Thom Bartz - "Bible Study Fellowship"
3:43PM Jul 8, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
We are really looking forward to hearing from Tom Bartz, the director of implementation at Bible study fellowship. I think everybody knows Bible study, fellowship and admires the work they do many of you who have been shaped by the work of Bible study, fellowship and participated in their classes or been inspired to pursue theological education in your own churches through their work. So we're delighted to be able to speak with Tom Bart's, and we've asked him to come really as a representative of we understand BSF to be a paradigm that a lot of us are sort of consciously and unconsciously emulating. Let's have the opportunity to speak directly with Tom and learn from him in his work at BASF. As all of you represent theological edge I represent Moody Bible Institute and I'm the director for the central for global theological education, Mooney is an institute is also realizing that much of the future of theological education probably looks probably happens within the walls of church buildings. And so we're really interested in what appears to be a movement of churches all across the country starting and Bible colleges or Bible College like programs. And we're very interested in that movement and want to learn to see what we can do to be as effective as possible in training God's people, and what we can do to partner with existing efforts. We are really honored and delighted to be speaking with Tom Bart's director of implementation at BASF or Bible study fellowship. Tom, thank you so much for for being with us today.
You bet you bet. This is what I'll cover in background I'll briefly cover what BSF is our brief history and how it works. And then I'm going to talk about expanding our reach and bringing BSF to people outside of the classes that we offer and I'll start talking about satellites which are an important way in which we started to reach out and how that led into BASF online. For BSF online in particular I'll talk about how it works, the expanded reach that's come from that and then also the challenges that we've encountered as a result of it.
So first of all, what is BSF?
Bible study fellowship is an in depth Bible study and and it's for lay people. It's interdenominational. And it's global. The studies that we have, there are there are 10 of them in here in the list of which ones they are. Each one of these takes, essentially a year actually is 30 weeks it coincides with with like the school year. We have a year on on Genesis, another on the rest of the Pentateuch, the life of Moses. Then we have people the promised land, which covers the time from Joshua Solomon's reign. People the promised land two covers the rest of the Old Testament focusing primarily on Israel, Israel's history and also the Minor Prophets. We have another on the book of Isaiah, two on the Gospels, one on Matthew, one on john x and the letters the apostles deals with x in the chronology there and branches out to various e pistols as they tie into that x chronology. There's one on Romans, and then finally, on revelation as well.
over 1200 and 70 classes almost 1300 of these they're hosted by churches, and about 450,000 adults and children worldwide. The children aspect is has two parts to it. One is for preschool children in our day classes. The other is for grade school children in our evening classes. The Children's component has not yet brought in been brought into our BSF online offering at this stage so I won't really focus on that but I just want to be aware that that exists as well. For more information about BSF overall you can go to our website, www BASF international dot orgy and there's other information there about you know what our core beliefs are statement of faith Board of Directors different things like that the study was was founded by Audrey Weatherall Johnson she was a missionary that she came from England but went to China as part of the China inland mission and basically served there until Chairman Mao expelled missionaries in the 50s. She came to the US but had the full intent of continuing on in the mission field somewhere else. But some some women there who'd heard her speak and were greatly inspired by her, asked her to start teaching them with the Bible study. She prayed about that thought God led her to do it. But she told the women that she was not going to spoon feed them, which was really then the beginnings of this in depth Bible study that she began to form for them. Those women invited many others as they moved, they want to DSF in their area. And so Miss Johnson started developing a program where she could train leaders to start up these classes in other places, and I grew from there. Then in the 1980s, we had another executive director, Rosemary Jensen, who took over also a missionary and she was responsible really for expanding the reach internationally. How does it work? That basically there's a four fold approach, number of states have kind of adopted a similar type of approach here, but there's four different ways each week in which people study a given passage. And the first one is questions. This is where people individually, they have a specific scripture lesson. It's broken up into daily readings and a number of questions that they answered. And it's broken up into daily readings in order to help help encourage people to have that daily habit of studying the Bible. So they do that on their own. But then once a week they meet together for the second part, are they in a group of people, same people throughout the week, throughout the year on discuss what they came up with and share one another's answers. That discussion is led by a trained discussion leader who facilitates that that conversation following that, they listen to a lecture which is the third way in which this passage is covered. It's a teaching on that week's lesson, led by are given by the teaching leader whose overall has responsibility for the class. Finally, when they leave that class, meaning they receive some notes, which is essentially like a commentary on that passage, as