It's an issue that many congregations are wrestling with as they struggle to engage people looking for spiritual answers online.
To that end, Yaw -- the pastor of
Called Church Next, the effort launched in August and has already grown to include 200 churches across the U.S. It currently offers about 50 classes on topics like church history and the Bible, as well as those focused on specific challenges, such as dealing with anger, sex addiction or forgiveness.
The classes "bring a moderate Christian voice that's accessible, affordable, convenient, and brings you expert teachers," Yaw said.
Today, Church Next will kick off a class with Bishop
A native of
In recent years, Yaw was searching for ways to reach out using the Internet.
At his church, newcomers used to take an 8-week class for one hour once a week that educated them about the Episcopal church. Now they can take the class online at their own pace through Church Next.
Congregations can build their own schools through the program, which includes mostly mainline Protestant voices. At
It gives them an "opportunity to grow in their faith," Walters said. "This isn't meant to replace anything we have at church. This is meant to be another opportunity."
People can take the classes individually or together as groups in their church. The flexibility allows people to learn at their own pace.
"It has become harder and harder with people's busy lives to gather for education programs," said the Rev.
The classes help people find solid, reliable information, which isn't always out there on the Internet. The teachers are experts in their fields and include noted theologians and authors.
"If you want to learn about religion and you go to
Privacy is also an advantage. Some may be reluctant to talk about atheism or sexuality in a church class in person.
"If I had a course on Internet porn, I can't imagine who would show up," said Yaw.
Church Next comes at a time when growing numbers of Americans don't identify with a church or religion. A 2012 Pew survey showed that about 20% of the people in the U.S. are what is called "Nones," meaning there is no religious group they identify with.
"It's been said that the church has really lost a lot of relevancy in the culture," Yaw said. And so the classes are a way to "pull you into a community."
It's "a unique approach for his educational offerings," Crumm said. Students "won't have to go through these courses with the entire Wild West of the Internet around them ... It's a more reassuring way to take a class."
To register and take classes with Church Next, go to www.churchnext.tv/ or Facebook.com/ChurchNext
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