2 Years In

Happy Birthdayto us!

This week marks our second anniversary — and we’re both grateful for what has gone on for the past two years and excited for what’s to come. We started with a simple mission: to shape disciples by making the most of online learning technology. The Church has a strong history of using the latest technologies and communication media to spread the Gospel — just think of the printing press and television, and the ways they’ve enabled folks to learn and grow in ways unfathomable to earlier generations.

Over the past two years we’ve launched over 100 courses of rich and engaging content on everything from parenting to grief to Scripture and Church history; marriage and relationships to theology and world religions; liturgy and worship to divorce and social justice. And most of our courses are now available in our alternative “For Groups” format, designed for small group use.

We love hearing all the ways that dioceses, churches, and individuals are using ChurchNext to learn, to build community, and to engage in fruitful conversation and spiritual formation. ChurchNext helps connect folks who can’t make it to services on a Sunday; it offers people a new way to grapple with the issues that concern us all; to ask the big questions and reanimate their faith lives; and to feel educated and empowered as they further the mission of the Gospel in this world.

We’ve offered several “massive, open, online courses” (MOOCs) free to the world, allowing thousands of people from dozens of countries to engage in learning and discussion with seekers far and wide, taught by such luminaries as Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, activist Cornel West, and Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens.

We’ve enjoyed the partnership and support of several organizations and companies with similar missions, such as seminaries, churches, non-profits, and Christian publishing houses. We’ve loved meeting folks face to face at conferences and conventions.

And some parishes and dioceses have made use of their subscriptions and of the ChurchNext online learning platform technology to create their own courses and offerings, supplementing such programs as pre-baptism and confirmation education, catechumenate and new-member ministry, and church management and governance trainings.

We thank God daily for the blessings that have come out of ChurchNext already and for the wonderful ways God is using online learning to change lives. We’re excited about our new look coming in August, new courses in the pipeline, new partnerships and ways of reaching people all over the world.

Thanks for being part of our lives over the past two years — we can’t wait to see what God has in store next.

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Instructor Highlight: Chris Stepien

There are precious few mentions of Jesus in the Bible that involve his childhood. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can learn from imagining what the child Jesus would have been like. Chris Stepien, author of Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah, has consulted stepienScripture, commentaries, and other authorities to piece together what life for the pre-teen Jesus would have been like.

As a journalist, in fact, Chris Stepien has spent his career asking tough questions and telling intriguing stories. His Amazon author profile tells the story:

He’s worked as a television producer-director and writer for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). From 1979 to 1987, while at WXYZ-TV, Detroit, he won six EMMY awards for documentaries, sports and celebrity specials, and children’s programming, as well as many other honors. Stepien left broadcasting to co-found Adventure, Inc., a successful Detroit-based video/film production company. He created award-winning communications for Fortune 500 companies like General Motors and Ford Motor Company for nearly nine years. Since 1996, Stepien has crafted marketing and advertising for global clients as writer-creative director and owner of Stepien Creative Services, Inc.

A lifelong metro Detroiter and Roman Catholic, Stepien attended parochial schools and was an altar boy. He and his wife, Ellen, have two adult sons, Alex and Mike. Chris and Ellen are Vincentians, active members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP). Stepien, a former SVdP conference president, is currently spiritual advisor to a group of Vincentians in Dearborn, Michigan. Their core mission is to respond to the needs of poor families in the surrounding community, visit them in their homes, and provide financial assistance, guidance, friendship, and hope.

Bible studies, spiritual exercises, and praying the rosary inspired the author to write this novel about young, preteen Jesus. Stepien relied on his humble love of God and his passion for visual storytelling to help him shape this account of the boy Messiah, and His Passover pilgrimage. His experiences serving the needy and children of alcoholics were very influential, as well.

So if you’re yearning to know and understand Jesus this Easter season, consider our course, either as an individual or in a small group. We’re grateful to offer the research and talents of Chris — and of all of our gifted instructors — as we seek to shape disciples, transform hearts, and share the Good News.

ChurchNext for Groups launches today

fishers of men

We are called to live and learn in community, and we here at ChurchNext are committed to shaping and forming disciples in this way. When we launched two years ago, we did so with the aim of offering more ways for Christians and seekers to gather in community to learn, question, pray, and grow, making use of technology to enable learning in non-traditional settings. Our courses offer people time to stop, listen, think, pray, and discuss with others in their church –anytime, anywhere. Online discussions enable folks to chat whenever they wish — and from wherever they are.

And now, with ChurchNext for Groups, you’ll be able to use the rich content of our courses in small group settings. ChurchNext for Groups offers the same videos and discussion questions, but in a format that enables people to watch the videos together, on one screen, and then have in-person discussions. In this way we hope that the library of educational resources that ChurchNext offers can also meet the needs of those hungering for physical community and connection.

