Intentionally Moving the Church Forward: A Reflection on Stadia’s Phygital

Nov 16, 2020

Growing up, my family and I always joked by asking, “what is normal anyway?

I cannot think of a better question to ask in the year 2020.

If you are like me, you probably rang in the new year with some type of plan or map of how you expected the year to go. For those of us who work in the church world, the new year is full of prayers and planning for what’s ahead and, more importantly, for whom will be visiting our buildings. Set lists, sermon prep and visitor areas are in full-swing, ready to welcome those who maybe made a commitment or renewal to go back to church or explore faith again. 

It didn’t take long for all of that to change, not go away, but change. 

Depending on where you live, what stage of life you are in or health journeys you navigate, you find yourself not visiting a church or joining with your church family in person. While that is something you are reminded of weekly, I can promise you that your church leaders carry the weight of it daily. 

Earlier this year, I was planning on planting a church. I had gone through training with Stadia, my plans were in place, conversations were in full swing and next steps were unfolding quickly. In April 2020, after two life-saving surgeries, adopting our first child and on the brink of graduating seminary, we thought God had tied up a pretty little bow of our time in Marietta, Ga. Then, in one of those moments that can only be articulated by asking “God, what are you doing?”, my church, my wife and I sensed a change in direction, a pivot if you will. 

I went to the leadership of North Metro Church, where I had been on staff since 2017, and boldly asked “Is it possible for me to still move so I can begin building relationships for this church plant, but still be on full-time staff here?” I probably played 400 possible scenarios of their response through my mind in the few seconds it took them to respond. What I thought may be full of laughter or confusion, turned out to be providence. It turns out that North Metro Leadership was already thinking through how to create a full online church experience where people can live out Hebrews 10:25 digitally. As a church, we have been streaming our services for years, but now there was a desire to want to do something beyond that, something that helped create and build a digital community. And from that conversation of this new vision, I became North Metro’s Online Campus Pastor and the first full-time remote staff member. 

Shortly after this time, Stadia communicated they were launching something new that they were calling “Phygital.” They were in the process of starting a bi-monthly digital gathering for churches and leaders to engage in conversations around how to blend the experiences of physical church with the unlimited reach of digital church, hence the word phygital. After the incredible experience North Metro and I had with Stadia through the church planting process, saying yes to this was a no-brainer. 

Led by Jeff Reed and Justin Moxley, in May 2020, Stadia launched the Phygital Church Futurist Community. Our time together consists of:

  • getting to ask hard and vulnerable questions,
  • engaging in conversation,
  • and learning from some pioneers in this area like Jay Kranda from Saddleback and Mark Venti from Churchome.

One thing I love about this community is the intentionality: whether it’s the guest speaker or the topic of conversation, every experience is thoroughly thought through. Jeff and Justin gave out their cell phone numbers and told us to call or text anytime (probably something they regret based on how much I have texted). And, the community has moved off screen. I have had phone calls with other attendees. We have prayed over each other’s ministries, burdens and concerns. Here we are now 6 months later and it is still two of my favorite days of the month.

In addition to that, in October, Stadia held an all day event called Phygital Meetup. I did not realize how much I needed that day. While I got to have some fun and win the most social engagement points by connecting with other attendees (pretty proud seeing my name at the top of the leaderboard), that day gave me back a sense of normal as a pastor. 

You see, as a pastor, I can tell you we think about you, our people, everyday. We hurt when you hurt. We celebrate when you celebrate. We feel the tension of meeting physically while creating a digital experience. Sometimes as a pastor, you just need a moment, a day, to place all of that into the arms of The Father and remember that you too are one of His children whom He cares for. That’s what the Phygital Meetup did for me. I felt the rest, care and peace that my Savior promises me in Matthew 11:28-30. That’s what the Phygital Church Futurist Community points me back to twice a month. Have I learned a ton? Yes, absolutely! Are we trying new things as a church phygitally? You better believe it, in fact, we are working on something right now that I cannot wait to share with our community, but I have to be patient. But, it’s the intentionality of helping pastors and the church move people from screen to community that I love most. 

If you find yourself needing this type of community, I beg you to go to https://stadiachurchplanting.org/phygital/ or if I can help you directly, reach out to me and I will do for you what Stadia has done for me. 

It’s time for the church to become phygital. We must be willing to give present and future generations the ability to move from screen to community. When people look back, may 2020 be a moment in church history where everyone knows those present at the time prayed hard, rolled-up their sleeves and were intentional to continue moving the church forward, even though it required something new.

Justin Woelk serves at the Online Campus Pastor for North Metro Church in Marietta, GA. Their online campus serves thousands globally and is served by a digital volunteer team that helps people move from screen to community.  He and his family live in Augusta, Ga. where they are also in the beginning stages of planting a church. 

Justin Woelk

Online Campus Pastor, North Metro Church - Marietta, GA