well that explores it further. And so there are four different ways in which they I studied the passage each week. But a lot of the the key emphasis is not just like learning and gaining familiarity with with our faith, but also gleaning the key lessons that come out of those passages that he principles and then apply them to our lives. And so application is weaved in through every aspect of this as they go through it. I mentioned that the person who gives the the lecture is is a trained teaching leader. they oversee the class that they're responsible for, they invite leaders in to to help serve him or her in leading that class. Every teaching leader is trained here at headquarters to learn how to how to do that role. And then each of those like discussion leaders that are brought in that leader brings in leads discussion groups, who lead those facilitate those discussions. Each of those discussions typically consists of 15 group members in each of those
At this point I mentioned earlier about almost 1300 classes in about 450,000 participants. And we're reaching into about 40 different countries at this point. So that's given us a pretty good, pretty good growth path, pretty good coverage as we've expanded on, but about four or five years ago, we started introducing satellites, which are smaller groups that really branch out from the classes. And this is where somebody who has a heart for some people who are more distant but are not able to actually weakly attend a given class because it's too far away or whatever, or maybe the timing doesn't work for them. So these leaders will start these groups where they bring BSF to this distant location. This began with people wanting to reach members in a rural area. It started actually here in Texas, where the idea first was introduced, but it works really well in rural areas. Where traffic congestion prevents people from attending a class on a given day or night. And so these groups have expanded, we've got about set, we've got them in 1700 locations, and about 62 and a half thousand members participating in those right now. And in addition to rural areas and metropolis, metropolitan areas, they meet in college campuses, some medium prisons, retirement communities, professional offices, basically places where we bring it to them to the people, so they can participate or otherwise, they may not be able to. A lot of these satellites as they've grown, have have become classes their own and it's become really the, the feeding ground by which we establish new classes in new locations. So all together with those locations combined with the classes we have about 300 points of physical presence where BSF is offered. But again, you know, there's a limitation with a physical Meaning that people can attend if they live close enough and if they're available at that particular time. And so that's what led us to introduce BSF online where we can make BSF available to anyone, anywhere, anytime by making it available over the internet. BSF online The way it works is there's a website where people come and they see groups that are available. They they find one that works for them, they join it, they see information about their group and begin to connect with those individuals. And then they engage in BSF the same as we do in our regular classes. They go through the fourfold method of the questions, the discussion, the lecture and the notes. But it all happens online. I show you a few snapshots here of basically what the website is like and how that works. In terms of what we built at this stage, they set up an account and once they do, they see a list of groups that they can join. And let me get my pointer here. It's really important that they put in the right time zone that they're in because accordingly, they will see the list of groups shown for when they need in their on their day and their time. So they can identify a group in the list that's down low in there that fits their schedule. And they may be able to also we have groups and different languages they can they can pick the language they want as well. But once they click on on a link here to join a group, basically what happens is they now were brought to a page that shows them information about their particular group. Here you see the group leader for this group.
This is one of our
online groups out of the Grand Rapids evening men's class that was mentioned in the introduction to talk. They have two groups. And so they'll see a picture of their group leader they'll see contact information for for him or her. They'll see some information about their class material. Links. I'll talk about those in a moment. And as they scroll further down, they see photographs of other people in the group. And not only their names, but the countries where they're from that kind of a thing. So they get a sense for who these people are. So that basically introduces them to that to their group. I mentioned earlier the materials and links, and this is kind of a central point from which they can access that. And so going through the fourfold approach for questions, they follow this link, where we have our website where materials are available in digital form. And so here you can see the questions. For a particular lesson passage. You can see that they're available in some different formats. This is in Word This is in PDF. We even have them in audio form for people who need that. But the key thing here is that they're available digitally now. Granted, this is not the artist desired or optimal format for questions and the like. pdf is something that we've been able to provide quickly and easily. But what's really needed is something that's refillable something that works on mobile devices on any sized screen real estate. And or is tuned towards a mobile device through an app. And so we're working on that. But for now, this gets us going. People can download these. They can, if you look at the, here's, here's a sample of the questions. They're in the PDF format. There are forums where they go through the questions, answer it and fill in their answer in in the various forms that are there.
In the form boxes.
