How can discipleship courses work online?

Discipleship and everyday faith don’t stop during lockdown, they just look slightly different. A few weeks ago we wrote about some churches from the diocese which have been running enquirers courses (courses aimed at introducing those who are not yet Christians to the Christian faith).  Now we’re catching up with a couple of churches which have held courses to help their existing church members grow in the depth of their discipleship.

In the Wigston Benefice of churches, a group spent one evening a week for six weeks between October half-term and Advent looking together at material from the Pilgrim Course, whilst in Hinckley, members of Holy Trinity church had three courses to choose from over the autumn period, the “Real Change Course”, the Bible Society’s “Bible Course,” and a “Discipleship Explored.”

At Wigston there was a regular core of ten course members, while in Hinckley the numbers ranged from half a dozen on the “Discipleship Explored Course” to 25 on the “Real Change” course.

All of the courses at both churches were held on Zoom, and Chris Johnson (Associate Vicar in the Wigston Benefice) and Simon Wearn (Vicar of Holy Trinity, Hinckley) both had useful tips to share gained from their experience of running online courses. Chris recommended that “consideration should be given to how discussions are best facilitated. In our case the group was small enough for discussions to take place in a single group, but if there was a larger number then break out groups would have been utilised with a facilitator for each group. Getting people to talk can sometimes be hard in the digital universe, so it may be useful to have a briefed facilitator in each room to ‘get things going.’” Another useful pointer he offered was the need to “establish your ‘muting etiquette’ early on- all it takes is for a chair to scrape or a dog to snore and a serious moment or question can be lost as the microphone is cut across.”

At Holy Trinity each of the courses had a different leader, one being led by a member of the congregation, one by a Curate, and one by the Vicar. In Wigston the course was jointly run by Vicar and Curate.

When asked about highlights of the course, Chris Johnson reported that “it was a privilege to hear the comments and life experiences of participants and to see people explore, question and deepen their faith.”

One of the Real Change course members from Hinckley added that the course was “gentle and well led, with no sense of pressure, and where the emphasis was on the aim of helping you in the process of real change”. Another member of the group shared that she had found the course “so practical, and not just about implementing some new practices to tackle your problems, but also looking at heart issues.”

It was clear in talking to Chris and Simon, that not only had church members from their respective churches benefitted greatly from the courses, but that they too had enjoyed the experience and been encouraged in their own faith and ministries. Chris spoke of “Enjoying  seeing where God leads you in discussions, and noticing where he has been journeying with group members in their lives”. Simon observed that Discipleship Explored was “a great opportunity for those who were young in their faith to grow, and to see that knowing Jesus provides joy in life and hope in death. In the midst of the pandemic, where so many of the joys of life have been taken away, and many fear death, a relationship with Jesus Christ is the one thing that endures in life and that death cannot take away. So for us on the course, which is based on the Book of Philippians, we discovered afresh what the apostle Paul means when he wrote in it: ‘For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’”

First published on: 15th February 2021

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