Online Learning — and Spiritual Growth

Online learning is a huge blessing to those who otherwise might not be able to attend classes or take part in education programs, whether because of geographical or financial limitations, or family responsibilities and scheduling conflicts.

And yet studies find that, while people enroll in online education courses and programs, they very often do not complete them. In a study of online education in Africa, one student pointed out that  “[i]n a regular class you have a teacher who is in front of you who makes you concentrate. With the online environment, you have to have discipline, make your own timetable to listen to the lectures, and submit the assignments online.”

It’s like joining a gym: you have the best of intentions, but oftentimes without a personal trainer there to motivate you and hold you accountable, you tend to let it slide. The same goes for learning online  — and spiritual growth in general.

Think about it: that’s precisely why we need church: for the community of people on similar journeys, who hold each other accountable, and who motivate, inspire, challenge, and teach each other. As the Rev. Frank Wade says in our course, The Episcopal Tradition, “By ourselves, we begin to worship ourselves.” Sure, he says, “you can worship God by taking a walk in the park — but does the God you meet in the park ever tell you anything you don’t want to hear?”

So online learning (or a gym membership) is only as good as the person invested in it. And the same is true of spiritual formation. If we want to grow in faith, we must commit to it and keep “showing up.” Faith communities are great in that they can help pull us back in when we stray, but at the end of the day, no one can make our journey for us.

What seems to work best for many people is a combination of online and in-person activities. ChurchNext offers several ways to meet this need: individuals in a parish can take a course on their own schedule but then meet regularly, or at the end of a prescribed time period, to discuss and think further about the course content. For example, your church can make a course available for, say, three weeks; parishioners can take the course at their leisure during that time period, and then meet as a group for coffee or dinner to share and discuss. Alternatively, small groups can use the For Groups version of a course to meet regularly, watch a video presentation, and then discuss it together.

How do you learn best? What fosters your spiritual growth? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

animate: Practices 3 launches today

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The third and final part of the animate: Practices series in conjunction with Augsburg Fortress launches today, and it’s another great one: this time, we’re led by scholars, authors, and pastors Shane Claiborne, Enuma Okoro, and Doug Pagitt in re-animating our engagements with three seemingly-mundane concepts: money, service, and community.

Shane offers his own experiences and learning on how we as Christians are called to think of and use money (and stuff and other resources), how the Bible can make us feel at odds with the world around us as well as offering us freedom and peace from this oddness. Sharing what we have and emphasizing a gospel of enough are practices that are both biblically-mandated and spiritually life-giving.

Likewise, Enuma Okoro reminds us that service isn’t something that just happens “out there” in third-world countries or in desperate hardships or labor; it’s also something we’re called to every day, in ordinary and small ways. Making ourselves available to each other and seeing the image of God in each other are what service is all about.

Finally, Doug Pagitt tells about his experiences with community as a transformative practice of mutual growth. He invites us to re-think what we expect or do when we welcome newcomers into our midst.

All three of these presenters offer thought-provoking talks on vital practices for the Christian life, and help breathe new energy into our faiths. Click here to learn more about this third course or to register.

We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

Shane is a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.  He is the author of several books including Jesus for President and Becoming Our Prayers.

Enuma is a writer, speaker, communications consultant and an award-winning author of four non-fiction books.  A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Enuma also served as the Director for the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity Law School.

Doug is associated with the emerging church movement and is founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis. He is the author of several books including Body PrayerChurch Re-imagined, and Flipped.

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.

Continuing to Shape Small Groups of Disciples

This week, we launch the following courses in our For Groups format:hands cross

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigan
Lessons in Belonging with Erin Lane
Introduction to Church History with Eric Williams
How to Share Your Faith with John Bowen
Making Sense of the Cross, Parts 1, 2, and 3 with David Lose
Crisis Communications with Meredith Gould

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray offers an engaging encounter with three different prayers that Methodist Pastor George Donigan says can help us focus and enrich our prayer lives: The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, and the Serenity Prayer. This course would be ideal for a small group centered around prayer or spirituality, or a ministry within your congregation that meets regularly. Alternatively, you might offer this course for a small group of seekers or newcomers.

Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging is a wonderful course that gets people thinking and talking about why membership in a faith community matters. It’s an ideal course to offer visitors and newcomers, or groups of young adults who are feeling the urge to return to regular church attendance. And Erin’s book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe, is a thought-provoking supplement to this course.

Those seeking to learn more about our church’s history might enjoy taking Eric Williams’s Introduction to Church History, which surveys the highs, lows, and important milestones from Jesus’ day to our own. It’s a wonderful overview of our church’s rich history as well as a great refresher for seasoned students. This course would complement an Inquirers Class or Confirmation Series as well.