Then, going back after they've done their own lesson, if they go to their discussion, they see the link here for their particular weekly meeting. And that of course, brings in zoom as you're all familiar with and they're experiencing right now. Where they see the other people in their group. Here's another picture of this. This is a group actually that my wife led last year. And it consisted of people from around the world, a number of people from the US several from some Europe, a number from Africa, one even from the Philippines, and they would all meet together like this on a regular basis. And it's kind of interesting how this has been effective and bringing people in. One group leader said this about it, she said, talking about a previous meeting she said last night, I had one member battling a cold another visiting her mother out of state and a third who had to join by phone while she picked up her kids. Normally, these three women would have had to miss BSF because they wouldn't be able to meet at their join their physical physical class locally there. But the online group, she says makes it possible for them to participate. And then she also adds that the Roman study is also include a lot of challenging question. That caused the group members to examine and named their sins. She has it normally in an in person group, women might be hesitant to list the real answer and fear that someone might see what they wrote. But my women can be completely honest, since there's no peeking, quote, unquote, that's someone else's paper. And then she has an interesting insight. He says, I also think the fact that they don't know each other's families, friends and co workers, because they live all over the world has helped him to be more vulnerable and bold and sharing than their answers to these difficult questions. This is an interesting phenomenon that we've kind of identified through this or observed. A lot of people are wondering, well, how well will people be able to connect online like is it going to be as personal I don't know if I would like that. I want it to be with people purse, in person face to face. And what we found is an overwhelming number of our group leaders, particularly those who lead physical groups in the past have told us that They've found their groups have connected more quickly and more deeply than they have ever experienced before. And I think that what this group leader was talking about is, is one of a couple of reasons why this happens. One is, people tend to be more vulnerable that will open up when there's this degree of anonymity that comes in the online world. These are people who they're not going to see a church or at the grocery store or whatever, or work and so people are a little more willing to open up and another aspect that we've found is people open up more freely and and share about what they're learning and and what's going on in their lives is that you learn more about them just by seeing a little window into their lives from the little little picture of them in their home setting or their office or wherever it is. And as people see what's behind an individual it it introduces it raises questions. I really liked that artwork that you have there or or maybe A child comes walking in, and that that introduces conversation and that sort of thing. And so people kind of naturally open up and learn things about one another, that they might not as readily when they're sitting in a, in a room in a church building that's not personally attached to any one of them. So that's been an interesting observation that we've come across. We also, as I mentioned, have some of these groups in different languages. This is a mandarin group that we have that makes it a regular basis, they also get a mandarin lecture from one of our classes or Chinese classes. This is a young adult, young women's group. And they likewise observe how quickly they have connected with one another and just really enjoyed really greater depth than they normally have experienced as well. The fellowship has really, really grown. We following that discussion, they they listen to a lecture Here's the link for that. Now normally in a physical class, they would all all the different members of the different groups joined together, and they would listen to a lecture, but here online, it's available for them. And they listen to it on their own on their own time, not as a group, but they can listen watch a video, or they can listen to it, they can download these, they can listen to the while they're
driving a car, or,
or running or those kinds of things. So they listen when it works out for them when it's convenient for them. And then finally, they receive notes as well. And that that page of resources provides that and these are available in different formats as well. They're available in PDF, they're also available in Kindle, an E pub, which is which is a significant improvement. It's a reflowable content that that adjusts to your the size of your your screen and, and makes it readable, easy to zoom without having to pan that kind of a thing. And we also have audio notes as well. Here's a little sample snippet of the notes, little screenshot of that what they look like in the PDF format. So they can download those and edit them in the library or use one of the other formats. We want to expand this further, we're still I'd really like to see like an html5 offering that is really works on any platform very easily, but doesn't necessarily tie us to a particular ereader. Here's the current status of our online groups. We have 600 groups around the world serving 8150 members. This is the growth that we've seen in the chart that you see here. We started with just a couple of groups just two years ago, then the year after that we we started off with 90 and grew to 600 this past year, but I have to tell you that we have really basically contained it significantly. We have not taken the lid off of this at all. You can if you go to our website, you will not find the registration link. They're, it's there. But it's hidden, it's not readily available. And that's because of some of the scalability challenges that we face that we know that we encounter if we open this thing up wide, and I'll talk about that in a few minutes. But through the 600 groups that we've had so far that are running right now, here's a list of the different countries that we're reaching into as a result. By the way, the colors are just to break up the monotony of black and white, there's no significance to them. But it's just kind of make it a little more readable. But the key thing is now we're reaching into people in 110 different countries around the world, as opposed to the 40 or so that we've been reaching through our physical groups. Doing this opens up lots of new opportunities, as well. Here's a there we have an online teaching leader in the UK who has ties to the Middle East and she's just excited about the opportunity for reaching those people believers who face persecution For their faith, who have to basically hide it. And this is a way for them to be connected and have fellowship with other believers more easily without without being necessarily exposed in that. Here's a story of that where one group leader shared that I have a member in Malaysia. Her story just breaks my heart she's she's the only Christian in her family and her husband pretty much keeps her prisoner there. He will not allow her to go to church by threat of divorce and our children openly mocker BSF is pretty much your only contact with Christians. And so we're grateful that we can reach people like this and give them an opportunity to have fellowship to grow in their walk with the Lord.
