flipped church

My friend Sue Murphy introduced me to the idea of the “flipped classroom.” In short, rather than spending all the time in class lecturing, and all the time out of class trying to do homework based on the lectures, why not record the lecture for the students to watch at home and then use the class time for working problems? This is fabulous for math, for example. Hope struggled often with not being able to take notes on math lecture, and then struggling together with me trying to solve problems based on recipe more than understanding.

Ever since I read Sue’s posts, I’ve been trying to understand how church could be flipped.

There are many parts of what we do that are experiential rather than content delivery. That I understand (see When I say church). In a couple weeks, a team is heading to help repair tornado damage. On Sunday, we’ll spend time singing together. After our large gatherings people spend 30 minutes in the hallway talking. All of those are part of “church” and are not primarily content delivery.

However, we do spend time teaching and training and explaining. I’m wondering whether any of that could be accomplished more effectively by recording the presentation for viewing away from the building, and using our time together for discussing and questioning and practicing?

One way we are doing this now is discussing the sermon in our small group. We listen on Sunday morning (or by podcast). I send out study questions during the week. We meet Saturday evening for supper and ninety minutes of discussion growing out of the thirty minute sermon.

But I need your help. How could I do more with this idea? What content could be presented recorded and then discussed face-to-face? How much of church can be flipped?

For 7×7, see 3.14.12

25 thoughts on “flipped church

  1. Joanna Paterson

    I wonder if you could experiment with flipping the ‘and then’ in your last but one sentence. Have a discussion about what has happened, been noticed, felt, worried about, enjoyed, experienced, loved, lost… during the week that has just gone by, *and then* create content that explores ideas and themes that have emerged, that highlights relevant bits of text or teaching to help explain an issue that was being explored.


    1. Jon Swanson

      Joanna – that would be a powerful and provoking process. As I was thinking about it, I thought “but I do that somewhere” and then realized that I do it in settings of giving counsel. Whether someone coming in for counsel, or in conversations. To move it to just a bit larger group would be huge and you begin to look at themes that are coming up in a number of people’s lives.

      I need to think about that more. hmmm.



  2. Todd Lohenry

    Jon, I love it. I think that with the “good, fast, and cheap” social media tools we have today, most of church could be flipped for some generations. I was working on a similar concept for homegroups in our church that never quite took off, but I think your idea is a great one…


    1. Jon Swanson

      Todd, i think that you are right, that the tools are part of it. But as I read some of the comments, they resonate with yours: “never quite took off”. Do you know why?

      Not trying to dig into difficult places, but there often is a challenge in helping dialogue and conversation happen.


  3. Katrina

    This isn’t Directly related to your question
    But it’s something that I thought
    It’s not just the message
    It’s the messenger
    For me it matters
    Good teacher? Good grade
    Bad teacher? Horrible grade

    If I can’t connect withthe person talking then I can’t hear what they are saying
    So for me if I could find the eight person for me
    To listen to
    Then I’d listen

    Not what you are getting at
    But just another reason sermons could be recorded
    If I connect with someone across the globe but no one locally
    I can still listen
    Like someone in Indiana for example

    Hey! I’m reading you again
    Neat 🙂


    1. Jon Swanson

      ah, dear friend, but this is a related question. Very much so. Even in a group discussion, the integrity of the messenger is part of the message, particularly when the message is about how to live.

      Like when Jesus says, I have come to give you life that is more abundant. And then the messengers are anything but alive, anything but abundant. And then the messengers see no irony.

      So there is a significant opportunity for a community of faith that is geographically spread, as you say.

      and thank you. Nice to see you.


  4. Rich Dixon

    Our church does one 6-8 week sermon series every Fall season. Our pastors spend a good deal of time doing videos over the summer (5-10 minutes each) and we publish a study guide–each video and study session expand on the week’s topic, also the sermon topic. Small groups hear the sermon and watchh the videos together, then discuss. It’s essentially a “flip” because the REAL stuff happens in the small group discussions.

    The issues are obvious: it requires a huge amount of planning and up-front effort. A good 5-miniute video, well-produced and effective, is a big time commitment. I’ve worked with a writing group for as long as twelve weeks to put together a six-week study guide. But wow–it’s effective when done well.

    As a teacher I experimented with flipped classroom ideas, but it always fell apart when I tried to scale beyond a small chunk. The preparation piece is tough to overcome. But it’s clearly a better use of precious class time.

    We do it the way we do it because it’s efficient, not effective. One person (teacher, pastor) does all of the studying and really learns the material. That person talks while a group of any size listens. Then everyone goes back to basically doing what they were doing before. We all get to pretend something important happens, but not much changes.

    My favorite teacher quote: “Talking isn’t teaching, and listening isn’t learning.”

    And that’s what I have to say about that. (Actually I have many more thoughts, but this is a comment, not a sermon. 🙂 )


    1. Jon Swanson

      RIch I have a friend who is a HS math teacher trying this with one of his classes. The prep is tough. He’s using the lecture that he would present in class, so he’s not reinventing content.

      I wonder whether sometimes we worry too much about the production values. If you look at the Kahn academy videos, the production values are good but not slick. And it’s a conversational approach. There clearly is a scale and context and all. In a sense, we’re looking for using mass tools for micro audiences. And it’s okay if it doesn’t scale.

      keep preaching.


    2. Rich Dixon

      I think it’s about the right tools and sticking with it. What I tried back in the old days (fifteen years ago) suffered from lack of the right tools, so everything took so long. That’s what I meant by production. The Kahn thing is just what I was trying to do but wasn’t smart enough to figure out.

      My opinion–everyone who cares about teaching (like church folks) should take Kahn seriously. But it changes the role of teacher/preacher. If we’re honest, many teachers/preachers LOVE lecturing/preaching in front of a big group, even though everyone knows the retention is very low. The Kahn model is a threat to their identity.


