The pandemic has changed us in ways we still don't fully understand, but the future of church gatherings will be a combination of physical and digital space. At Barna, we asked, “After the COVID-19 pandemic, what kind of church gathering will fit your lifestyle best?” The majority of people said physical gatherings will be important; those aren't going to go away. What was interesting is that there is also a sense that both physical and digital experiences are going to be favored. Before, technology was a barrier to us in how we were joining church. Now, we have people whose virtual literacy has gone up immensely over this period, across generations.
As the country began to shut down last year because of COVID, Pastor Taylor Burgess and his leadership team at Cross Community Church in Beaufort, South Carolina, made an important decision. As a church, they would not lie down and die. They committed to facing the future with courage. Cross Community has been working on transitioning from a portable to permanent space, plus navigating a capital campaign, all amid the pandemic. I spoke with Taylor, who serves as lead pastor, to see what advice he would offer other churches in the midst of a building project or other major change.
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Pioneering as an online church may not have been at the top of your plan last year, but you faced challenges and discovered opportunities in the midst of a pandemic. Now, you’ve shifted into a time of anticipation and planning for what comes next for your church, both online and in-person.
Churches are in the midst of a huge transition. They’re prioritizing both the physical experience of people gathering in person for church, as well as the digital experience of people connecting online for worship, fellowship, and learning. Welcome to the world of “phygital” church—the blending of the physical and digital to maximize how churches connect with people and help them draw closer to God and others. My Aspen colleague, Rob Gordon, and I met on Facebook Live for a conversation about phygital church. Rob and others on Aspen's design team are continually asking, How can we use principles of architecture and design to create a phygital experience at church?
Churches that plan to offer in-person Christmas worship services this year may need to adapt their facility to mitigate the potential spread of COVID. Your church lobby serves as the first point of entry. It’s the initial space that greets newcomers and long-timers, and it’s the place where people will want to mingle most. But, how will it work in the midst of COVID?
Your church building is one tool of many to help you express your mission, accomplish ministry goals, and connect with people. When churches create ministry space, they do it to facilitate the programming they are currently providing—or hope to provide in the near future. The world, however, is changing more quickly all the time. Physical space that serves ministry purposes today may not provide the kinds of spaces we need next year, let alone for the next decade or more.
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.”
Even if you’ve been in ministry for decades, 2020 may have felt like your first year on the job. Although your church’s message was unchanging, many other elements felt like moving targets as you worked to adapt your physical ministry space, digital presence, and perhaps, even your ministry priorities.
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.
We will remember 2020 for many reasons. Among them, it will be known as the year the church closed its doors while simultaneously claiming new space in the digital world—and living rooms across the country. Churchgoers worshipped from home and church leaders wondered if Easter 2020 might break the internet. Now we’re wondering the same thing about Christmas.