2021 Online Annual Conference: Agenda, Book of Recommendations, Special Offering

South Georgia churches awarded more than $200,000 in grants for hybrid ministry


By Kara Witherow, Editor

During the coronavirus pandemic, social media – especially Facebook – has helped the Lone Hill United Methodist Church congregation stay connected, said pastor Rev. Lori Howell-Miller.

And with training and a $5,100 grant, the church plans to expand their social media presence, build a church website, post sermons and events on YouTube, and more.

“You can still be a rural, small church and still be vibrant and alive,” Rev. Howell-Miller said. “Technology will help break barriers for any of us.”

Rev. Howell-Miller and a Lone Hill UMC lay member attended the South Georgia Conference’s This and That Think Tank, a recent gathering of South Georgia pastors and laity interested in hybrid ministry.

Designed to help congregations innovate and expand both their in-person and digital ministries, the This and That Think Tank was led by Congregational Development. 40 congregations participated, 25 applied for grants, and more than $200,000 in grant funding was awarded.

In the past eight months or so, many pastors and church leaders have been doing “a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” said Anne Bosarge, assistant director of Congregational Development. They knew they needed both digital and in-person worship services, but didn’t really know how best to make them both happen well.

The Think Tank, she said, was to help pastors and lay members understand the available options and think about how they align with their church’s ministry and mission.

“The point of a hybrid ministry isn’t to have a hybrid ministry,” Bosarge said. “It’s to help you accomplish your mission. In the Think Tank we started by asking, ‘What is your mission? What is God calling you to do?’ That has not changed. The method has changed. The mission remains the same.” 

Held both in person and virtually, churches of all sizes attended the Think Tank – small, rural congregations to large, city churches. And while grant requests – totaling $417,000 – ran the gamut, the ones granted were specifically for hybrid ministry.

Grants were given for new equipment, podcast support, for new online campuses, for creating new spaces for hybrid worship or filming, for coaching, and more.

“Many people came in thinking it was just your online worship experience and they left thinking it could be used for so much more,” Bosarge said. “The Think Tank gave them a broader picture of hybrid discipleship, not just hybrid worship.”

Lone Hill UMC – which celebrates its 173rd birthday this year – is excited about how the grant will help them expand their ministry and reach out to the community, Rev. Howell-Miller said. She’s also eager to have the church’s youth involved with the technology and more invested and contributing to God’s kingdom.

“We’re still doing what we’ve always done, we’re just using some new lure,” she said, referencing Luke 5:10. “We’re not changing what we do, we’re just bringing in some new ways.”

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