Behind the Scenes at ChurchNext 1

BTS 1So how does ChurchNext go about our mission of producing online learning experiences that shape disciples?

This post is about the ‘brass tacks’ behind the operation.  Thanks to the rapid evolution of technology (can you believe the Internet is just 25 years old this month?), we’ve been able to pull together a handful of really talented educators, writers, and clergy to envision what online learning might look like for ourselves and the people in our pews.  Of course we keep in mind the old adage, ‘She who has a good idea is to be praised, she who can execute it is to be worshipped.’

With that in mind, we thought we’d introduce you to the way our courses are assembled around here.

It starts with the ‘White Board,’ which is filled with potential course ideas and subjects. These are generated from our subscribers, Course Shotstaffers, social media comments, publishers, seminaries, etc.  In actual fact, it really isn’t a white board anymore because we outgrew it – now it’s a very long Google Doc (right). We review this from time to time, we pray about it, and come up with a short list. Since it costs us a considerable sum to produce a class, we want to make sure it’s timely, helpful, and meets the needs as we can best surmise them.

Once we decide on the course we’re going to do, we start to make contact with potential instructors. We try to keep to two basic rules: 1) the instructor must have expertise in the subject, for example, have either written a book, and or have an advanced degree in the topic; and 2) they must have a moderate point of view.

Once we select an instructor we go ahead and make contact. Most potential instructors have not heard of us, or of online learning in this way, so we bring them up to speed and if we connect, we go ahead and talk about their course.

While we make suggestions as to how we envision a course going, we leave the final outline up to the instructor.  From there, we schedule a recording date, either in person or via SKYPE and capture the video aspect of the course.

Once the video is complete, it goes onto the edit list, where it is edited to include music, animated backgrounds, Ashley Busseand graphics. You can check out our YouTube channel to see what these look like. These videos are then made into Mp3 files. From there, these videos and Mp3s are uploaded to our server;we use Vimeo for video and have an Amazon Web Services account for docs, etc.  These files are then inserted into a course path on our ChurchNext platform, which was designed in partnership with our technology partner, Pathwright.  From here the initial writer can begin work.  There’s Ashley on the left, she’s one of our talented writers. We are now relatively confident the course will move forward, so we go ahead and plan a tentative launch date.

Once our writer pores over not just the video, but other information sources as well, like the books, articles, blogs or other sources the instructor might suggest, their product goes to Shannon Kellya senior editor.  This is Shannon, who’s on the right.  She double checks everything – accuracy, spelling, etc. of both text and video.  We work together to correct any sorts of errors and, after 70 or so courses, we haven’t had to ‘pull’ one from the mix yet.

Once the course is finished we can go ahead and confirm the launch date. We like to keep 6 weeks or so ahead of schedule. We typically have courses pencilled in to our calendars about 6 months ahead.

Next comes the launch.  We launch a new course every Sunday. We do so by sending emails and writing social media posts to let people know about them. We also contact the course instructor and invite them to take the course and share it with others.

Throughout the process we pray. Yep, we’re a praying bunch. We pray for our customers, instructors, and every student who might take one of these courses, that their lives and the world would be changed for the better.  We look at our work as a vocation, a calling, and are, in many ways, humbled to be a part of this. Thanks to you for reading this far – and to God for taking us this far.

Leaning into Your Fears: The New Face of Ministry

Christian leaders have long preached that fear is an enemy to be avoided.  But I would suggest that the new face of ministry means we need to befriend fear and walk with it. Our fears include trying something new, dancing with the Institution, and befriending our context in new and innovative ways.

A few years ago when a number of friends and I began laying the groundwork for ChurchNext we did so because we wanted to find a way to engage people who said they wanted to learn more about faith but were unable to commit to traditional ‘content delivery venues’ (ie six mid-week, in-person education classes). So we began exploring online education and were taken by its big three attractions: expert teachers, convenience, and affordability. So, we decided to try something new: build online schools for churches which would allow formation to happen online as well as in-person. Our fears were real because none of us had ever done this before. Our fears were somewhat assuaged though, because few others had either.

Sure, there were other entities out there who were not only much better equipped, but who probably saw this as part of their missions – who are we to do this?  Soon we realized it’s new ground, we’re all standing there, and no one was staking claim to it, so we did. And we did so partnering quite successfully with denominational leadership, publishing houses, and other existing ministries. When trying something new, it’s not us-vs.-them, be a learner, look at what God’s doing, lay our gifts on the table, rely on the Spirit and do it together.

