In May of 2020, I had a conversation with Pastor Todd Frederick of Pathway Community Church in Jackson, MI. This is not a church that I attend, but several members of my friend group did at the time, and Todd and I have a passing acquaintance with each other. He knew that I was studying Educational Design at Concordia, and wanted to get my input on developing some digital Bible studies and other ministry opportunities and avenues he could pursue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the Zoom recording got lost in the mists of the internet—I’ve included my reflection on the experience below.
It’s definitely a strange position to be in—being asked to offer and provide advice in a context outside of what you would normally consider to be your wheelhouse. I don’t have a significant background in ministry, nor had I yet taken the digital ministries class in my grad program, so much of what I had to offer was grounded primarily in my experience as a learning designer, and not specifically tailored to designing a ministry. In that sense, it was an excellent experience for me, as it forced me to adapt the knowledge I had from one context and transfer and apply it to another, on the fly. Not a skill I’m particularly used to doing (especially when the latter field is something as essential as ministry), but it was good practice for sure. And as the conversation continued, I found many areas of overlap, which was both surprising, and helpful.
The first area we talked about was simply finding a platform for digital ministry and Bible study—one that was both robust enough to have in-depth and meaningful conversation, while still being both easy enough for many of his less tech savvy congregants, and low-bandwidth enough for those those that live in more rural areas and don’t have access to high-bandwidth connections. I helped present him with a few options and we demoed platforms like Zoom, Teams, and Discord, as well as talked about some options for letting people contribute with written content as well.
Really, in reflection, much of this conversation focused around Universal Design for Learning—next we discussed how people would participate in an online discussion, and what opportunities and affordances moving Bible study to a digital realm provided. One key aspect we talked about was being able to easily present and provide content -before- the meeting, in a sense flipping the classroom. I also suggested picking a topic that he wanted to have discussion or conversation on, and then providing a variety of resource types—so someone who preferred to read could have an article, while someone else might prefer to approach the topic by watching a video. A classic UDL approach, easily facilitated by the online environment.
We also discussed the difficulties of navigating remote vs. in-person teaching, and how to make decisions about what was “best” for the group. Here, I highlighted the concept of affordances and constraints—rather than thinking about modalities as good or bad, think about how they each have specific traits and how you can best utilize them. What opportunities does going online afford you that you couldn’t before. Things like church members now being more open to more direct contact, sending regular text messages from the church, that may have seemed overbearing The Beforetimes.
All in all, it was a productive conversation, and he left with several ideas to help engage his congregation engage and be encouraged in a digital space. If I were to approach the conversation again today, I’d probably put more focus on specific digital activities that he could use, like how to engage in the 10 Commandments digitally, how to specifically build community in an online environment, and applying different learning theories to the process. All important things to have in my toolbox for discussion going forward.