Posted on : Tuesday January 14, 2014

By Bob Smietana
Ministry Grid-72
NASHVILLE (BP) — Pastors know that well-trained lay leaders and volunteers are essential for the health of a local church.

But implementing a training strategy can be difficult, said Todd Adkins, director of leadership at LifeWay Christian Resources.

Enter, a new site for online delivery of easy, affordable and high-quality training.

Ministry Grid features more than 2,000 original, readily accessible video sessions on topics from church leadership and finances to parking ministry and childcare.

The idea behind the site is to give churches a framework for their training programs, Adkins said, noting, “If you don’t give people a framework, they won’t grow.”

In the past, local congregations sent volunteers to conferences or utilized denominational programs such as Training Union to equip church members for ministry, Adkins said.

“People used to take a week of vacation to attend training events like Sunday School week at Ridgecrest,” he said. “They don’t do that anymore.”

Instead of sending volunteers or staff members to an event, Ministry Grid allows churches to bring the training to their people via computer, smartphone, tablet or other mobile device. There’s also an app for off-line viewing.

“We want to focus on training being available anytime, anywhere,” Adkins said.

However, Ministry Grid doesn’t replace face-to-face training. Instead, the training model is based on the idea of a “flipped classroom” now common in colleges and high schools.

In this case, volunteers and church members learn by watching videos and reading resources on their own time. Then they’ll be better prepared for in-person discussion.

It’s all part of creating a culture where leadership training and personal development are a normal part of church life.

“The church wins when ministry is handed back to the people,” said Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay’s church resources division which oversees Ministry Grid as a service to “help churches more intentionally invest in leaders.”

The site is easy to use. Once a church subscribes, church leaders can place volunteers in categories such as greeters, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers or staff members. A training plan can be created for each group.

When members first log in, the site will automatically set up a personalized profile page with links to recommended training resources. From there users can watch videos, read resources and keep track of their progress. It’s as simple as point, click and learn.

A “group at a glance” feature allows pastors and church staff to track members’ progress.

For users, the site is part Facebook, part Netflix and part Discipleship Training. They can have some fun along the way by earning badges similar to Royal Ambassadors patches or Sunday School bars for completing parts of the training process.

Adkins said the badges were inspired by his experience growing up in a Baptist church in Kentucky and going to church training classes on Sunday evenings.

“It’s a combination of old-fashioned accountability and achievement psychology,” Adkins said.

Ministry Grid organizers believe churches of all sizes can benefit from the site’s training options. Church leaders can choose built-in tracks or video sessions, upload their own video content, link to additional articles, turn off unwanted content and even put their church’s name and logo on the site.

In its first month, the new site has drawn nearly 12,000 unique visitors from more than 60 countries.

Videos already on Ministry Grid’s free preview site include Melita Thomas, of LifeWay Kids Ministry, discussing eight approaches to how children learn; Danny Franks, connections pastor at The Summit Church in North Carolina, on the importance of preparing for guests who visit your church; and Mark Marshall, pastor of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., relaying practical tips and information to pastors about the “what” and “how” of baptism.

Among other contributors are Tami Heim, president of the Christian Leadership Alliance; Mac Lake of The Launch Network; Kevin Peck, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church; Derwin Gray of Transformation Church; and Aubrey Malphurs, professor of leadership and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Malphurs, who serves as an adviser to Ministry Grid, said most congregations don’t do enough to develop leaders and volunteers. He said Ministry Grid’s content and its use of technology are appealing.

“I am the kind of guy who likes to think ahead, in a positive way, about what is coming down the pike, and about what we need to do to develop leaders,” said Malphurs, a member of Lake Pointe Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Rockwall, Texas. “And I think Ministry Grid fits that.”

Ministry Grid also has partnered with congregations like Austin Stone Community Church; Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn.; and Sojourn Church in Louisville, Ky.

Subscriptions start at $9.99 per month for individuals and $24.95 a month — or $134.95 per year — for small churches. Subscriptions for larger churches are based on weekly attendance.

“At LifeWay, we’ve made this issue a major priority,” LifeWay President Thom Rainer said. “We see a great opportunity to provide almost unlmited training in this digital age that could not be done in earlier years. We’ve created something that will be convenient for church leaders and those being equipped at an affordable cost for all churches.”