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Leading Physically in a Digital Age

Take a look at the pitfalls and the opportunities ahead.

The word 'Phygital' is doing the rounds in the Church environment - a blend of Physical and Digital.

It's a phrase originally used in a sales and marketing environment by business consultants to persuade brick and mortar retail businesses to modernise. To get into the digital age and take their sales online. There was of course always the suggestion that you would be 'left behind' if you didn't act and those embracing this new technological age would make huge profits if they moved first. Before that, a scientific term used to define the movement of atoms in a space.

The Church is starting to use the phrase to explain how Church might look in the coming years.

When I was growing up in my 20's our tiny Church thought we were cutting edge to use an overhead projector, we were well stocked with acetate pens and the clear film itself even creating long wheeled versions which we could scroll as we sung hymns - genius we thought.

It wasn't too long before thousands of those acetate projects were gathering dust or promoted to that great projector graveyard in the sky. The LCD projector had arrived, you could watch films in colour, you just needed to mortgage something and you were good to go. For a Church which only had wired electricity a decade or so earlier this was all a revolution.

In the last 25 years, the minister has had to become a bit of a whizz at all this tech stuff, get Wifi in the Church building, open Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts and also become a website designer by dinner time. Obviously, those jobs being delegated out to enthusiastic Church members.

The pandemic has pushed the envelope for many Churches to tech up, get video cameras and attempt to connect with a once physical congregation online. Some have done that really well, growing their congregations during a season where they should effectively be shrinking.

So with this Phygital age upon us, what are some key considerations for the next five years.

1) You might need a Digital Pastor

The Senior Minister looking more after strategy and the Digital Pastor being concerned with online birthday's, tracking members social media accounts to make sure they are OK and to keep abreast of all the Church events and projects which can be pushed out across social media streams. That same person would oversee a team of volunteers who make snazzy announcement videos etc.

2) Distance is relevant for just a few

These days I can watch a Church service in South Africa before my own Church has started theirs and dip in and out of those big Christian celebrity Church services where the church is spending more on their social media reach than they are on maintaining their physical building. Sets have replaced stages, studios have replaced storerooms, server rooms replace cupboard space.

I know many Churches who got their online service just right and sure enough, hundreds more because regular fans of that Church, following progress, living out the messages, extolling the online Church they found to their own Church family, who perhaps was not as savvy as they Church down the road or 3,000 miles away.

Distance in a future Church is only relevant to those who want a physical connection who want to sing in a room with other people, who want to be served communion physically, who might not have a computer or internet connection. Through the Pandemic, they have become the most disenfranchised of believers.

3) Surviving financially

Many Churches would say it was hard enough to run things before the pandemic. With an average mean income in the UK of £30,000 which is skewed to cites, that's £24,000 after-tax, which should be £2,400 a year or £200 a month tithe per person. Or £360,000 if there were 150 working adults in the Church. The reality is that even when we were a physical Church only around 25 - 30% gave anything like a tithe.

So a Phygital Church will have to find ways to regularly and politely ask their 'viewers' to make an SMS gift or use the 'donate' button on their app or website at an appointed time of the service so everyone felt the responsibility to keep the enterprise going.

We're going to have to let go of our embarrassment when it comes to finance and help people understand the cost of this new world we live in. So whether you use Paypal or Stripe as your payment provider, be prepared for a lot fewer cheques and less handling of cash, be prepared to accept debit cards as part of your online offering.

4) Up the online courses you provide

Nicky Gumbel the brains behind the expansion of Alpha, was for years opposed to idea of running online Alpha courses, the pandemic tipped his had and he's now a big convert, extolling a better outcome when the course is digital than physical.

When you think this through, its success is primarily down to the fact that the whole of society is now trained to interact online, zoom meetings for working at home, much more screen time than ever before, so understanding this fact, you'll find it easier now with a bigger response to run an online course on mental wellbeing that would ever have happened in a physical setting.

Senario : setting up a mental wellbeing course, 3 x one hour each sessions (all immediately available in our bing watch society) with some worship at the beginning, the content and then an opportunity to give, you'll fulfil a need in your digital Church community and increase the value of the Church once again in the life of the viewers

The value premise is going to be more important than ever moving forward

5) Regulating responsibility

This is the toughest area of this article, on the one hand, we want more and more people to come into our circles, we see that as outreach, yet some of the people that start to follow us and make friends with our members might have ulterior motives, IE soliciting minors, conning people out of money, spreading malicious rumours within the member base. You will need to make sure you have ALL appropriate protections in place within a digital world.

Senario : A public Prayer Group is set up on Social Media encouraging prayer from the wider community which Church members can pray for. £100 is spent to promote the service on social media. Things go better than planned and within a week the service has 800 people posting prayer requests (much more than the prayer meeting ever had in physical numbers). Yet over the next three months, four people all having 'made friends' with someone who joined the group from overseas are each persuaded to send £500 to the individual for the same thing. Everyone feels conned (because they were) and then the Church minster shares the issue to his local Churches Together group only to find another two ministers have had the same problem with some of their public-facing social media groups. The big problem here is the conned members of the Church blamed the Church for running the group as much as they blamed the person for conning them.

This is not an extensive list and overall the benefits of growth into a digital sphere outweigh the potential pitfalls, who knows, making your Church Phygital, could bring you exponential growth......

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