What the latest streaming service tells us about hybrid-church.

Last night, I was scrolling through Instagram, when I saw an advert for a new streaming service from Showcase Cinemas: ‘Showcase at home.’

‘The new streaming service from Showcase cinemas, offering a handpicked selection of films and events for you to enjoy at home or on the move.’ Is how their describes it.

For those who don’t know about Showcase Cinemas, they’re a slightly indulgent high-end chain who provide those extra touches to enhance a cinema experience, such as hot food brought to your seat and bar service.

What they’re not doing is shutting their physical locations.

What they are doing is recognising that habits are changing and launching an online option.

So, what’s not changing in the film industry?

  • Consumers still have a passion for film.
  • New films are still being made.
  • Cinema is still a sought-after occasion for a shared experience in a neutral venue.
  • Consumers still want to watch the latest films.
  • Consumers still trust Showcase and have buy-in to their brand for a high-quality, hand-picked range of films.
  • Consumers still have disposable income to spend on entertainment.

What has changed in society?

  • The widespread availability of high-speed internet and lower-priced HD/4K television sets makes the film experience at home the highest quality it’s ever been.
  • Some consumers are less inclined to travel to physical locations in the current climate — which may also point to a long term change for many, not least the vulnerable, shielding, disabled and lower socio-economic groupings.
  • Some consumers have become accustomed to engaging in films solely at home and see little incentive to return to physical locations. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ are providing entertainment at home and it’s become normal to watch as a household at home.
  • The high-street is haemorrhaging shops, which is affecting the city-centre experience. M&S, Boots and John Lewis are just a few of the names who are shutting stores and making staff redundant. M&S and John Lewis have a similar clientele to Showcase.
  • The landscape is changing. The delivery firm MyHermes recently announced they’re hiring 10,000 extra delivery drivers to meet demand. Consumer habits are switching from high-street to online.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated the change that was already occurring and we find ourselves in the inevitable position that many had predicted was coming, but we weren’t expecting quite yet. City centres are becoming less retail-focused, as online provides an easier and more affordable option — despite the change of experience.

How does this indicate what might happen in churches?

  • The mission of the church isn’t dead, but the methods have to change.
  • The models that got us to this point may no longer work in the future.
  • We can’t bring the old moments into the new future.
  • Online is not going away. It is a very real alternative to any physical business, service or product. Embrace it.
  • What looks like an unwillingness to gather in physical locations is not an unwillingness to engage in community or spend time with Jesus.
  • Old mindsets are not new realities.
  • The shape of society does not necessarily indicate a desire to disengage in church, just to engage differently.
  • People go to the cinema for one experience, to the theatre for another, to Netflix for something else.
  • Society is changing shape and the church is changing too. This shape isn’t a sin. Shape can be a symptom of many things, but in this case, it’s a symptom of changing of habits, environments, culture and behaviour.

How can churches be prepared for an online future?

  • Avoid going 100% physical or 100% online. The future is both-and.
YouTuber David Dobrik
  • Don’t try to recreate a physical service online. TV screen discipline is very different from in-person discipline. They might watch ‘Friends’ for 25-minutes or David Dobrik vlogs for 4-minutes, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll engage with you for an hour. Snippets will be the future.
  • Streaming church services is not a full hybrid approach, but it is a start. Digital services are a hybrid approach, with content restyled for online.
  • Technology allows an increased connection. Look at it as a way of connection first, then supplement with content.
  • Know the difference between long-form and short-form content. Embrace short-form during the week — Instagram and snippets of video for social media. Then use this to invite to long-form content — services, podcast.
  • Identify what can only happen in your context in-person and what can only happen on-line.
  • Prepare to launch Small Groups which are physical, hybrid and online. Recognise who might attend each type of group and place leaders in place who are best equipped to pastor these people.
  • Ask yourself how training occurs in your church, and how you can use a hybrid approach to train teams. Open University has been educating people using TV since 1969, around the time the Netflix founders were at high-school. It’s been working for decades, so embrace online training with in-person connection. Not everything has to be in-person.
  • Reassure and equip those who need help with online, or who won’t go online.

We all have questions

We’re still so early in this journey and no church has every answer (or every question), but we are seeing a seismic shift in the shape of society, which we need to re-position ourselves to, so we can be available to love our cities. If we’re in the wrong place as the church, it’s harder to find us when we’re needed. If we can position ourselves to be where our cities can find us, we can embrace them.

By being open to the new shape, we are more likely to be able to reach our cities more effectively.

So, be kind to yourselves. Explore avenues. Ask questions. Ask what is possible. Spend time praying and fasting, seeking the way forward. Love people deeply.

If you found this helpful, you might also find my book helpful: ‘ So Everyone Can Hear: Communicating Church In A Digital Culture’

Writing about Church Communications, digital culture and our relationship with tech. Author of ‘So Everyone Can Hear: Communicating Church in a Digital Culture’