Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about churches closing. As many as 100,000 church-owned properties are expected to be sold or repurposed by 2030. Some have suggested that the church is in the midst of a decisive moment in which it is being remade for the future.

As leaders explore various ways to revitalize struggling congregations, I hope they will consider a promising possibility: leveraging partnerships and technology to support struggling houses of worship.

A model called “hybrid shared ministry” can be a way to help struggling congregations thrive. My church, drawing on what we learned during the pandemic about using technology to serve the congregation, is now applying these insights in a different context. Even though this model uses digital technology — recorded sermons and small group videos — it also empowers personal and participatory ministry.

We began developing the model a year ago, when the leaders of a rural congregation approached our congregation for help. Since ours is larger and has previous experience in church revitalization, they asked whether we might be able to develop a creative solution for their dwindling resources.

Like many others, this congregation struggles with declining and aging membership, financial constraints and an unclear future. They are in a small community between two larger cities. The congregation was at an inflection point after 35 years — they could no longer afford to pay a full-time pastor and were considering closing the church and selling the building.

Wanting to help prevent that outcome, we worked with their leaders to develop a hybrid shared ministry model that leverages partnerships and technology for sustainable ministry.

This hybrid shared ministry involves a larger church (the sponsoring congregation) working with a struggling one (the partner congregation). The sponsoring congregation leverages digital technology to provide shared ministry materials with the partner congregation.

Hybrid shared ministry offers cost-effective ministry to a small or struggling congregation while maximizing the use of ministry content created by the sponsoring congregation.

Unlike a dual parish or multichurch arrangement, in which one pastor serves multiple smaller congregations, this model uses digital technology as the core of the relationship between the congregations. This allows the smaller congregation to retain its in-person community, leadership and autonomy.

Here’s how it works for us:


In our case, the partner congregation alternates between recorded sermons and an in-person sermon every other week. I prepare a sermon to be preached at my congregation and then record it for the partner congregation and upload it to a shared file system. The sermon is for my congregation, but I personalize it for the partner congregation with a greeting at the beginning.

On the weeks when the partner congregation has a recorded sermon, a lay leader will conduct the rest of the worship service. On the weeks when they have an in-person sermon, we schedule for a guest pastor to lead our entire service, including the sermon and Holy Communion. The sponsoring congregation coordinates the scheduling and payments for the guest preachers at the partner congregation.

Even though the partner congregation relies on some recorded sermons and digital technology, this model provides a way for them to have consistent in-person worship and embodied community.

Small group materials

Our congregation prepares videos and small group discussion guides several times a year, and as the sponsoring congregation, we share these Bible study materials with the partner congregation. This requires almost no extra work for our folks. The partner congregation benefits from using the materials, and we maximize our staff efforts by sharing them.


The partner congregation participates in the sponsoring church’s congregational events like vacation Bible school, ministry summits and dramas. Since these events require considerable volunteer time and money, hosting them is not something the partner congregation can do. And everybody wins: as with the sermons and small group materials, this approach allows the sponsoring congregation to see more impact from these time-consuming projects.

There is a financial component to this hybrid shared ministry. The congregations create a financial agreement through which the sponsoring congregation recoups its staff time investment while offering affordable options to the financially constrained partner congregation. This allows the sponsoring congregation to compensate guest pastors on the weeks when the partner congregation has an in-person sermon. We have been using six-month agreements signed by leaders from both congregations.

We are nearly a year into this hybrid shared ministry. The partner congregation has experienced a modest increase in attendance and renewed financial solvency. People in our congregation have made new friends while maximizing the impact of our time and effort.

Best of all, this model has given us another option beyond simply closing a church. It may not stop 100,000 church-owned properties from being sold or repurposed in the next several years. But it has allowed at least one more congregation to remain open and engaged in ministry with its community. They are hopeful about their future, and so am I.