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The Hybrid Strategy for Growth, Part Two: Come and See

Dr. James Emery White | Mecklenburg Community Church | Published: Nov 27, 2023

The Hybrid Strategy for Growth, Part Two: Come and See

This is the second installment of a three-part series on what a hybrid-informed strategy for church growth entails. I’ve written an entire book exploring this, titled Hybrid Church, but let me introduce its depth in a simple way. Again, here’s our six-step strategy.

Meck’s Six-Step Hybrid Strategy

1. Hi!

2. Come and See

3. Get Connected

4. Cross the Line

5. Grow

6. Make a Difference

To introduce how a hybrid approach changes things, we started by looking at the first of the six steps – “Hi!” – which you can read here. Now let’s move on to the second step.

Step Two: Come and See

As a step, this isn’t novel to anyone’s thinking. You build a relationship, and then invite them to attend. But what do you invite them to attend? For Meck, for years this was an invitation to a weekend service. During that service we would do everything we could to have it be welcoming, engaging, explanatory and inviting.

This is the secret power of the Church in regard to penetrating the world. It always has been. The late Michael Green wrote a treatise on the explosion of the early Christian Church in the first century. Let me give you the CliffsNotes: They shared the gospel like it was gossip over the backyard fence. 

It’s how any growing church grows. For example, for more than three decades of outreach at Meck we’ve tracked why first-time guests come to our church. Every first-time guest who lets us know they attended is asked four questions in a follow-up survey:

  1. What did you notice first?
  2. What did you like best?
  3. How could we have improved?
  4. How did you hear about the church?

The number one answer for that final question has never changed.  The most cited reason for attending has always been, “Invited by a friend.”    

But what has changed is what we first invite them to. Our guests are still saying they are invited by a friend, but that first invitation now tends to be to an online event or service. Whether a visit to a website or an online campus, the front door is no longer physical, but rather digital. 

Here are the new assumptions: First, people want to check a church out online before attending in person, just like they want to check everything else out first online. Second, they may attend or view online for months before an in-person visit—if even then. Third, they want to be able to interact online. Finally, they are accustomed to being served digitally in almost every way.

This is how they want to be engaged; this is the only way the vast majority will even consider being engaged. We will either open that front door or leave it firmly closed to them. 

So is it open at your church?

Can someone check you out online, engage with you online or attend online? Can your current attenders invite their friends to begin online? Think everything through digitally the way you have currently been thinking everything through physically. 

For in-person events, you have signage, greeters and welcome areas. You create an atmosphere and experience designed to serve the needs of first-time guests. It’s no different for your online presence.

Then encourage your church to invite their friends digitally. Make not only the “Hi!” but the “Come and See” hybrid in nature, involving both physical, in-person invites and online, digital invites. And make no mistake—digital invites are easier to make and respond to than physical invites. “Come to church with me this Sunday at our campus on Browne Road” is vastly different than “Hey, you ought to check this out online.” 

Put yourselves in the shoes of an unchurched person and ask yourself which is less intimidating: showing up for something in person or online? We know, don’t we? I can’t begin to tell you how many times (as in almost every week) a first-time guest on our online campus will pop up in the chat room and say, “I can’t believe I’m here for this—I would never have shown up in person.”

Now here’s what we have found happens when you open the digital front door like this. The physical and the digital begin to organically intertwine. That’s the real nature of hybrid. Not solely physical or solely digital, but instead both—coming together in a synergistic way. This is when the “Come and See” reaches its full potential.

For example, we are finding that there is community-based outreach that happens through an online campus that cannot happen in person. We have groups gathering to watch in company conference rooms during lunch breaks, at breweries and through house parties. One online attender who works at an Amazon shipping area told us they put the service on the sound system for their dock. 

One of my favorite stories is how a small group began attending through our online campus at their downtown office building during their Tuesday lunch hour. Word spread, and soon more and more people began attending with them—many who were not Christians.  There were Hindus, Muslims, “nones.” It got so large that at around 50 or so people, they had to break up and meet in three locations. 

They all call Tuesday their “church day.”

A day that would never have been called that apart from a hybrid approach to outreach.

Which brings us to step three in the six-step strategy – “Getting Connected” – which may have already surprised some by being put third instead of later on in the game. 

Part three of this series will explain why it must come next, and how doing it in a hybrid way is a game-changer.

James Emery White

Sources

James Emery White, Hybrid Church (Zondervan), order from Amazon.

Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on XFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Hybrid Strategy for Growth, Part Two: Come and See