Finally, what’s kept us going is realizing our context: a very small percentage of us routinely try new things: 2.4% of us are considered innovators on the ‘change adaptation’ bell curve. Church institutions are no different. Trying something new means there will be people who ‘get’ you – but mostly, you’ll be in for a slog, so plan for it and embrace it.

Today, while we’ve hopped many hurdles, the key understanding is that none of us has ever done anything significant that has not involved fear. Quit looking at fear as your enemy and start looking to fear as your validation – that you’re attempting something of significance. God is with us through our fears. Have faith. If you’re not doing something fearful today, will it be memorable, life-changing, and valuable tomorrow?

Parish Profile: Trinity Episcopal Church, Belleville, MI – What Does ChurchNext Look Like in Your Congregation?

blog coverTrinity Episcopal Church in Belleville, MI was one of the first parishes to sign on to ChurchNext, and its leader says, ‘Overall it’s going well, but with a couple of challenges.’ You can watch the 4:32 interview here.

The Rev. Eric Williams says getting people to sign up – and bringing new technology into the church have been the growing edges.

We like to say that ChurchNext is a bit like online banking in 1998 – not only are we getting used to the possibility of learning about faith online, but we also realize that not coming together is a big change in the way we used to do things.  But we are thankful to be moving through this time together, staying on Jesus, and designing new ways to follow him.

Sneak Peek: Introducing the Book of Common Prayer

Sneak Peek BSAs we’ve been sharing with you, we are elated to soon offer an eight-part series on The Book of Common Prayer in partnership with Bexley Seabury Theological Federation. These are online, on-demand courses, each will take an average learner 45 minutes to work through. We’ve recorded some of the courses and are set to begin rolling them out in May.

But today, we want to give you a sneak peek of the first class, taught by Bexley Seabury’s dean, Tom Ferguson. It’s called ‘An American Prayer Book, A Global Prayer Book.’ Click here to watch it. If you don’t follow Tom’s popular blog, Crusty Old Dean, you ought to. Tom is an incredibly talented thinker, teacher, and writer. And in this course he gives us an overview of the Book of Common Prayer, its origins, its future, as well as its global impact. This is one of the four videos that will make up this course. Tom has broken down this course into four parts called ‘The,’ ‘Book,’ ‘Common,’ and ‘Prayer.’ This one is called ‘The.’

Other courses in this eight-part series will include: The Spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer with Karl Ruttan, Scripture and the Prayer Book with Roger Ferlo, History of the Prayer Book with John Dally, Creeds and Commitments with Jason Fout, Singing the Prayer Book with Milner Seifert, and Collects of the Prayer Book with Ellen Wondra. We will begin launching these courses, roughly one per week, beginning mid-May.  Thanks to Seabury and its talented staff for sharing their gifts so we might all grow in the knowledge and love of Christ.


Why You Need to Go to the eFormation Conference in June

For the second year in a row, Virginia Theological Seminary is offering its eFormation conference, eFormation: Faith Formation for a Digitally, Connected World, June 1-4 in Alexandria, VA.  What drew 200 people from across the U.S., and several countries last year was the heartfelt conviction that Jesus’ call was to make disciples (not just converts) and that doing so in today’s hyper-connected, incredibly distracting world is both increasingly challenging and exciting. This year’s conference will be much bigger – and better.

Full disclosure, for the second year I am one of the presenters at this conference as ChurchNext has been working closely with VTS in our shared labor to develop resources, connections, experiments, and collegiality around what we believe the Holy Spirit is leading the Church into.  While this is held at an Episcopal seminary, participants come from many backgrounds as we all witness the breaking down of denominational walls, giving us an even greater palette from which to color our futures.

So, why attend this conference? Why not just read up on the presenters and their work via their books or online offerings?  Three reasons (yes, I purposely didn’t title this post, ‘Three Reasons Why You Should Attend eFormation’ because aren’t we all a bit tired of this sophomoric hook?)

1) Great Presenters – Here’s the list of presenters for this year (I’ve provided links to their websites and other work so you can learn more about them): Sharon Ely Pearson, John Roberto, Randall Curtis, Robbin Whittington, Edgar Giraldo, Bruce Baumgarten, Julie Lytle, Tim Schenck, Colin Chapman, Chris Yaw, Tom Tomaszek, Peter Turner, Jay Mallin, Lisa Kimball, Dorothy Linthicum, Kyle Oliver.