As we continue to shape disciples within our faith communities, offering John Bowen’s How to Share Your Faith can help folks better understand the Gospel we have to share, why sharing our faith is critical to our lives and the lives of others, how to invite someone to church, getting over fears and frustrations that come with faith sharing, and how to help your church become an evangelizing community. Why not offer this course to the various ministry groups within your church, from Eucharistic Visitors to Greeters and Hospitality Hosts, to youth groups and adult formation groups? This is a course that can benefit everyone who wants to spread the Good News they’ve learned but may not be sure how to go about doing so in a life-giving and encouraging way.

David Lose’s excellent series, Making Sense of the Cross, can help Christians wrestle with the big questions and mysteries around Jesus’ crucifixion, the very “crux” of the Christian faith. This series is an ideal one for those who seek a deeper understanding of what we mean when we think, pray, and speak about the cross. David presents a complex subject in a very smart but accessible format. Each of the three parts can be used independently, or as a series, perhaps in a fall Adult Formation program.

Finally, Meredith Gould offers a course that should be required learning for all in church leadership: Crisis Communications helps anticipate and plan for minor and major events and catastrophes that can plague any organization. It’s better to be prepared with appropriate ways to respond to these situations rather than reacting in fear and ignorance after the fact. We encourage you to share this course with your clergy and lay leaders so that, in moments of crisis, they can effectively and healthily care for their communities, and be a source of strength, reassurance, and peace for those watching events unfold.

We continue to give thanks for all of you who are using these courses to enrich your formation offerings and shape disciples — and we’d love to hear how you’re using ChurchNext For Groups!  Visit us on Facebook and share your story!

More “For Groups” courses now available

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This week, the following courses go “live” in the For Groups format:

Advent for Families with Heath Howe
Lent for Families with Kim Baker
Reimagining Children’s and Youth Ministry with FaithForward
The Spirituality of Children with Catherine Maresca
Healthy Relationships for Couples with Scott and Holly Stoner
How to Help a Sick Friend with Joyce Mercer
How to Deal with Difficult People with Peter Steinke
How to Forgive with Virginia Holeman
Introduction to Christian Marriage with Paul Walters
Overcoming Sex Addiction with Mark Laaser

as well as our series about financial stewardship, Managing God’s Money, with Timothy Dombek:

Managing the Household Budget
Managing Credit Cards and Debt
Managing Church and Charity
Managing Retirement and Savings

Many people have the impression that churches talk about money too much — in the sense that they feel like churches are always “begging for money.” And yet, oftentimes, churches don’t talk about money enough, whether that means intentional teaching about Christian stewardship, or addressing local economic inequality, or talking about what the Bible really teaches about money. Why not make use of the For Groups format of Timothy Dombek’s excellent series on managing the money with which God has entrusted us? Start healthy, encouraging, proactive conversations about money and each person’s fears or worries or relationship with this topic. Talking about money doesn’t have to be a stress-inducing chore; rather, it can be a way to deepen our faith in God, and to make us aware of what sort of giving and commitments we’re being called to — if only we practice that trust.

Honestly and intentionally exploring our feelings about money — and how God is asking us to use our resources — can be a revitalizing and rewarding spiritual practice. Because many Christians have never really been taught how to be good stewards or how to create budgets and financial plans, your parish might use these Managing God’s Money courses for small group work, alongside workshops on estate planning and budgeting. You could create small groups with a wide range of ages and economic backgrounds to give people the opportunity to learn from each other’s resources and experiences. After all, we are called from the beginning of time to be good stewards of the world God has given us and to help people destroy those barriers of fear, ignorance, or mistrust that keep us from living in abundance.

We pray that, however you make use of these For Groups courses, you may grow in relationship and community with each other and with Jesus Christ.

All Things Being Made New

Spring is here and, with this season of renewal, we’re doing a little rearranging. We are so grateful that this dream has taken off to the extent that we’re able to lower our prices a bit and still stay in business, thanks to all of you who are a part of our mission to equip and nurture disciples through online learning.

We’re excited to announce our new pricing structure, which gives you more for your subscription dollars:

Our new entry level membership for individuals is only $9/month instead of $15. This gives unlimited access to ChurchNext courses that are for Individuals ONLY.

If you’re already an individual monthly member, your current membership for $15/mo unlimited subscription now gives you access to all of our products – the Individual courses and the ‘ChurchNext for Groups’ courses.

In addition, our ‘For Groups’ courses are now available for $15 each – or – as part of a Congregational subscription, which starts at $29/month.

If you’re an individual subscriber and would like to change to the $9/mo subscription plan, either email us at hello@churchnext.tv and we’ll do it for you – or – you can cancel on your own and sign up on your own via the instructions in the FAQs. If you’d like to continue at your current level, don’t do anything and you’ll see you now have access to all our courses designed for small group use.

Finally, let us say thank you for being open to something new, thank you for learning with us, and thank you for believing in us. We can’t tell you how your support gladdens our hearts.