In today's context, each congregation will move back toward in-person congregational life while continuing to include online participation in different ways.
In the spirit of radical hospitality, congregations will eventually want to be able to offer hybrid, or multi-platform, programming. This includes not only in-person worship with online participation, but also in-person smaller gatherings. Your congregation will want to prioritize what is most important to you and your community, and take into account your people's needs and your available capacity and resources.
The following fictional scenarios are designed to help you think through your own decision-making process. They include:
- a sample step toward accomodating programming that includes in-person and online participation
- why each fictional congregation is making that programming a priority for a multi-platform format
These congregations have assessed their mission, their community’s needs, their assets and building, and their cultural orientation to technology and change. They’re fully aware of the timing and equity of vaccination in their area, metrics for safe in person gathering, outdoor protocols, that vaccines are not yet available for children, and that it's possible they'll need to return to an all-remote model.
Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of the Open Heart: Connection First
Online worship is going fine and our building is old and small, so safe ventilation is a challenge. What’s most important to us is connection, especially connection among children and youth, who will not be vaccinated before fall 2021. Therefore we are prioritizing small groups including outdoor groups, outdoor family connections, and outdoor youth programs. We imagine adult small groups will happen inside before multi-platform worship while some small groups continue online. Once children are vaccinated, we plan to have an all ages hybrid worship followed by small group faith formation for all ages.
UU Church of the Helping Hands: Taking Care of Our Neighbors
Our congregation is very spread out physically, so small “neighborhood” gatherings are our first plan to connect—socially distanced—when weather allows and it's safe to gather outside. We remember our building being used in the past for programs to help those in need of food and overnight shelter. We are reaching out to local social service agencies to start a new program. We believe this is a higher priority than in-person worship.
Connections UU Fellowship: Small Gatherings First
Our congregation had both online and in-person outdoor small groups when weather allowed. We are thinking ahead to small group interactions when in-person gatherings are possible and the weather is bad. So, once sufficient time has passed that all people over 65 locally have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated our retirement group would like to begin meeting again. We are asking them to test out how to include online participants so we will be ready to include all in similar gatherings in the future such as faith formation. We know that connection is critical after a year where everyone has been physically isolated, and we want to prioritize connection and re-connection now.
UU Society of the Room-Where-It-Happens: Worship Watch Party
As a small congregation, Sunday morning has been our main connection. Online worship has been vital to sustaining us, and those older members who live alone are particularly eager for an in-person experience. As children will not be able to be vaccinated before fall of 2021 and we have staff, including our minister, who have children, we will continue to do online worship for some time. At some point, as metrics and vaccination access allow, we will let a small group of people gather and use a projector and the sanctuary sound system to access worship together.
While this may feel like it excludes some, we recognize the very high impact the isolation has had on those who live alone. Our older members, once vaccination is available for them all, need in person connection. Having only part of our congregation present in-person will keep our building at a safer lower density of people. This will also make our technology evolution easier for now. We will continue our inclusive online coffee hour and breakout spaces. One thing we’re excited about is continuing to have speakers from far away lead our worship! Once everyone, including children, is vaccinated, we will read up on how others have done hybrid worship and move towards a more multi-platform experience with the minister in person.
Harmony UU Congregation: Music First
Music is very important to us spiritually and emotionally. In-person indoor worship is going to feel sad without being able to sing together. Therefore, we are prioritizing COVID-safe outdoor music as a spiritual practice and connection including socially distanced concerts and researching how to sing safely at a distance outside. We are happy to wait for a hybrid online/in-person worship experience.
UU Church of the Open Door: Inter-congregational Hospitality
We are a group of small congregations brought closer together by the pandemic. The larger small congregation has been hosting worship and inviting the neighboring smaller congregations to share with them. As we look forward, the conversation is turning to keeping that set up, allowing the smaller congregations to join online but still actively participate by sharing in leading worship elements. The larger congregation will be a mix of online and in-person as members are able. The tiny congregations may join online from home or host watch parties at their buildings. Each congregation will continue the outreach they're currently doing for children and youth including a new shared online youth group!
UU Church Cooperatives: Sharing the Load
For our cluster, going “on the road” to visit each others’ worship services and then gather for coffee hour with our own congregation afterwards is working very well. Not only has this spread out the load of leading worship in ways that are really helping avoid pandemic burnout, but we’re finding each other’s worship offerings inspiring and nurturing. As we look towards gathering in-person, we want to keep sharing worship in this way. Eventually, we’d like to have each congregation lead worship from their sanctuary once a month streamed both to participants online and the other cluster sanctuaries. We know this will take time and we’re happy to keep worshipping online and gathering in small groups in other ways, when it's safe, while we get ready.
UU Church of the Flowing (Live) Stream: Expanding the In-Sanctuary Experience
As a larger congregation, we already stream worship from our sanctuary with a small team except when cases rise. This involves a small in-person staff team to run the cameras and sound system. We will begin hybrid worship when metrics allow by having some people attend what we are already doing in person. However, out of concern for everyone’s health, this won’t happen until all adults can be vaccinated so all staff can all be fully vaccinated. We will work to be sure the in-person and online experiences are both inclusive and welcoming by recruiting online hosts to interact in the online chat and run online coffee hour break out rooms. We plan to offer outdoor children and youth programming. We may need to return to an all online experience as winter approaches as children may not be vaccinated by then and indoor RE may not yet be safe enough to be inclusive for all our families.
IT UU Society: Hybrid, Multi-platform, Here We Come!
We have tech volunteers and technology competent staff who are eager to set up the technology to really do an event that’s both in person and online in an inclusive exciting way. We’re gathering with multiple stakeholders in our congregation to re-shape how worship happens so that we aren’t just doing the same worship style we did in person or just doing what we’ve been doing online. Our worship will be a new experience that is planned around both the in-person and online experience. We’re also investing money in upgrading our sanctuary’s technology which will take some time. We are hoping to be in a place to begin experimenting with our new model by the time it’s safe to gather in person in our county. We are doing a similar re-visioning of how we connect with families, children, and youth and will begin outdoor gatherings when it's safe enough although we do not plan to do this during worship the way we previously offered RE for children and youth. This may be the moment where our worship evolves to be a truly multigenerational experience and we are able to offer age-based faith formation.