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2021 Synod Assembly: Ryan Panzer Keynote Part One

By The Rev. Michele Fischer – Colony, Newberry

Our Keynote speaker for the 2021 South Carolina Lutheran Synod Assembly is Ryan Panzer. Panzer describes himself as having one foot in the tech work, working for companies like Google, and one foot in the church, being a graduate of Luther seminary. He is the author of Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech-Shaped Culture (Fortress Press 2020).

This year’s keynote could not be more timely, given where we as the Church find ourselves in the summer of 2021. Many of our South Carolina congregations have returned to the sanctuary, and at the same time are trying to offer a hybrid worship — worship that is both in-person and online.

Panzer argues that hybrid worship should not defined as both online and in person. Rather, he argues that we need to incorporate the best of both the old and the new.

Prior to the pandemic, the church community was effective at equipping people for lives of service. Panzer tells the story of a woman who needed help moving. Though she was not a longtime member of the church, when she expressed her need, the church jumped in to help, lending a pickup truck, strong arms for moving furniture, and even help with packing. Church in person gives us the opportunity to connect with others, and to be engaged in helping.

But the old church, the pre-pandemic church, was not always inviting. The buildings themselves often had steps and stairs which made access   difficult for older adults and those with physical limitations. Panzer recalls how isolated his grandmother felt when she moved to a retirement community and was unable to attend weekly worship. The pandemic church, forced to be online, was great at inviting and including people. Everyone could join in, whether near or far; the technology took away limitations that once existed.  Suddenly 90% of churches moved online, and church attendance went up because it was easy to access from home. 66% of all churched adults were worshipping online! But the online church was not as great at connecting people and equipping people to be servants in the world.

The hybrid church, the church of tomorrow, needs to incorporate both the opportunity to be engaged with others and the invitation and inclusive environment created online.

Before concluding the first session, Panzer left us with these questions:

  • How can our ministry context use hybrid ministry to be more inviting and more inclusive?
  • How can our hybrid ministry extend the our into the digital age?

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