Quickstart Guide to Becoming a Phygital Church Blog Feature
Marian V. Liautaud

By: Marian V. Liautaud on November 03, 2020

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Quickstart Guide to Becoming a Phygital Church

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What would it mean to embrace a phygital ministry strategy at your church? If you're ready to make the shift, where do you begin?

Recently, we met with Aspen Group’s Ministry Space Strategist Greg Snider and Jamie Shafer, a Communications Strategist with Fishhook, to explore how churches can build a frictionless physical and digital experience for their guests.

Learn how physical AND digital space can work together to support the discipleship journey.

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What is Phygital?

Phygital is the seamless interaction between a physical and a digital experience. With a phygital ministry approach, the onsite and online experiences work in tandem, complementing one another and creating a more personalized, memorable, and engaging guest experience.

Greg observes, “Think of the journey the church has been on this year. When the year started, churches spent most of their energy on their physical locations. They reached people through their physical engagements. Then in March, when their doors closed, it flipped. We went all digital, and people were focusing on digital tools.

"In those early weeks, it was just getting sermons online. In the days since then, we've seen churches working on discipleship pathways, engagement in small groups, and children's ministry, thus creating all these digital tools. There has been a shift to digital, and as churches are reopening, there is a recognition that it is going to be both. We’ve been thinking physical for years. We've been thinking digital for months, and now there is this phygital conversation.”

Ready to explore a phygital strategy at your church? Begin by inviting your team to work through the following questions:

1. What Makes Our Church Distinct?

What are the characteristics of your church? What makes your church your church? How would you describe its purpose, mission, values, and personality? How are you expressing that onsite and online?

“We are having more conversations around brand experience as we encourage churches to tell their story authentically,” says Jamie. “We believe God has called them to a certain place at a certain point in time for a very specific mission. Different churches will reach different people. We come alongside churches and lead them through a series of important questions where we listen, observe, and help them discover and share what it is that makes them unique.”

At Aspen Group, we also encourage church leaders to clarify and clearly articulate their mission and purpose because it is truly foundational to their ministry priorities and how they will strategically maximize their resources, including their physical spaces' design and function.

2. Who Are We Called to Reach?

Jamie notes that as churches share their authentic story, it also helps them build trust with the audiences they are trying to reach. Today’s digital tools are full of opportunities to strategically customize messaging to reach specific, targeted audiences.

“It’s important to have a strategy and understanding of what you're trying to accomplish and who you're trying to reach. We encourage churches to define personas, even giving them a specific name so they can better understand and talk about those audiences as a team. Then, the church can begin to let the understanding of its audiences shape the things they're doing. Move from just pushing out messages about the things you want them to do. Instead, think about the audience and what they need; then show up in that need.”

3. What Do We Have and Need?

Part of making the most of a phygital ministry approach is learning to utilize the strengths of your physical and digital strategies. It’s critical for churches to understand that physical and digital experiences are tools to help achieve the same goals and reach people. It becomes a matter of customizing both sides of the experience to be ministry and audience-focused and to integrate the tools to work together cohesively. Consider:

      • How does your physical space enhance or detract from ministry connections?
      • What are the strengths of your online experiences and your digital tools
      • What would you like to improve in the months ahead?

Fishhook has seen an increase in their website projects this year as churches’ need to have a stronger digital strategy has grown.

“Many churches have started to realize their website may not be doing the heavy lifting that they need it to do,” says Jamie. She stresses the importance of having a website that is designed to support ministry, not simply marketing. Consider specific ministry goals, define audiences, and make sure the church’s website, social media, and other communications tools have been designed to grow ministry and build relationships.

4. Where Can We Improve Consistency?

As you seek to connect with people in the physical and digital realms, evaluate if you have a consistent presence across experiences. Or, are your audiences experiencing your church as having a split personality?

“Before COVID, we would often point out how churches would make their websites look really good because it didn't cost as much to make your website look really good as it did to make your building really good," says Greg. "People were visiting you on the web before they would come to visit you physically at your church. So, they got a sense of who you were before they walked into your building. But we've seen a lot of incongruences as we start to work with a church. We look at your website before we show up. We watch a service online. We read about your ministries. Then, we step into your building, and if the building feels completely different than the website, it's like, well, which one is real? Which one is right?

"When we start our work with a church, we are similarly asking, Who are you? Who are you reaching? What are you trying to accomplish? What is unique to your church, and how are we going to express that in a space that tells your story? It’s really important that your physical site syncs up with your digital site."

5. What Can We Learn From Others?

On any given day, we interact with retailers and organizations in ways that combine physical and digital experiences. A great place to find inspiration is by looking at companies that have been doing digital for years. “I encourage pastors to dig in and look at what Southwest does," Greg says. "Notice how their integration of digital and physical is who they are. Their brand is clear throughout; their experience is clear throughout. They use both to accomplish their mission.

“For example, after you purchase your ticket, it sends a boarding pass to your iPhone. You use your iPhone to get you through the airport, to the gate, and onto the physical airplane. On the airplane, most people have their tablets open and they're interacting with the Southwest app, which gives them information, news, music, and entertainment. You are in all their physical spaces, but what gets you there is digital. And when you're there, digital enhances it.

“I think the church should be looking at this. This is the fun in partnering with Fishhook over the years; the creative ways that they help the church see how the world of communications and brand can come across from the digital and the physical.”

6. Are We Ready to Embrace Innovative Next Steps?

“For churches, I would say exhale,” says Jamie. “Realize you don't have to sprint. You don't have to keep running in an emergency response mode, but you do have to move. You have to keep moving and making incremental progress. I think within culture, the expectations have changed in this period. So, while there were churches doing good digital ministry before March of this year, they weren't fully leaning into what it could be.

“I love the idea of moving from having things compartmentalized to bringing them together. If I have people in an online service, I'm thinking about how I move them gradually to an in-person experience, depending on the audience you're reaching. As you begin to reopen and have people back in person, think, how can I help move them into the digital space? That could start in the worship center or as a part of your guest experience.”

Greg points out that there are many possibilities for reaching far more people online than a church would in person. As we move forward, worship gathering spaces will be built with the digital experience prioritized first, with broadcast capabilities in mind. Ultimately, we want our physical spaces to be places where people are connecting with God and with each other, and at the same time, we're also launching new movements of digital ministry that will reach even more people over time.

To learn more about how to create a phygital strategy at your church, join Greg Snider for a webinar on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. Register now!


About Marian V. Liautaud

Marian served as Aspen's Director of Marketing from 2014 to 2021, sharing stories about how Aspen designs, builds, and furnishes space for ministry impact.