See
- Get Connected
- Cross the Line
- Make a Difference
To introduce how a hybrid approach changes things, we started by looking at the first of the six steps – “Hi!” – which you can read here. Then, we examined how “Come and See” plays out when you have a physical and a digital approach, which you can read here. Now let’s talk about step three.
Step Three: Get Connected
Most churches would think about their own strategy like this: You build a relationship with someone, you invite them to explore, then you invite them to cross the line of faith.
We would encourage a rethinking at that point.
The third step is to invite them to get connected. The fancy word for this is assimilation.
It used to be that this would come after inviting them to cross the line of faith. But that has changed. Today, people want to belong before they believe. You need to get them connected as soon as you can after you invite them to come and explore, because only if they are connected will they stay long enough to consider embracing the faith. They need time to move down the line – getting answers to questions, accumulating information to fill intellectual voids – to be able to even consider embracing the Christian faith responsibly. If they don’t connect with two or three people during that time of exploration, (say, the first six months or so) they will drift.
So you have this tension: You’ve said “Hi,” you’ve invited them to come and see, and they’ve accepted, but then it takes time for them to explore and connect the dots. And if they don’t get connected to the community, the “come and see” begins to fade. They begin to drift before they’ve made a decision for Christ.
Which means that while you are intentionally evangelizing, you have to be intentionally assimilating. The good news is that not only can you do that online as much as you can in person, but you can also use digital technology to enhance assimilation for everyone in your orbit no matter how they attend. We just need to change our way of thinking about assimilation.
We need to move away from a focus on gathering and move toward a focus on connecting. We’ve bet the farm on gathering people together in a building. That’s a bet that won’t play out in the days to come. Instead, we need to invest in connecting people in whatever way they are willing to connect with us.
So let’s talk about getting connected.
First, the best way to connect new people is to connect them to other new people. Most of your core are the core because they are well-connected. Think of them like a Lego block that has every connection point taken. They don’t have any more relational space available for filling.
You might be familiar with the work of Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar, who spent his entire career studying the complexities of friendship. What he found, essentially, is that people have a relational capacity. He found that we can recognize about 1,500 people, have about 500 acquaintances, maintain about 150 meaningful contacts, have about 50 people we would consider friends, 15 of which can be good friends, ending with an inner circle showing around 5 loved ones.
So the key to assimilation is connecting new people to new people, or new people to those who have capacity for new relationships. There are many ways to do this, such as periodically offering social events that group people in similar stages of life, potentially birthing small groups out of those gatherings.
You should also continually invite both online and in-person attenders to step into community—into a serving team, a small group, a community service experience, a community event. Even something as simple as creating “linger” events that foster connections, such as food following a service, can go a long way.
But one of the most strategic efforts (and this works for both in-person and online attenders) is to run a “drip” campaign. The idea is to automate a series of contacts with someone, via text and email, in relation to next steps they can take. The more information you have about them, the more personalized this can become. But the idea is to connect with them in some way every few weeks, encouraging them to attend an online class, continue their attendance through the online campus, volunteer for a service project, or explore a series of YouTube videos that answer questions related to the Christian faith.
Each person’s “drip” is going to be different based on what you might know about them, such as gender, age, marital status, the presence or absence of children, or spiritual background.
But the goal is clear:
Get them connected as much as you can, as fast as you can.
There is so much more that can be said for the first three steps of this strategy (not to mention the final three) in a hybrid model that will add immense fuel to any church’s growth. If you are interested, I would encourage you to read Hybrid Church. But the point is that adding the digital to the physical is awakening the power of synergy in your church’s outreach efforts.
Two horses can pull around 9,000 pounds. How many pounds can four horses pull? No, the answer is not 18,000 pounds.
Try more than 30,000 pounds.
Now consider what adding the digital to your physical efforts will do.
James Emery White
James Emery White, Hybrid Church (Zondervan), order from Amazon.
“7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus – Episode 142: The Unstuck Church Podcast,” Tony Morgan Live, April 22, 2020, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.