Traditionally, Christian spiritual formation has centered on people physically getting together to study, pray, connect and grow in faith. Though physical gatherings should never be completely replaced in the life of the church, developing an online education component is easier than ever and a great opportunity to reach out to those who cannot (or will not) be physically present.
Why should I consider an online class?
Here are three reasons to think about putting together an online class.
1. Online courses are accessible to almost everyone. Learning or teaching from wherever you are located:
- Allows those who cannot attend church to have access to a great, new learning environment.
- Unleashes teachers who are hesitant to teach in a physical classroom, but comfortable teaching online.
- Allows you to expand classes, even if your church runs out of room.
- Provides a connection point for those who live in various parts of the world.
- Gives curious visitors an entry point to the church.
- Provides an outreach to people in the community who are curious about the topics.
Even if online visitors are not interested in going to your church in the near future, the connections and value gained from the online class experience will share the church's message.
2. Online courses are becoming more familiar. Just as individuals are beginning relationships online more frequently, the familiarity of being in an online educational experience will become comfortable for even more people. This will not replace the desire to be physically present in classes. As industry professionals, students and children take online courses, they may become more interested in taking a course the church offers. Eventually, online courses will become expected as part of the church's educational program.
3. You can automate online courses. Depending on the content, style and type of class, you can repeat classes without huge effort. You can start a course with minimal preparations and invite people to join on an ongoing basis. For example, if you have a new-members course, people can enroll at any time. The only investment is starting the course and making sure a teacher is available to answer questions. A potential visitor can participate in the class before ever visiting the church.
How can I get started?
Starting an online class is extremely simple. You do not need proficiency in script programming languages or Web design. You can plug in and start providing educational content to your community in a matter of days.
1. Choose your content. If you are a pastor or a church leader, you may have already taught a class. Consider the following when deciding on content:
- Do you have the original copyrights to teach and use the content? You must credit original material, adapted content or a published work.
- How will you develop and present content? PowerPoint, screen casting, online videos, message boards and live meeting times might be among your teaching tools.
- Where will you find content? Ideas for content could range from local church ministries and books of the Bible to theological concepts.
2. Choose your platform. You will find many online platforms to help you develop your online class. Base your decision on how cost effective and labor intensive a platform is.
- United Methodist Communications' Moodle platform is designed for the church with the support of UMCom. If your hosting platform will allow it, you can install Moodle as part of your church website.
- BeADisciple is designed to help foster, expand and develop online Disciple Bible study groups. You do need to go through facilitator training before you set up a class. They are quite helpful in getting your class online.
- Pathwright gives you online class options that are free until you have registrations. In terms of financial investment, you are safe until you start to accept paid registrations. This might be a great option to test out your content without financial costs.
- Wordpress is useful for making online classes. This takes more work on your part but can be quite effective. If none of the other platforms gives you the options you need, this could be your platform of choice. If you can install Moodle on your server, you can use some of the Wordpress plugins with your site.
3. Promote and teach. Once you are ready to go, promote your class. Use all avenues of social media, posters, websites, newsletters and local newspapers to get the word out. If the sign-up link is too long for a print-promotion piece, use a URL shortener, such as http://goo.gl/. You can customize a URL shortener for an easy to remember URL. Then you teach and repeat your class as many times as you wish.
Close your class with a survey of participants to learn how to improve the class. Adjust your content and start teaching again.
Check out United Methodist Communications' and start thinking about online classes that might be helpful to your congregation and the surrounding community.