Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age


James Emery White


Zondervan Reflective

Publication Date:

February 28, 2023




240 pages


The pandemic pushed many churches to go online, and many pastors predicted that 2022 would bring a rush of people returning to physical services. For the most part, that didn’t happen. James Emery White suggests the fundamental reason is that while the pandemic pushed so many churches to go online, it’s been clear that combining physical and digital services is the way forward for a while.  White provides a series of tools for churches to develop a new model: using digital tools to reach people well, while engaging well in person with those who do show up.

As he explains these tools, he deals with questions like:

  • Does “two or more gathered in my name” mean Christians must be physically present?
  • Do digital services lead to shallower engagement or just different engagement?
  • How can churches go beyond simply streaming services online to giving a well-crafted digital church experience?
  • What are some recent trends (social media, the metaverse, VR) that churches can utilize?
  • How does recent data about Generation Z show “phygital spaces” (physical+digital) are the way forward?

White uses a classic argument about how the church has embraced tech over the years (the printing press spreading Protestant Reformation ideas, evangelicals adopting computers early on to spread the gospel) to good effect here. He also summarizes how America’s post-Christian society is changing how we do evangelism, generating a need for new tactics.

He does sometimes gloss over questions about digital tech. For example, he argues that the social isolation many of us attribute to social media began long before that (citing a book published in 2000 about American isolation). He makes a fair point that American society has been losing its social cohesion for a long time. For example, much has been said about how the suburban communities that sprouted in the 1950s, which so many churches market to, also isolate people because they discourage connection to the land.

While White does make a fair case that social media isn’t the only thing driving American loneliness, he skims over concerns about its downsides. He argues from his church’s experience that people can be virtual attendees and still consider the church their church, and that his church hasn’t seen congregants losing connection or involvement. However, he doesn’t reference any studies on whether constant tech use leads to attention span issues, struggles to grasp context, or serves as a poor substitute for in-person connection. These are all concerns that are being discussed, but it’s the one area where he doesn’t cite a variety of studies to support his point. Perhaps all these concerns require a book of their own, a church guide to help people use digital tech wisely and even help people recover from overuse. Still, those questions deserve a chapter or at least a section in this book.

White also doesn’t dig enough into one of his more interesting points: Generation Z may spend a lot of time online, but they want genuine interaction when they do meet in person. This may prove to be the church’s saving grace because it can get past Generation Z cynicism about hip churches providing cool experiences. In the last forty years, various evangelical churches—Mars Hill and Willow Creek Community Church among them—gained fame for innovative solutions to reach the young. Nancy Beach shows in Next Sunday how that can go wrong—her experience belonging to Willow Creek’s first generation, then reassessing the church’s image after hearing allegations about Bill Hybels. These scandals and others have changed the game. Evangelical churches have lost face and must rebuild a lot of trust in the future. Given that Generation Z is more likely than past generations to be cynical about religion, and digital tech means they can look up a church’s history in a few seconds, honest interactions will prove key to rebuilding trust.

While White may skim discussing digital tech’s downsides and how to add a personal touch to the mix, he does show how any church can adapt to combining digital and physical tech. He especially excels at using his years as a pastor (his first book argued that the Southern Baptist Convention needed to rethink its evangelism model) to show it’s possible to adapt to new tech, maintain the heart of the Gospel, yet communicate the Gospel in new ways to new generations.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

3 stars

Suggested Audience:

Church leaders considering how to use digital tech well without losing the things that every healthy church needs.

Christian Impact:

White pushes audiences to consider what it means to be part of a Christian community in a digital age—for example, does “two or more gathered in my name” necessarily mean gathering in person? He also demonstrates a wise approach to using technology in a God-honoring way.


Note: to read other ECLA reviews of books on churches adapting to tech, read:





Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age



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