The Vertical Slash:  Bifocals or Hybrid?


 Four years ago, I got my first pair of glasses. Until then, I had 20/20 vision. As a child, I ate many carrots to avoid having to wear glasses like Mama and my brother. I wanted to wear Foster Grant sunglasses, but the bespectacled look wasn’t for me. But things changed for me when one day while sitting in a meeting with the Bishop and other District Superintendents, we were looking at a presentation on two 90-inch TVs mounted on the wall.
For the first time, the images on the large screen seemed blurry to me. I asked the tech to focus the screens. But after sharpening the focus, everything was still blurry. The screens were not the problem. I needed glasses. I went to see an optometrist, and he fitted me with bifocals that he called no-line bifocals known as progressive lenses. I liked the name progressive better than bifocals.

By learning to adjust my head to look down while reading (but not while walking), I’ve mastered the ability to see far into the distance and nearby seamlessly. Perhaps we can use “bifocal” as a metaphor to switch our focal length to the near and distant focus seamlessly. Okay, so if you don’t like the bifocal analogy, then perhaps another way to talk about it is using the word “hybrid.” You know, like hybrid cars which have gasoline and alternative fueling. Some pastors are getting fancy with terminology and describing this phenomenon as “phygital,” the combination of physical and digital.
The movie industry has adjusted to a no-line bifocal model, and Wonder Woman 1895 (WW84) was the first to do so. Like many of our churches, WW84’s opening was delayed due to the pandemic and finally released on Christmas Day 2020. Honestly, I’m uncomfortable calling anything “phygital.” The fanciest that I’ll get is calling it “the vertical slash.” Perhaps you’ve seen this “vertical slash” while watching your favorite television show, and a trailer advertisement appears during the commercial break. Here’s the one that’s been catching my attention lately.

Do you see the vertical slash between “see it in theaters” and “on HBO Max?” Like my “no-line” bifocal glasses, this slash highlights the new model of a both/and movie offering that can be viewed in-person (near) and virtually (far). Several of our churches have learned to make this pivot. Even if your church lacks the internet signal or technology, you can still engage your church members and community with the vertical slash approach. I’m proud of several of our churches that have used the vertical slash approach to remote or physically distance and safe worship and community engagement.

It doesn’t matter about the church’s size or use of technology. The vertical slash model invites congregations to ask: How can we offer worship content that is practical, digestible, and helps people while connecting people to an authentic experience of God to form deep relationships with God and neighbor?
Other questions to consider of the vertical slash during the pandemic include:

  • What skills and abilities did we discover as we adjusted our ministry to meet the circumstances?
  • What are we better at doing now?
  • What was challenging about adjusting things?
  • What did we miss the most by not being together?
  • What did we discover isn’t as crucial to the life of our church as we thought?
  • Every congregation must answer the question, “Who is our neighbor?” How different is our answer to that question now than it was before COVID-19?
We’re still learning how to adjust our method during this pandemic. It’s the method that requires changing, not the mission! The mission remains the same: Life-change through connecting people with Jesus.
Being the church during the pandemic isn’t without its frustration, and hopefully, more churches will be able to gather in person for worship very soon safely. I continue to pray for each of you as we navigate the “vertical slash” adaptations in our churches.

 On the Journey,


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