During COVID lockdown, churches not only started experimenting with online worship, they also began to move into offering faith formation and education opportunities online. The mixing of digital and physical has been called blended or hybrid learning. It isn’t new in the education sector, but it is very new for most churches. There were online Sunday Schools and youth groups, Bible studies on Zoom, contemplative prayer spaces, Messy Church online, and also more public expressions of Christian faith through the digital realm. Both in our household and across the presbytery, people realised that it was easier to connect on Zoom than to get in the car and drive to a gathering. As we come out of lockdown, it’s time to continue to learn about how offering hybrid learning can help with 24/7 discipleship growth.
John Roberto from Lifelong Faith in the US has been one of the most helpful thinkers in this area. He talks about designing blended faith formation here. John also has a recording of an online webinar on Hybrid Faith Formation with downloadable handouts. Here’s John speaking at a conference in Australia a few years ago.
Blending physical and digital learning has a number of obvious and not-so-obvious benefits.
- People can choose when and how to connect.
- Physical connection is still valued and encouraged.
- People can access online learning anywhere with a mobile device.
- People can connect with others whom they would not usually meet.
- People can access some materials or conversations anytime – when it suits their schedule.
- People can engage in deeper and more creative ways that face-to-face meetings necessarily allow – through extended discussion, creative arts, investigation, etc.
- Leaders can provide or curate from a wealth of existing online resources.
In 2020, our presbytery offered several online seminars about blended faith formation. These are on Youtube:
Discipleship in a Digital Age with Dr Bex Lewis, Manchester, UK
(I can’t post this without the acknowledgement that Bex passed away later in 2020 and is deeply missed.)
Digital Storytelling with Dr May Hess, Minneapolis/St Paul, US
Playing with Faith Formation with Dr Steve Taylor, Dunedin, NZ
Sacred Places, Digital Spaces with Mark Berry, Telford, UK and Rev Sandy Brodine, Melbourne AU
Online learning is here to stay. How can the practices of discipleship be both nurtured and expressed in the many hours and places where we spend our days.