Sometimes new words get introduced into our vocabulary. There are linguistic groups who track words that have been created in any given year that are added to our dictionary, primarily because they capture an idea that can’t be defined with existing words. Recently, I came across such a word that helps explain a needed paradigm shift in ministry that was greatly accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The word is Phygital. Go ahead and sound it out it just for fun: phyg-i-tal. What in the world does that mean? Simply put, it is a blend of physical (onsite) ministry and digital (online) ministry. Phygital ministry uses technology as a tool to complement the mission of the church in both the physical and digital realms – to grow across multiple contexts, and to multiply everywhere that people gather, online or onsite.
When church buildings were locked down for several weeks, overnight every church was forced to go online if they wanted to have any connection to their congregations. Many churches, like Journey, had already began using some basic components of digital communication such as Livestreaming of worship services. But Phygital ministry goes way beyond Livestreaming. It provides the highway to a new world of reaching, engaging and ultimately discipling people who become followers of Jesus regardless of their location.
So, one of the major work products produced by our staff during the recent 11-week shutdown of onsite ministry is we opened a new online campus! We not only show worship services online, we have shifted Lifegroups to meeting online. We have even started new groups online that never existed before. Care ministry groups like Journey to Christian Recovery and GriefShare have started meeting online. People who have not and most likely never will step foot on one of our physical campuses, connected with us online. I was recently asked about someone who wants to become a member of Journey who lives outside of our immediate area simply because they connected with our online campus. We have received financial gifts, some of them quite large, from people who live out of state, and yet who are now part of our online campus ministry.
Why is this important? Having an online campus means we don’t just passively stick a camera in the back of a room and show a “real audience” to an online participant. It means we intentionally create content that communicates to the real people who are joining us online. Our goal is not to show people what they’re missing by not being with us in person. Our goal is to reach and connect with people who may never join us in person, but they can be just as much a part of Journey’s ministry and mission as someone in a building in Apopka or Lake County. The reality of our new normal is we have and will continue to see more people join us online than onsite. In fact, for the past two weekends since our onsite restart, our online connections are double what we have seen in person. I think that’s a trend that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future.
So, while we have reopened our buildings, we dare not take our foot off the digital pedal. We do not want to lose any traction and momentum we have built with our online campus.
That’s why we are not simply showing services that are happening with a “real audience” on livestream. We are seeking to communicate directly to the real people who are on the other side of their screens.
We are not just trying to help people keep in touch with what’s taking place at a certain location. We are seeking to get people in touch with Jesus regardless of their location.
Phygital ministry is still a very new concept to us. We are continually learning, experimenting, and exploring new ways to expand our mission of making disciples of Jesus who love God, love people and serve our world, because whether we’re onsite or online, we’re always on mission.
So, expect some new wrinkles, twists, and attempts to become more phygital in the future, because in the future, churches that have the largest impact will think of themselves as digital organizations with physical expressions rather than physical organizations with digital presences. That’s a lot to unpack, but that’s enough for now.
Loving the Phygital Journey,