Man connects faith communities online

In recent years, Chris Yaw noticed a trend among acquaintances in construction and engineering as well as members joining his church, St. David's Episcopal in Southfield: They went online for education and career advancement.
AP Wire
Nov 3, 2013

Society's increasing reliance on computer-based interactions coupled with the changing habits of Metro Detroit churchgoers inspired Yaw to explore creating an educational platform that would connect communities.

After developing the idea with a design team and partnering with Forward Movement, a Cincinnati-based publisher, the website he envisioned, www.churchnext.tv, debuted in August.

The site allows individuals and congregations to take more than 25 Christian-centered courses — including "Introduction to the Bible" and "How to Help a Sick Friend" — by themselves or in groups.

The courses, which typically last about 45 minutes, are taught by experts from a moderate perspective and various denominations, Yaw said.

Individuals can sign up for $10 per course, or $15 each month for unlimited access. For $59 per month, congregations can build private schools for their members.

The idea is to open an alternative for those hoping to learn about their faith in their own time.

"It takes a lot to go to a church anymore but if you're watching on your iPad in your living room, you may engage with people in ways you may never do in person," Yaw said.

To develop the website and curriculum as well as tap teachers for the courses, Yaw drew on relationships he had established through his blog with religion professors, theologians and others.

A course is expected to be added each week starting this month, Yaw said.

One offering is "Holy Communion 101 with James Hamilton," taught by an Episcopal rector who serves congregations at Trinity Episcopal Church in Farmington Hills and Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills.

Online learning is "an excellent tool" for improving spiritual comprehension, Hamilton said. "It's a way for people to engage in their own faith journey."

So far, more than 200 congregations have signed up to start their own schools through the site, Yaw said.

Pastor Manisha Dostert, priest-in-charge at Advent Episcopal Church in West Bloomfield Township, has launched a school for fellow church members.

She welcomed the option to provide a forum for worshippers to interact and review questions as they explore everything from Bible study to balancing work. "That's building relationships and groups, and that kind of stuff is really important in the life of any faith community," Dostert said.

Carol Latimer of Franklin, a longtime member of Advent Episcopal, has taken three courses — mostly on her iPad after work.

Learning about church history as well as traditions has been "definitely valuable," she said, adding the discussion questions raised in the courses illuminate important aspects. "It can definitely strengthen your faith and make you think about your faith in ways you haven't thought about previously."

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Well, that must be good. The guy is trying to reach out to people who really need it. - Charles Brennan

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