Many congregations have been hoping to do a form of “hybrid,” "dual-platform," or "multi-platform" worship as a way of getting back together in person once we near the end of the pandemic. We are called to be inclusive. We will need to balance many different needs. We will have members and friends who will want to go back to “in person” worship just like it used to be. We will have members and friends who won’t feel safe yet to meet “in person.” We will have members and friends who love being able to worship online, especially those who weren’t able to attend in person before the pandemic. And we want to keep including the people who have joined us online, but are distant enough they won’t be able to gather with us in person.
But each congregation will do this in different ways, especially at the beginning. Here are some key questions for you to ponder together as you choose your own path forward:
Who Makes What Decision?
Some congregations have assembled a re-opening task force for re-opening in person congregational life. These teams often bring together the expertise of medical professionals and those who understand your building and its needs. This group may not be the group to have the conversations about what to do first when it is safe enough to gather. Their focus should stay on “when”. The UUA offers this guidance for these teams.
Some congregations have a group of technical volunteers and staff who have been working on the “how” of how to find the right technology for your needs. This is really important.
For the conversation about “what” you will offer in "what" format, you may need another group. In a small congregation it might be your Board. In others it may be a Program Council. It may be staff led. Or it could be a third group which gathers leaders with wisdom on the congregation’s mission, culture, and programs.
Consent is Key
Make sure you offer options so that your community is not asked to participate in ways that are unsafe for their individual health concerns. Ask for and respond to concerns about your plans.
What Is Your Mission, Your Calling?
Start with your mission. Why does your congregation exist? To nurture the spiritual lives of your members? To bring love and justice to the world?
Take the time to notice what your congregation has learned about your mission during this pandemic.
What and Whose Needs Are Present?
Given your mission, what does your congregation need most? Small groups? In person worship? To focus on your new food pantry? Something else?
Maybe online worship is working well for most adults, but your families with children really need more support. Or adults who live alone are having a particularly hard time with social isolation. Maybe the physical needs for food and shelter in your congregation and neighborhood are going unmet.
What Are Your Assets?
What are the strengths and limitations of your volunteers? Your building? The technology you already have?
Include people's time, energy, and emotional resilience. The pandemic has taken a toll and it will take us time to recover.
What’s Your Congregation’s Orientation to Technology and Change?
You have a high level of technical competence in your staff and volunteers and your congregation is eager to experiment. It’s okay if it doesn’t work as expected or you turn out to need different equipment later.
You’ll move into a multi-platform world with deliberation allowing other congregations to experiment first.
Online worship is going well, small groups can continue to meet and move to in person, either outside or inside depending on local weather and covid metrics, and you will wait to engage in multi-platform gatherings once there is really clear technical information, guidance, and instructions from those congregations who go first.
Please help your congregation recognize the goal will never be technical perfection. There will be experiments that don’t work, glitches beyond your control, and flubs. Help your congregation expect and even welcome imperfection. Not only will this help your congregation make this transition, it will help you recruit and sustain volunteers, get better at change, even strengthen the spiritual muscles needed in our work to dismantle white supremacy culture. Expecting and accepting imperfection is a great spiritual practice!
What Other Organizations or Communities Will Your Decisions Impact?
If your building houses a pre-school or a social service like a meal program this needs to be a part of your planning.
Consider what’s going on in the neighborhood and town where your congregation is physically located. It may be that there are needs beyond the needs of your congregation to connect and gather and that these needs should be part of your planning.
How Can You Be Flexible?
We don't know the future. Even after cases decline to a safer level, cases may rise again, possibly because of genetic mutations that make current vaccines less effective. Our whole congregation, or parts of our congregation, may need to move back to all remote. Both build this possibility into your planning and communicate the potential to your congregation so they aren't surprised.