Yes, this is an all-star cast. The ‘A’ Team. Just a cursory read through the bios and extensive work that this group of professionals has assembled should be enough to get most of us to book our flights right now. These are gifted writers, presenters, thinkers, listeners, innovators, and dedicated followers of Jesus. They are approachable, open to new ideas, and willing to learn as well as teach. You will not leave this conference feeling like you didn’t learn something that can dramatically shape your ministry.

2) Ideas Will Germinate – Whenever this many gifted people are assembled in one place, the synergy becomes intoxicating. One thing I really love about this conference is the accessibility to the presenters.  The conference designers purposely build in time for participants to interact individually with the presenters and each other. This means a plethora of ‘aha’ moments.

This year I will come to this conference with big ears. Sure, each one of us workshop leaders has wares to peddle, but that’s not the point. While I certainly cannot speak for my colleagues, I suspect we all come here to deeply and widely connect. There is so much innovation happening on so many levels. Parishes, judicatories, denominations, are experimenting, innovating, trying, and failing, failing, failing (isn’t this the only way to move forward?) that to come with blank sheets of paper and an expectation that something new will develop is the best idea.

3) You’ve Got No Choice – Is anyone saying that this Internet thing is a flash in the pan? That the incredible pace of technological change in communication, that’s even shaping the way our brains operate, will simply bypass the Church? Nope. We all suspect this is where the world is going – that to nurture, disciple, even attract a new generation, our faith communities have to have their acts together in the ways we ponder, shape, and offer resources for the ‘digitally, connected, world.’

As we continue through this transition in North American Christianity that is seeing fewer people go to church less often, the average American churchgoer attends services 1.4 times per month, we know that the congregations that survive are going to be the ones that take faith formation really seriously. The cultural nudge to get people to church on Sunday mornings is gone and the big reason people would even think about spending precious weekend time involved in a faith community is directly linked to the ability of that congregation to offer something of substance to the faith journey.  We’ve got to figure out what that is for our congregations. We’ve got to try new things, innovate, pioneer, and ‘dare greatly.’  Taking faith formation seriously is no longer a luxury, ‘because most people are going to come anyway,’ but a necessity as this is increasingly becoming the reason people come.

Hope to see you in June.

Partnership Launched to Bring ‘Introducing the Book of Common Prayer’ Online Classes

Boy, this is an exciting announcement for us and all of our subscribers and students because one of the more consistent comments we get from folk is to provide them with a higher level of educational rigor. Well, here you go:

Bexley Seabury and Church Next are teaming up to present an eight-part series on the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer that will be easily available to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone and an Internet connection.

Led by President Roger Ferlo of Bexley Seabury, the series will be available by the end of July at

“I am delighted to be involved in our first partnership with a seminary and our first offering of academic level content,” said the Rev. Chris Yaw, founder of ChurchNext, which promotes Christian formation through online classes with some of the best teachers and practitioners in the world.  “This series is perfect for Christian education classes, but people can also participate on their own time and at their own pace because all of the presentations will be available for viewing online at any time,” he said. Each of the eight courses will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete.

Ferlo said the series will help participants develop “an easy familiarity with the Prayer Book” and equip them to cultivate “a personal ‘rule of life’ centered in Prayer Book practices such as praying the Daily Office and observing the church calendar.” “People who take this course will emerge with a firm understanding of how important the sacrament of baptism is to the Episcopal tradition. We hope they will develop a deeper commitment to the ministry of all believers in advancing God’s mission of justice, mercy, and reconciliation in the world,” he said.

The course will be taught by Ferlo, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ferguson, dean of Bexley Hall; and Bexley Seabury faculty including the Rev. Dr. John Dally, the Rev. Dr. Jason Fout, Professor Milner Seifert and the Rev. Dr. Ellen Wondra. “This is an exciting venture for Bexley Seabury,” Ferlo said. “ChurchNext is an excellent partner for us as we continue to develop new ways to bring high level theological education to ever-broader audiences.”

The course will be available to congregations that subscribe to ChurchNext for free and to individuals for $10 per course, or for an unlimited, $15/mo individual membership. “This is an extremely convenient, cost effective, and professional way to provide first-rate Christian formation materials to people around the world,” Yaw said.

Keep tuned to this blog and our site as we roll these classes out – we’ve already taped 3 of them and are on track to begin the roll out next month.

Announcing Another Free, Worldwide Class

FF Title PicChurchNext is thrilled to partner with the good folks at Faith Forward to offer a  free class to all aimed at helping us better understand and nurture young people in the Christian faith.