We are thrilled to launch the first fifteen ChurchNext for Groups courses today:

How to Pray with Christopher Martin

When We Get Angry with God with Laurie Brock

Creeds and Commitments of the Prayer Book with Jason Fout

Handling the Work-Life Balance with David Gray

Praying with Icons with Randall Warren

The Gospel of Mark with David Lose

Creating Common Good 1: Economic Inequality with Bishop Julio Murray

An American Prayer Book, A Global Prayer Book with Tom Ferguson

The Episcopal Tradition with Frank Wade

Culture and Leadership with TREC (Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church)

Mission and Leadership with TREC

Reimagining Church Leadership with TREC

How to Take a Sabbath with MaryAnn McKibben Dana

How to Simplify Your Life with Mark Scandrette

Each ChurchNext for Groups course comes with a Facilitator’s Guide and a Participant’s Guide that you can print out and use in small-group meetings, either at church, in people’s homes, wherever you’d like to meet. The Facilitator’s Guide is designed to empower lay people to lead small groups, since it doesn’t necessarily take an advanced degree or an ordination certificate to run a successful small group. Willingness to lead and learn is all that’s required.

It is our prayer that ChurchNext for Groups can help us continue to shape, teach, equip, and inspire disciples for the work of the Church. We will continue to launch courses for groups in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, visit us on Facebook and let us know what you think!

Lessons in Belonging with Erin Lane launches today

Lessons in Belonging, from Erin Lane’s new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Churchgoing Commitment-Phobe, speaks to a real — and pressing — issue in the Church: everyone’s deep soul-need to belong, alongside a culture that is increasingly reluctant to actually do so. erin

This is especially true for the “nones” — those under 30s who check the “none” box when asked which religion they affiliate with. In a culture of cynicism and mistrust, along with a reluctance to commit or conform, many misunderstand the blessings, gifts, and healthy challenges that come with committing to a church community. Erin shares her own experiences and helps remind us of the benefits of truly belonging, and the rewards that make taking that risk so worthwhile. Being in community, being vulnerable, learning how to love charitably, to see the best in people and be reminded of our own true selves — these disciplines can, like honoring the Sabbath — be a pathway to living a life larger than our own limited imaginations can fathom.

Erin’s course is a fabulous one for those considering joining a church and for those who might need a reminder of why they belong. You may never think of church membership the same way again. Click here to register or for more information.

Creating Common Good Part 2 is now open!

We’re thrilled to launch the second Creating Common Good course in partnership with Trinity Institute. In Creating Common Good 2: Christian Responsibility, Rachel Held Evans helps us rethink how we as Christians understand economic and social responsibility.

At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, as it is written:The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:14-15

evansRachel invites us to reconsider what we mean by “neighbor” and how we might take Eucharist out into our communities. Sharing her own experiences as an evangelical, she reclaims the term “evangelical” as one that indicates a commitment to justice, equality, and generosity through attention to Biblical teaching. This course will challenge, inform, and inspire all Christians who seek to address the overwhelming problem of economic injustice in our world. Click here for more information or to register.

Rachel Held Evans is a popular evangelical author and speaker. She blogs at rachelheldevans.com.

Part III of Animate: Faith is open!

We continue to be excited about the potential for life-changing conversation that the innovative Animate series offers; the final course in this three-part series, Animate: Faith 3, launches today. This unique program is designed to spur thought, discussion, wondering, pondering, and spiritual growth not by offering answers to some of faith’s most difficult or basic questions but by offering new ways of considering them.animate

Animate Faith 3 features two more of the most engaging and sought-after speakers on faith today: Lauren Winner invites us to consider just why we read and re-read the Scriptures, and what makes them different from any other great book. She also suggests ways we might renew our daily Scripture reading, using “embodied cognition.” And Bruce Reyes-Chow helps us rethink what we mean when we call the church a “family.” He suggests that going to church — and being part of an often dysfunctional family group — can be the best decision we can make.

This course is produced in partnership with Augsburg Fortress Publishing, which offers the Animate Faith DVD curriculum as well as facilitator guides and journals for small groups. Click here to find out more.

For more information or to register for Animate Faith 3 please click here.

New course: The Spirituality of Children with Catherine Maresca

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” ~Luke 18:17

Children have unique experiences and understandings of God, and these understandings change as children grow and develop.  What’s more, the joy and sense of communion that children feel with God can be nurtured and encouraged; in fact, beginning spiritual formation at a very young age can ensure that children grow up with a deep sense of the benevolence and closeness of a loving God.  We as adults can learn — or relearn — a great deal from children’s spirituality.maresca

This course is a fascinating look at how children’s spirituality begins and changes according to identifiable developmental stages.  The research and wisdom that Catherine Maresca collects and shares in these lessons can benefit parents, children’s ministers, and anyone who longs to recapture a childlike joy and connection to God.

Catherine Maresca is the director of the Center for Children and Theology, which publishes resources and research related to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.