Announcing a New Track: Exploring the Book of Common Prayer

BCPThis Sunday marks our eighth and final installation of our series on the Book of Common Prayer. And now, subscribers are able to take all eight courses in what we call a ‘Track.’ Click here to find out more.

Tracks allow students to journey through a specific subject at their own pace, on their own time, and to be guided through a specific subject of interest.  Other Tracks include: Exploring the Gospels, Living with the Questions, and Managing God’s Money to name a few.

This Sunday we’ll officially launch ‘Singing the Prayer Book with Milner Seifert.’ This series is brought to us by our partners at Bexley Seabury Federation, an Episcopal center for learning and development. Bexley offers online and in-person classes for everyone at its Chicago, IL and Columbus, OH campuses. For more information visit



Who Else Is Doing Online Learning? A Snippet from VTS’ eFormation Conference

Learking Key on keyboard copyI was flattered to once again be invited to Virginia Theological Seminary’s annual eFormation conference. This was an amazing gathering of mainline church folk whose imaginations are being piqued by the possibilities new technologies are offering.

Here’s a link to the ‘summary’ page of the conference’s work – as well as the link to the Pinterest page that was set up for presenters to share their slides, papers, videos etc. I was personally inspired by John Roberto’s brief talk on ‘change’ found near the beginning of this recorded session.

One of the topics I touched on during my presentation, which you can find here, was the breadth of online learning in the religious world: what resources are out there? Who’s moving in a direction we need to be paying attention to? I have compiled a far-from-exhaustive list of folk who are swimming in or near these waters and wanted to share them with you as you go about making your way through this transitive time in the Church’s history.

What Our Parish Is Doing This Fall: Back to the (Prayer) Book

BCPA few years ago our parish was pleasantly invigorated by Marek Zabriskie and Forward Movement’s ‘Bible Challenge.’ For the uninitiated, this is a one-year reading program in which a congregation is challenged to read the Bible in a year. Thus, we gave out Bibles, developed, printed out, and distributed reading schedules, and organized Bible studies.  This was all well-received and many people were thankful their church helped them finally read a book they’ve always wanted to read.

Now, it’s the Prayer Book’s turn.

This Fall, we’re devoting 8 Sundays to reacquaint ourselves with the most popular English-language book in the world (besides the Bible).

We’re using as an outline the 8-part, ChurchNext course called ‘Introducing the Prayer Book,’ which was done in partnership with Bexley Seabury Theological Federation.

On these Sundays, parishioners will be encouraged to bring their Prayer Books to church and use them during worship. On each of the 8 Sundays we will emphasize different aspects of the Prayer Book, including history, Collects, Creeds, Sacraments, Psalms, etc. On those Sundays people are not able to attend worship, we will encourage them to take the online class designated for that week.  We will also devote our Sunday study hour to these topics. All 8 of these ChurchNext courses will be launched by the end of June: you can go here to the catalog, and click on the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ category to see the courses – most are up, but we’ve still got more to come.

Why are we doing this?  Because one of the great distinctions of being an Anglican Christian is this sacred resource, The Book of Common Prayer. It has helped millions of people grow closer to God for a very good reason: it helps us bring God into our day-to-day lives. It is full of stunningly beautiful language — much of it taken from Scripture — and a wealth of devotional material.  Yet many of us only use that small portion we see on Sunday mornings.  Our spiritual forebears translated the Bible into English, then translated the Bible into a way to live and worship that still works quite well today. And if we lose a sense of this, we miss a great opportunity to draw closer to God.

I, for one, am looking forward to this re-initiation to an amazing book and spirituality. Let is know if you’re interested in doing this, and if so, what kinds of guides you might need — and we’ll see if we can help.

Announcing Another Big Class: Living a Spirit-Filled Life with Fr. Albert Cutie (Free)

cutieThis Pentecost anyone with Internet access and a computer or tablet can get free instruction on how to live a Spirit-filled life, in a free class that invites online learners to “listen in” on an open conversation about how the Holy Spirit meets us today. Registration is free and open worldwide beginning Memorial Day, May 26; the class will run from June 8-15.

Father Albert Cutie, New York Times bestselling author, talk show host, and Episcopal priest in Southeast Florida, will teach “The Big Class,” a program of ChurchNext Online Christian Learning. The course will expand on Fr. Cutie’s books and sermons that focus on how we bring God into our everyday lives.

Fr. Cutie will also 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. Organizational materials will be available May 26 for congregations who wish to take the class together.

Throughout Living a Spirit-Filled Life students are encouraged to think about and experience the Holy Spirit and its meaning for their lives. “We are living in one of the most anxious times in history,” writes Fr. Cutie. “Dramatic changes are everywhere – technology, communications, relationships – and the pace of this change has many of us reeling in anxiety. This means many of us find it difficult to find God, even though we know God is there. A Spirit-filled life is the life in which we can let go and let God.” The Big Class will help Christians deepen their commitment to follow the Spirit and proclaim the love of God in their lives and communities.

This course builds on the successes of previous Big Classes. In January, more than 3,000 students from 30 countries signed up to take How to Be a Crazy Christian with Bishop Michael Curry.

The Big Class is a worldwide initiative in open online learning for all who want to go further in their walk with Christ and is free to everyone, everywhere, thanks to the support of Bexley Seabury, The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, Logos Bible Software, and Forward Movement.

ChurchNext creates online Christian learning experiences to invigorate lives and congregations. Along with our partners we are devoted to helping people grow in their Christian faith, improve their lives, and better the world. Learn more at

Glassholy: Priest Takes Google Glass to Mass

I was recently admitted into the Google Glass Explorers program. This means I’ve been granted the privilege of spending Glassholy 1$1,500 for a pair of prototype computer glasses that could conceivably be available at Best Buy next month for $300. However, as my much wiser friend Fr. Gunn often says, you gotta pay to learn.  Here’s a video I made Sunday to give you an idea of what I’m learning and doing with ’em – I must say I’m really thankful to my parish community for trusting me to do this:

Mass with Glass Cover

So far, Glass has turned out to be a really cool experience. I won’t bore you with a rundown of what this gizmo does, this guy does a much better job, but I will say that the ‘Directions’ app is superior to anything I’ve ever seen or used.  The bluetooth phone, mic and headphones are only tolerable when you’re someplace really quiet, like a church (which works fine for me). And I’m having recurring problems getting my phone and Glass to stay in sync. But the ability to respond to emails and texts really quickly is growing on me (Glass actually reads me these).  Plus, I’ve always hated texting/typing on tiny smart phone keypads, and the voice recognition software here means lots less typing.

The dorkiness factor is rather huge, and having never worn glasses getting used to them hasn’t been all that easy. Plus, this report says 72% of Americans just don’t dig Glass at all – which has pretty much been my experience too, though this is totally dependent on age: haven’t met too many young people who hate ’em, nor too many old people who like ’em.

There’s a term for obnoxious people who wear these things, ‘Glassholes,’ which is why the term ‘Glassholy’… I know, priest joke. I experienced this Sunday when I took this video — I had to take Glass off halfway through the sermon and at the Communion rail because I was feeling distracted and not taken seriously; I sensed others were too. Church is a sensitive environment to bring a camera, even if it’s pretty well hidden. And I expect a certain amount of pushback from people along these lines as a result of this little experiment. However, I think it’s really important for us to be trying new things, to experiment and put ourselves out there. We are living in some of the most dynamic, developing, and innovative times the world has ever known and I think the Lord wants us to be in the game. If you’re interested in getting Glass, as of late last night, they are now available to anyone – so if you have any questions I’d be happy to help.

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.