Registration for The Big Class: Reimagining Children’s and Youth Ministry is now open. Click here for more information and to sign up. The course will run from April 7 – April 14 and features talks with four of the most innovative and talented leaders in children’s and youth ministry.

This is a free, pre-recorded class that will take an average learner about 45 minutes to work through. It features text, video, quizzes, discussion areas, as well as two free downloads: The Takeaway, which is a one-page synopsis of the class, and Discussion Questions, which can be used in face to face gatherings following The Big Class.  There will be live moderating going on during the class (April 7 – April 14) so students will be able to ask the presenters questions.  There is no special software required.

This is the first Big Class we’ve offered in order to help get the word out about an upcoming conference. The class features four of the keynote speakers for the upcoming Faith Forward conference in Nashville. Organizer Dave Csinos and I were thinking about a way to more widely expose the work of these conference presenters to those who were either coming to the conference and wanted to get a head start on what’s coming up, as well as those who will not be attending the conference but have a keen interest in the subject.

The four teachers for this class are Dave Csinos, Melvin Bray, Ivy Beckwith and Danielle Shroyer. We will be releasing a moderator schedule shortly so that students can know when these live chats are happening.  We are excited to be bringing this kind of resource to a wider audience and pray this class can be useful in faith communities around the world.

Introducing Tracks

Announcing a new way for students to travel down a learning path that can take them to their destination.Tracks Title

They’re called Tracks.

Located at the top of the ‘Browse Catalog’ page, they can be used as fully online learning experiences, or as a more expansive, blended learning experience, which we recommend. Pulling people together, to interact face-to-face, whenever possible improves the learning experience.

Since each course comes with two downloads, The Takeaway (a one-page synopsis of the course) and Discussion Questions, classes can be convenient and easy to organize.Tracks

With that in mind, subscribers can organize their own, custom Tracks based on the outcomes you desire. We’ve put 7 tracks together, which you can view here.

The Big Class: Making Sense of the Cross Launches Today

D Lose Square
The Big Class is now in session.

More than 1,200 people in 14 countries have signed up – and you’re welcome to join us: Click here to learn more and register for free.

We’ve made The Big Class open to all, for free, thanks to Augsburg Fortress Publishers.  Beginning today through March 12, anyone with Internet access and a computer or tablet can take this course in which online learners will read, write, watch, listen, and participate in an open conversation about the cross.  

The Rev. Dr. David Lose is a professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. This course expands on the popular Making Sense of the Cross, a six-session, small-group course published by Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis.

Dr. Lose will moderate the course and answer online questions during the week of The Big Class. Participants can take the class anytime during the week at The course will take 45 minutes to complete and need not be taken in one sitting. No special software is required.

AF_logo_Large_blkThroughout Making Sense of the Cross, readers are encouraged to think about and experience the cross and its meaning for their lives. “The Cross has been as life-giving as it has been mysterious,” said Chris Yaw, founder of ChurchNext, a producer of online learning experiences. “However, David possesses that rare gift of theological insight and communication prowess that will makes this course incredibly helpful to anyone looking to gain deeper insight into Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

The Big Class is a worldwide online course for all who want to go further in their walk with Christ and is free to everyone, everywhere, thanks to the support of Augsburg Fortress. Special materials are available for congregations and education classes that desire to take the class together as part of a Lenten study.

“How we understand the cross shapes how we construe and construct our life in the world,” writes Dr. Lose. “By diving deeper into the message and meaning of this, the greatest event in the world’s history, we grow deeper into the kind of people we want to be. I’m excited to be able to offer this course free to a worldwide audience, as a way to use new technology to unpack ancient truths.”

New Course: Healthy Relationships for Couples with Holly and Scott Stoner

scott and hollyIt’s been said that people shouldn’t marry to make themselves happy, but to make their partner happy. It is this kind of selfless devotion that family and marriage counselors Holly and Scott Stoner call ‘Standing in Love.’ Learn more about how couples can improve their relationships by putting love first.

First there’s falling in love – then there’s growing in love.

Inevitably the latter is more difficult than the former and in this course the Stoners teach us several helpful strategies to grow in love that are timeless, life-giving, and potentially marriage-saving.

This course includes lessons on:

  1. Standing in Love
  2. Co-Creating Healthy Relationships
  3. Communication Styles
  4. Emotional Bank Accounts

Find our more about Healthy Relationships for Couples here.

This course is one of three produced in partnership with Living Compass, a ministry devoted to wholeness in every area of faith and life. Holly and Scott Stoner are popular speakers, conference leaders, and founders of Living Compass, a ministry dedicated to wholeness. Learn more by visiting