August 27, 2014

Hybrid Faith Formation: The Story so Far...

"What do we do with the people who say they want to learn but can’t come to a weekly Bible study, or even Sunday school?"

Over the past eighteen months, I’ve learned a lot about how new ministry models emerge: Collaboratively. In fits and starts. Through a creative combination of need and excitement. With more failures than successes. And by the power of the Spirit of God who never fails to make her presence known when we’re on the right track.

The story of hybrid faith formation began at the 2013 Forma Conference.  My friend and colleague Day Smith Pritchartt had read an article I wrote about “faith formation networks,”  eporting on work by John Roberto as part of the Faith Formation 2020 research project he helped lead.

I was excited because faith formation networks seemed to be a great answer to a question I get by phone, email, and social media inquiry every couple of weeks in my job in the faith formation resource center where I work:

What do we do with the people who say they want to learn but can’t come to a weekly Bible study, or even Sunday school?

Day was excited too. But she wanted me to get more concrete about what a network could actually look like in her context.

What we brainstormed there in the exhibit hall was something like a hybrid course (a class where online work supplements time in the classroom) and something like a classic small group ministry. We called it a “hybrid faith formation” network and listed off what we thought would be essential components:

  1. Connect interested individuals or families via a contextually appropriate “hub” (social networking group, shared blog, or email listserv).
  2. Gather the group for monthly in-person meetings to build community and introduce important concepts and skills.
  3. In the intervening time, learn “alone together” (we use the term in a positive light) by trying out leader-provided activities at home and discussing the experience online.

Six months later, we were launching the Hybrid Faith Formation Network Initiative  — which we’ve since abbreviated to Hybrid Faith Formation Cohort, a minor improvement in the wordiness department. We gathered seven leaders from different congregations and dioceses to try out a hybrid network with each other while, simultaneously, each individual leader started experimenting in his or her own setting. Some took, most didn’t. But we learned a lot.

Six months after that, Day (a HFF cohort participant, of course) wrote “Shutting down the Sunday school” about her congregation’s whole-hearted embrace of this new model of congregational learning. The article immediately went viral (at least by the standards of our center’s relatively new blog) and was also picked up by the Anglican Communion News Service

We did our best to spread the news about what we were learning, giving talks at academic andpractical religious education conferences. Our efforts culminated at the 2014 e-Formation Conference, where our workshop was packed and where we did some recruiting.

This fall, Day and I are co-leading the second hybrid faith formation cohort. A lot has changed. Our network hub looks different (we’ve given up on Google+ except for web conferencing via Hangouts), our participants look different (nine new leaders from four different faith denominations), and our learning goals look different (hint: we’re trying to do less, not more).

Our first Hangout was two weeks ago, before “program season” began in earnest in our participants’ congregations. Already we’ve learned more than I can share in one post.

Thankfully, this is the first in a series about hybrid faith formation and the experience of our 2014 cohort. I hope you’ll read along with us, send us your feedback, and help us spread the word. We think the Spirit is saying to the church that this is a congregational learning idea whose time has come. We’d love your help continuing to discern the way ahead.


Shutting Down the Sunday School, by Day Smith Pritchartt – The story of St. Andrew’s, Arlington’s experience with hybrid faith formation

Hybrid Networks: A New Look at Small Group Ministry – A video summary of hybrid faith formation by Forma president Randall Curtis

Expanding faith formation reach with hybrid networks – A short, non-academic description of the hybrid faith formation cohort program

Hybrid networks for in-person/at-home small group learning – Video of full presentation from the 2014 Forma Conference

Communities of (Digital) Practice: Preparing religious leaders for lively online engagement – Paper by Lisa Kimball and Kyle Oliver describing work with the hybrid faith formation cohort and other initiatives