November 12, 2014

Hybrid Faith Formation: Learning As We Go

Since I last wrote about our intrepid group of hybrid faith formation innovators, we’ve gotten to see network-based learning get off the ground in several congregations as well as in our leader’s group. The cohort continues to share an energetic mission that feels daring, messy, and life-giving. It’s been more fun than many were expecting to let go of 'Sunday School As We Know It' and try something new.

Here’s a small sampling of what’s been happening:

  • At St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Arlington, VA, my co-leader Day Smith Pritchartt continues to build on the success of FISH: Families Integrating Sundays and Home
  • At St. Paul’s Episcopal in Kansas City, MO, Megan Castellan gathers families for a similar program called The S.P.O.T. (St. Paul’s Online Theology). 
  • At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks, Margaret Sequeira is teaching Parents As Spiritual Teachers via Google Hangouts. 
  • At First Presbyterian in Libertyville, IL, Roberta Dodds Ingersoll has helped open up “Club M.O.M.”—previously an in-person, weekday group at the church—to some working mothers who can’t attend in person.

As our leader group has reflected on our experience via Facebook and in our video conferences, we’ve identified two key lessons that are shaping our understanding of this new area of digital ministry.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all

As I wrote in our last update, part of what got us started on this road was the work of faith formation visionary John Roberto. John’s mantra for twenty-first-century ministry is “Don’t start a program, build a network.” So rather than saying “please come to this year’s Wednesday night class about ______,” leaders of hybrid faith formation networks respond to the organic connections, spiritual needs, and learning goals already in place among members of the congregation (and possibly others).

It’s been gratifying to see the many different ways these networks take root. At First Presbyterian, Club M.O.M. already had some online infrastructure in place, so Roberta has focused on helping new members (the working moms) get to know the group that had already been meeting in person. At Epiphany Episcopal Church in Herndon, Virginia, parish leaders were skeptical about hybrid faith formation until an obvious need surfaced: a place for Sunday school teachers to communicate with each other and with parents about curriculum, activities, and what learning to take home.

In fact, the experience of witnessing the many ways online learning has taken root alongside in-person gatherings has helped me get much clearer about how we frame hybrid faith formation. Our suggested threefold pattern of commitment:

  • meet in person every month or so
  • do a faith activity at home each week
  • post on the hub about it
starts to feel burdensomely programmatic if it’s not the right fit for the group coming together. In the future, I’ll try to be clearer that what we’ve been presenting as “our model” is just one way to incarnate a blended learning discipline among a group of connected learners.

In-person and online activities work together in different ways

Another fruitful area of exploration and discovery lies in the integration of online and inperson activities. I was surprised to realize how little thought I’d given to how these two components should work together. We knew that some activities would be best done at home, and we knew inperson meetings would be essential for building trust and camaraderie. That’s about as far as we’d gotten.

In our last leader’s conversation two weeks ago, we identified three models that seem to be working:

  • Gathering as launch: In this approach, the inperson gathering at church is meant to launch the group into several weeks of at-home faith practice. So perhaps they practice a new skill, like trying out types of prayer or reading scripture in a new way. Participants learn in a larger, more supportive setting and thus feel more confident when they have to try on their own.
  • Gathering as culmination: Flipping that trajectory, this approach uses a few weeks of at-home learning as preparation for a culminating activity in person. Day’s group at St. Andrew’s spent several weeks at home learning to tell the story of Abraham and then gathered for the opportunity to put on a play of the story they now knew so well.
  • Gathering as icon: Not mutually exclusive with the other two, this approach focuses the inperson gathering around creating a physical sign of the group’s shared learning, like a liturgical banner—or a play. This shared handiwork becomes an icon not just to the group, but to the wider church community.

What's Next?

We’re coming down the home stretch of our 2014 cohort’s official time together. We’ve begun the process of evaluating our efforts and of theorizing about the lifecycle of a church learning network. Will new groups form for the seasons ahead? Will existing groups continue with new goals or ways of learning together? How do we nourish a congregation-wide ecosystem of thriving, connected discipleship networks? We’ll be asking these questions and more.

If this model is interesting to your congregation, contact us at about joining a future cohort. You can also learn more at the ECF webinar about hybrid faith formation I'm leading on December 9 at 7:00 pm ET. And stay tuned for more reflections here at Vital Posts


  • Hybrid Faith Formation: The Story so Far ... – The first post in this series, about how this experiment got started 
  • Vibrant Faith at Home – One of our cohort’s favorite go-to sources for accessible family activities 
  • Timeless wisdom, modern expression – Slides from Kyle’s most recent presentation about spiritual resources online 

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