    3. Jon Swanson

      I think that you are exactly right, Rich, There is something compelling about performing.

      The challenge in Khan, as I was thinking about it today, is that it works for some things and not for others. It works when there is content to be mastered. It works when mastering that involves skill-building exercises. It works when there are right answers.

      But what doesn’t it work for?


  5. Dave

    I’m having trouble with this idea. To say there are things that could be flipped is to say there are things that aren’t necessary for Sunday morning.

    The question I think that needs to be asked is “What is the purpose of the Sunday morning service?” and work backwards from that.


    1. Jon Swanson

      Dave – this is a key question, though I’m not exclusively interested in the large group gathering time (could be Sunday morning, could be Saturday evening).

      But start there. What’s the purpose of the sermon? What’s the learning that could come out of it? Because there is a learning applying component to it. And the large space isn’t good for conversation. But looking at that Sunday piece in the context of the rest of the week, the rest of my life, the rest of our lives together is an important thing.

      And what if the necessary thing about Sunday morning is the side-by-side experience. Are the announcements necessary to that? If one church has a 10 minute sermon and one has a 30 minute and one has a 50 minute and one has a 2 hour one, which is doing what is necessary?

      Not trying to undermine either the Sunday morning service or large gatherings or church. I live my life committed to the value of engaging with God, with the Bible and with each other in large and small groups. But I do like to ask questions which invite struggle.


  6. Ryan Richardson

    I’ve always had trouble getting people to do work outside of church time. The “busyness” of life seems to crowd it out. I think you’re onto something with having a smaller group be seen as the main learning platform instead of the big assembly. This might be accomplished by having a group of 30-50 meet for discussion on Sunday mornings and then have the “worship” on Sunday nights. This will probably not happen in existing churches but is having success in church plants.


    1. Jon Swanson

      I understand what you are saying, Ryan. But as I hear you say it (rather than saying it myself) my reaction is “but is that a problem with the work we are offering people?” I mean, getting people to do what I want them to do is hard. Getting them to wrestle through ideas that they are curious about is easier.

      I’m not thinking very clearly about this, but I’ll keep working on it.

      And the interesting thing about the model we’re using, of preaching and discussion, is that we’re an old church. (100+ years).


  7. Susan Pieters

    Flip #1: Reverse church time to six days a week, do “work” for pay one day a week. Wonder if that’s do-able.
    Flip #2: Spend 75 minutes of a 90 min service listening to God, and only 15 minutes talking. (ie, read the bible out loud for most of the time. That used to be part of the liturgy. The sermon used to be a brief homily.)
    Flip #3: Praise God by listing everything that’s gone right in the week, finding the virtue and logic and mercy in our lives, the littleness of our mistakes in comparison to the vastness of his well-made not-a-mistake Creation. Then, maybe, remember to ask for a little something more, if you dare. (This is not the usual proportional order of long shopping-list prayers.)
    Flip #4: Wait, wait, wait… until God speaks. We’re so afraid He won’t, that we jump in to fill the silence. That’s called a church full of people, anxious and active, doing church. Flip that, look outside the building, and you get a world full of the glory of God, bigger than we will ever be, loud with hope and pain and beauty. We are part of this; it is our true church, and to think we can hide inside a building with rules and clocks that start and end the service… is so small of us.


    1. Jon Swanson

      #1. Not sure I understand. I think so, but not sure.
      #2. Fabulous. It’s a Quaker “waiting to hear from God” idea. But the thought of listening for that long, or silence without a musical bed, is scary. But I like the idea.
      #3. love this. Psalm 103 in “Godspell” says “and forget not all his benefits.” This would be a remarkable exercise for a week.
      #4. amen.


  8. paulmerrill

    I love this idea. I love the idea of thinking beyond what a traditional Sunday service is. So much could be done with that precious two hours.

    Some might think of the preparation time of watching or listening to the sermon ahead of time as homework and would let busy-ness crowd it out. That was my experience in leading small groups… few prepared ahead of time. But the discussions were often rich, anyhow.


  9. Jan

    What if the sermon is an integral part of the worship because it is not teaching but proclamation? In my church, the sermon is not primarily explication of the Scripture readings (though that happens, often, along the way) but an extended announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ that, together with the Scripture readings, prepares the assembly to make intercessions, offer our gifts, and receive Jesus’ death and resurrection into our bodies in the form of bread and wine. There might be ways we could tell the good news to each other during the time the sermon would normally take place…Let’s see, and since the people who make up the assembly aren’t, or don’t feel, equipped to do so, then the part that leaders do in advance would be that equipping… I wonder, though, whether that too isn’t particularly well suited to video.


  10. cjhinx

    Our pastor reminds us that Sunday morning is a time of celebration for all that God has done in our lives the previous week. As Christians we are called to carry out the Great Commission. What if Sunday mornings were a time to discuss how things were going? What if we prayed for others who didn’t know Christ on Sunday morning? What if we shared how God used us that week to further the kingdom? What if we discussed ways we could be more effective in our outreach and practice them with each other? I don’t know about the logistics of this and I know it is pretty far fetched, but there are a lot of people who need to be touched by the love of God that aren’t being reached. I think it might be time for a radical change.


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  12. functionalchurch

    Thanks, Jon. Loved this post and the concepts you bring out. As a result I have started a serious re-vamp of our training programs. But that isn’t the purpose of this comment.

    In prep for class tonight I was reading Ephesians and realised Paul also flipped his classroom. At the end of the book, in which he expounds the implications of the mystery of God, Paul mentions that he is sending Tychius “for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage you.” So Paul sends the teaching in the form of a letter. He then follows it up with a teacher who can help them work it all out.



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