Turramurra embraces hybrid service model

Turramurra embraces hybrid service model

For Turramurra Uniting Church, COVID-19 has seen a dramatic shift in the way congregations meet. This shift has seen the church embrace the hybrid service model, where some congregation members join in person, while others engage online.

Turramurra Uniting Church minister Rev. Phil Swain told Insights that when COVID hit, the church decided to move all three of its distinctly different worship services online. The traditional worship service is pre-recorded and distributed via YouTube or personally delivered DVDs, while the two contemporary services have been live-streamed using FaceBook live where the congregation can gather together and interact.

In October, Turramurra restarted in-person worship for two contemporary services in the hybrid model – simultaneously online and in-person – where the goal is that the online experience is just as complete, engaging, and interactive as the in-person experience. 

“A typical worship service would start both online and on the big screen at church 10 minutes before the normal worship time with a Countdown,” Rev. Swain said.

“This is an opportunity for people to find our live stream and say hello to each other before the worship service, just as they would in the foyer of the church.  The in-person attendees are also encouraged to be online in the building to interact in the live stream conversations.”

“The service starts with a welcome/rollcall where each week we ask two “getting to know each other” questions to encourage interaction and conversation online.  As we move through worship, we have three cameras capturing all the action for the live stream as well as all the song words, sermon slides and other information on the big screen being shown on the live stream.”

“We have had to be creative working out how to share the live stream screen with both the camera images and the song words/sermon slides.  Throughout the service, people are encouraged to comment on the live stream chat and the worship leader/preacher is encouraged to interact with the online conversation.” 

“Since returning we have found that in our morning service (which is more family-based) about half the congregation is attending in person and about half are watching online.  In our evening service (which is more young adult-focused), about 80 per cent of the congregation is attending in person and about 20 per cent online.”

Doing church in new ways has also been the source of opportunities for Turramurra.

“The other unexpected bonus of COVID is that we have a number of non-local people now regularly watching/participating in our services with people connecting in from the rural NSW, the coasts and Western Sydney and are expressing an interest in a continuing relationship with TUC,” Rev. Swain said.

Turramurra Uniting Church aims to continue the hybrid model for the foreseeable future, in keeping with broader research that suggests that this will be the norm. The congregation has invested in a camera and live streaming system for the church, to ensure that those who have joined the service online can continue doing so.

“We have a number of people who are not geographically close connecting into our worship now which we wish to value and support, hence our commitment to Hybrid worship remaining,” Rev Swain said.

As Insights has previously reported, the hybrid model has its share of challenges, including retaining people who may ‘drop-out’ of regular worship.

“We have found that maintaining relational connections have been harder than we thought – especially as many of the informal ad hoc pastoral conversations happen around morning teas/suppers and other acts of hospitality – many of which have been hard during COVID,” Rev Swain said.

“We have also wrestled with what does it mean to be a member of a church – especially if you are not geographically close – and how we value our responsibility to support, nurture and journey with people both online and in-person.” 

“COVID has created a lot of extra work but it has also opened doors of opportunity.”

For more information on Turramurra Uniting Church visit the official website here.

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