We’re near the end of the spring. We are growing closer to Pentecost, when the disciples are empowered to GO and preach the word. Hopefully, we are growing ever closer to when we can GO worship, celebrate the Eucharist, and preach the word among our dear friends in our local churches once again. And with summer drawing ever closer, it probably means that we’re drawing ever closer to another blockbuster superhero movie being released.
Hybrid Formation: The Good & The Bad
Our spirits ache for the sacred togetherness that we’re all accustomed to when sitting next to each other in a pew and chatting to each other over coffee and pastries. And yet, while our communities remain impacted by COVID-19, we have an important question to ask: how do we keep those who stay home connected as we inch closer to reopening our churches?
For most of our worship gatherings, this is <comparatively> easy: we can enforce social distancing, livestream our services to our members at home, and optimize our websites to help people access the information as best we can.
But what about those moments of spiritual growth that happen only in the Sunday school room among a group of six to twelve folks? How do we create spaces for the sort of vulnerability that only formation and discipleship can offer?
The bad news: hybrid formation and discipleship WILL NOT ever be the same as a fully in person setting. If we’ve learned anything from doing remote worship over the past year, we know this to be true AND that we still need to be able to gather for worship regularly.
And now, for the good news: you can do (almost) anything in a hybrid setting that you can do in an in-person setting.
- Do not attempt to sing or speak in unison. There are some fancy audio plugins that can do this, including jamulus.io, but this is not the time or place for that.
- Do not fill silences unnecessarily. It is still golden, even if it seems more uncomfortable when viewed on a screen.
- Do not compel participants to turn their video on. When we are in person, we tend to build trust using what we can see and hear. While we’ve been in lockdown and communicating via web conferences for over a year and PERHAPS the virtual background has become the new work outfit, respecting what a person chooses to share (or not) is still important.
- Go for more than 42 minutes without a break or a change in format/setting. A recent Oracle blog suggests that attention spans are growing shorter and shorter because there is now an abundance of distraction. The average one-hour television program is 42 minutes with four breaks spaced evenly throughout; with internet content, we can barely manage 12 seconds. If you do need to schedule a session that is longer than 42 minutes, I go by this ratio: for every person, plan for ten minutes of interactivity. So, if I had 1 facilitator supporting 9 learners, I could give each person ten minutes of interactivity by splitting folks up into small groups of three for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the amount of programmed content by a third per session. Reducing the amount of content gives participants an opportunity to dig deeper on what content you DO present.
- Add more structure to interactions. Try setting an order in which people speak, encouraging them to stick to a time limit when sharing, and allowing folks to “pass” on a topic. Establish a group covenant in the first session of a new gathering. And, consider publishing your agenda ahead of time so that you participants know what to expect.
- Use your tech to its advantage. If you’re using Zoom or some other conferencing software, great! Use your breakout rooms, video and audio sharing, and chat box to add variety.
- Publish your access links on a reasonably secure platform. Especially when considering formation for children, follow the policy and procedures in place by both your local government and your denominational leaders. While web conferencing softwares have made great strides in security in the past few months, they are far from perfect.
With these considerations in mind, there is one, BIG question left to consider:
What technology do I have to buy to do this?
Stay tuned, that’s another article…