Online discipleship presents some significant challenges, not the least of which is “We’ve never done it that way before!” In Part 01, we looked at some of the ways you can get online, including a bit of some How To’s. In this part, we’ll look at some of the more exciting things we’re seeing in the virtual reality church world.
Classes Go Deeper
Online classes, whether they’re a Bible study or a Sunday school kind of class, have the opportunity to help participants go deeper than before. When you meet in person, it can be really distracting – let alone a time waster – to get the participants to break off into micro-groups for more intimate conversations. There’s the whole “being overheard” and trying to “whisper” mode for those who would rather not pick up and move to another space, and then there’s the gather-up-everything-I-brought-in kind of person who tromps out so they can meet in private in the parlour.
But most video conferencing app, such as Zoom, offers participants an opportunity to break into Break Out Rooms with just a few clicks. The host determines the size of the break out groups and can decide to let the app decide who-goes-with-whom or they can decide for themselves who’s going to be partners or triads or … In addition, the app lets you set a time limit on the groups, so they all rejoin the class in a timely manner.
What we’ve found most ingenious, though, is how these break out rooms are being used. Sure, there’s the “Discuss the ramifications of Paul’s directives to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper – you have five minutes” kind of directives, but some creatives have learned to maximize discussion. For instance, in one group I was in, the host put up a picture of a whale deep in the ocean for everyone to see. It seemed kinda random when she put it up, but then she gave us some directions: “What are the whale-ish problems you’re facing that could really use a gulp of fresh air to help clear your mind?” I have to admit, the conversation was as lively as any I’ve been a part of.
I spoke with her afterwards and she said that she used random images to help the participants shift their thinking. I tossed a couple random image ideas out to her and sure enough, she was able to tie the image into pretty much any Bible passage that would make it to the study table. She said she sometimes grabbed clips from YouTube videos to do the same thing.
Mentoring Goes Further
When applied well, small groups can be life transformative (see Go Big With Small Groups and Missional Small Groups for how to make your groups life-transformational). But few would argue that a good mentorship ministry makes all the difference in the world. Several churches in the Kansas City area share an eighteen week mentoring tool called Directions Discipleship. There are five daily lessons per week that help to develop a daily quiet time. Most of the mentoring processes in the area expect the participant to memorize (and recite) the weekly Bible verses. The mentor meets each week one-on-one with the apprentice for about an hour while they go over the materials, quote the weekly Bible verse, and deal with “real life” issues of a budding disciple.
The materials themselves are what we’d call “Baptist,” but we’ve found the materials adaptable for the Mainline because the mentor has the opportunity to guide the apprentice through any thistle covered fields they encounter.
What we’re finding exciting during these COVID-Crisis times is that the virtual meetings appear to be as effective, and in some cases even more effective than the in person meetings. The mentor can still evaluate the body language and facial expressions, but it turns out that many apprentices are more willing to open up more deeply when talking via a screen and from the relative safety of their own home (or office, as the case may be).
In the church I lead, we expect our graduates to become a mentor to one of their friends within a few weeks after they’ve completed the course. We’ve found that this is more easily done via the virtual world, since there appears to be less pressure on both disciple and mentor.
School Is In Session
Personally, I’m experimenting with this still, so can’t make a cogent recommendation yet, but I spoke with a pastor of a smallish church in a rural setting. Just after the virus hit he immediately started doing his Wednesday Bible study online (another Zoom user). He got his usual group of participants, but he realized that this was a chance for him to expand the church’s reach … if only he could reach out beyond the “walls” of his church.
The pastor decided he’d do some Facebook and Google marketing to invite folks to the study, but as he began putting together the “ads” he decided to turn the Bible study into a course … and he created a “School” to run it from. He advertised his Bible School (not the name he chose!) and published the first “class,” which was his regular online Bible study.
He got 450 new students on the first night.
Not all returned, but many of them did. Today, he reports, some of those new students have begun “attending” Sunday online worship with the congregation as well.
A couple of suggestions if you decide to give this a whirl. Make sure your class has a limited number of sessions. We’re experimenting with four, six, and eight week classes to see what’s the most popular. Second, plan for more people than you’d normally get. The way you lead a class of twelve won’t work for a class of thirty, let alone a hundred! Finally, if you’re going to jump into this, consider how you’re going to “market” the class. Be sure to create a compelling image and write inspiring copy about the class and the course content. Then, whether you boost it in Facebook, run ads in Instagram or Google, you’ll need to get the word out. Of course, if you get every member of your congregation to Like and Share you’ll reach hundreds … but the best advertising is word of mouth and personal invitation, so be sure you and your class participants get on the ball and let your respective sphere’s of influence know.
One last note … Using EventBrite.com can help you get the word out and help you prepare for an appropriate class size.
For the Technically Ambitious
Ever heard of Moodle? It’s a learning management system that is used in a number of schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries. It’s an Open Source learning system, which means the software is free. However, it’s not like WordPress, an app that can be loaded onto a website with relative ease. However, with that said, if you know what SFTP and CPanel are, you probably have the wherewithal to venture into the Moodle world.
A number of churches have discovered the “joy” of Moodle teaching (and learning). Some are using for “live” training and some are using it for “asynchronous” training, that is, On Demand classes.
One of the advantages that Moodle offers churches is the opportunity to create courses that they can run again and again without a lot of repeat preparation. This is the platform I use at Phillips Seminary to teach my courses on Leadership, Evangelism, and Preaching. I update the video lectures every couple of years, unless the culture makes a sudden shift (guess who is re-shooting every lecture this year?!), but unless the readings change, the weekly assignments can remain the same for several years.
There’s certainly a lot more going on “out there” in the virtual discipleship world. If you, or some church you know, is doing something exciting, please let us know in the Comment Section below. Help us all create the best opportunities for disciple making in these interesting days.