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Review on James Emery White's new book 'Hybrid Church'

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Review on James Emery White's new book 'Hybrid Church'


Hybrid Church: Blending Online and In-Person Worship

A review by Chris Williams – Manager Equipping the Church

The use of new innovation and technology in places of worship has been, and I believe always will be, a cause of tension in churches. When we look back at church history the Roman roads were an aid for speed and movement between towns for teachers, apostles and evangelists. During the protestant Reformation the printing press was a huge benefit to spreading the news of Luther’s Articles, and then later whole Bibles into common languages. Today, ‘internet and digital’ invades most aspects of our church life, especially post pandemic when even the staunchest church Luddites were happy to worship online live via YouTube or speak safely with their friends on a Zoom call. 

But each of these innovations had, and still has, a very dark side to them. The Roman roads were there to speed the travel of soldiers; the printing press mass produced more twisted and sinister material than good; and we are all well aware of the darker side of the internet. At a time when most churches are now returning to a sense of ‘normality’ (and I always ask the question of what people mean by that!), the church now looks at what worship and community looks like in light of the use of these digital resources. Do we throw them all out now? Do we ignore those who, for whatever reason, choose to watch and engage with ‘church’ (because we know that church is more than the bricks and pews) from the comfort of their homes?

James Emery White, in his new book Hybrid Church, centres on this whole subject as he looks at what he terms ‘Church 3.0’ and what it will or could look like.  He explains that ‘Church 1.0’ was mainly oral in communication to a totally pagan environment and ‘Church 2.0’ was written and mechanised to a mainly Christian environment. However, in the UK and many other nations, we now live in Post Christian environment as a greater number of people identify as being non-Christian compared to those having a faith.  So ‘Church 3.0’ is the Church speaking to a Post-Christian environment of websites, apps, social media, streaming, online communities and more.

It is right to ask the question whether the church should even use such online and screen-based technologies if we know they can cause so much harm. White, in his book, points to a tech survey in the Washington Post which showed that 72% of people don’t trust Facebook very much, with 8% saying they don’t know - that’s not a lot of trust! We all know this, yet most of the world will say they have some kind of social media account – even if we don’t use it daily. Polls have shown that Gen Z are shown to be glued to their screens (laptop, phone, TV) for up to 9 hours, every day! It is their chosen method of communication, education, and entertainment. So, the Church could choose to use its time to battle against screen time as an equal battle to sharing the gospel… but is that our place?  I spent a lot of time as a father trying to get my boys to read a paper book when actually they were spending a good deal of time learning about Christianity from YouTube and listening to a lot of great teaching from podcasts around the world.

We should not be surprised that the same people using Google to search for a local restaurant (rather than Yellow pages) are also using Google to search for a local church. The same people who look for a holiday destination by reviews and images are the same people wanting to check out our church worship, preaching and children’s work… before they attend. Why wouldn’t they? So, it begs the question - who is our church website aimed at? Who does it serve? Post pandemic, are we still making our worship and/or teaching available online as a window into our church communities? Are we driving our weekly messages, images and events through our social media and to be then pushed out through every church member's individual social stream… if they love what you do as a church, why wouldn’t they?

Hybrid Church raises a lot of questions that I firmly believe every church leadership team should be be discussing regularly. The world has shifted again but the gospel remains un-moveable. However, that does not mean the medium by which we speak should not develop and change. I read, and prefer, paper books but I wake up every morning to read the Bible in One Year on my iPhone. My wife listens to Lectio 365, an online morning and evening devotional from the 24/7 prayer team, and some Sunday mornings we follow our son leading worship in a church 160 miles away – it’s all very Hybrid and feels very natural.

Jesus in his most famous Sermon on the Mount calls for us to be Salt and Light. Salt in an era of decay… light in a time of extreme darkness. If people are spending more time on a device, I pray for greater investment in digital resources to fill my life with salt and light. I live in a country where 80 – 90% of the population own a smart phone/device and I believe we have the opportunity to reach a nation for Jesus through every screen.


Hybrid Church by James Emery White

Available in the UK from 16th March 2023 at £15.99 (RRP)

Published by Zondervan Books 

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