How to Build a Phygital Strategy at Your Church
The digital age has been driving us to change our physical spaces. Because of COVID, churches are taking a closer look at how to adapt their physical ministry space to help serve both their physical and digital ministry needs.
“During the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous shift in buildings, largely due to the fact that the digital age has been driving us to change our physical spaces," says Greg Snider, Aspen Group's Ministry Space Strategist. "We've been adapting spaces based on cultural changes in a digital world, but the shifts have not been with the mindset of digital-first.”
In a recent webinar, Greg Snider shared examples from three companies that have created a powerful phygital strategy—Southwest Airlines, Amazon, and NBC Studios. Each of these commercial enterprises provides helpful ideas for how churches can create effective physical and digital experiences too.
Learn how physical AND digital space can work together to support the discipleship journey.
“When I describe phygital for somebody, Southwest Airlines is my go-to company,” shares Greg. “It is first nature to go to our phone or computer when we’re going to book a ticket. The ticket shows up on our smartphone, which will get us through security and guide us to our gate. It gets us on the plane. Once we're seated on the physical plane–we've gone through a physical airport and gotten on a physical Southwest plane–we again engage with their app where we can do all sorts of things. We have a phygital experience without even thinking about where the digital and physical start and stop."
He adds, “What I love about Southwest is that their physical space creates the culture, the Southwest way, that drives the experience they want us to have as customers of Southwest.”
Part of Amazon's mission is “is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything.” Most of us are used to experiencing Amazon physically when the truck pulls in front of our house and delivers a package on our front step. But they have additional models that give us a glimpse into how digital influences physical and vice-versa.
- Amazon Go: When we think about a phygital approach, we think about a both/and strategy. Amazon illustrates this well. In addition to online services, Amazon is investing in retail spaces to create new shopping environments, including cashier-less convenience stores. An app and your Amazon account get you into the store, then artificial intelligence via cameras recognizes you and the items you select. You walk out of the store and your Amazon account is charged.
- Amazon Fresh Pickup: Amazon recognized some people would have groceries delivered and others wanted to place an order at work and grab it on their way home. With Amazon Fresh Pickup, you can pull into a parking spot, and your groceries will come out to your car.
- Amazon 4-star: These physical retail locations are influenced by what is happening in the digital market. The in-store products offered are streamlined to include only Amazon's top-selling products online.
As we look at NBC, a premier content provider on television and digital platforms, we’re taking cues on what it takes to create a quality digital experience. Greg adds, “This ties to a question we’ve heard and are helping some churches think through already: What will our worship spaces become? Churches have gone from sanctuaries to auditoriums and worship centers. Those spaces were largely designed for the live event. Over the past few years, we've been looking to adapt those live-event spaces for recordings to send to multisites, and to stream online. Praise God we've been doing those things, which got us ready for when COVID hit. As we come back, will we create spaces that are digital-first?”
Greg cautions regarding creating environments at church where congregants could be treated like audiences. “That’s clearly not where we are trying to go, but we are saying that when you go digital-first in worship spaces, it changes room shaping, sightlines, and where cameras are located. We're also asking churches to consider how they'll integrate an amazing live experience with a quality digital engagement? Will auditoriums become worship studios? I think there's going to be a lot of change.”
How can we keep growing disciples?
At Aspen, our architects focus on how to design for discipleship in physical spaces, while integrating a digital strategy for ministry. We guide churches on how to be intentional about the path they are trying to create for people to meet God, have an experience with him, and get to know others. With a phygital approach to ministry, churches can meet people where they are and help guide them on a discipleship journey.
According to Greg, church leaders need to consider a “both/and” strategy when it comes to creating physical and digital spaces. In the same way that churches have pathways for connection when someone walks in the door as a new guest, it’s critical to create similar pathways and opportunities to connect with pastors and others online.
“Whether physical or digital, all your tools can work together to support the work of taking people on a discipleship journey," says Greg.
With a phygital ministry strategy, churches no longer compartmentalize their physical and digital spaces but begin to combine them into one seamless, cohesive strategy. The in-person experience supports the online experience and vice-versa.