And just when we think of the opportunity for that, we're just very excited about that. Another thing is that BSF is being an in depth Bible study primarily focuses on believers or people who are believers already, but a number of people do come to faith and they're the One testimony we came across from a group leader who shared were on his very first night opening night at that point, he had five or six people in his group. And as they started, there were like five of them, they come in and the last one to join came 15 minutes late. Now, this particular member had registered with his first name only. And according to his profile, he didn't attend the church, and there is nothing in his email address or anything that would really reveal anything about him. And the profile indicated that he probably had no Bible knowledge. And the group leader assumed that he was probably a seeker and apprehensive about joining joining the discussion. Well, the group leader said the discussion went really well. But even though he was concerned that it might be difficult to build up like a sense of community or brotherhood online, but but as the guys interacted with one another, there was humor, great interaction, a willingness to participate in it went really well. And He notes that before they started That discussion, which was on Josh, what he said he gave a quick backstory to BSF and his short version of his own testimony. And that he says turned out to be important down the road in the in the discussion later in that meeting. And after going through the discussion, he said, well, let's talk about how we might share prayer requests with one another. And as they were talking about that, this late comer who got who'd come in 15 minutes late and real reveal very little about himself, basically interrupted and asked, how would you describe what it means to be a Christian? And so the group leader open that question up to the other guys, they were a little stunned and kind of silent. And so he went on to answer the question and invite the others to build on that. And to add it to a couple of them added to that one held up and Are you sure brochure which is a little pamphlet we have that talks about how you can come to faith and how you can be assured of your salvation and after talking about that, That and saying, Hey, I could send you that that PDF, the group leader just pointed out, asked, Hey, would you like to receive Christ right here right now? And to a surprise, this new member said yes. And and they bowed and they prayed. And he said that he prayed a transparent prayer of confession. That was almost identical, the prayer that he had shared in that testimony earlier the group leader had given and you know, they just kind of rejoiced after that and celebrated this new people new guy coming to faith like this, who it seemed It was very hesitant or maybe very reluctant to maybe join in, but was led to do this. And, you know, they told them, you know, you'll probably encounter some discouragement after this, but that's just an indication that the assurance of your salvation so they're encouraging them and and just the group leader pointed out that here we have this group of men who'd never met each other before they were from all different states across the country. And yet all of them were brought together like this. Holy Spirit, and and we're able to participate in seeing this person come to Christ. So that kind of thing happens here too. And it's exciting to hear those stories. I mentioned earlier that that we have groups in different languages. Here's a breakout of those. We have some in Spanish. In Spanish, we have some in Chinese as well. And then some other languages. We have translated materials for Chinese and Spanish, not these other languages at this point, but their discussions take place in those languages. And, and then they'll often the leader or somebody will translate the questions for them to facility to help encourage that. We also have that can be set up for certain age groups if people prefer that sort of thing. We have 43 and in over 40 groups and we have 43 and under 40 at this stage that people have joined. Then we also have been plant testing groups that have a certain certain affinities that people may have or interests like some that are more International Law international groups or they have a growing family or military background, these kinds of things. And so we've been testing to see how well does that work? What does that do to contribute overall connectedness? That kind of thing? Oh, it's interesting, too. I should mention that.
This is where we've encountered some challenges as well, because as these groups are, are often very global, on some people kind of struggle with that where they don't understand somebody's accent. And so there's a lot of could you say that again? Could you repeat that kind of thing that may happen, which is something that's kind of led to wanting a little groups that are maybe more culturally cohesive, or are common to a particular culture so that some of those barriers don't occur? But it's kind of an interesting thing that we've observed that we're thinking, Well, how do we how do we best address that sort of thing? One of the other things that that's important, and I think I mentioned earlier that for a group leader to to lead a group they attend the leaders meeting, in preparation for that and as We've now established these online groups. There are members in those groups that we can bring into leadership. But very few of them have a nearby class that has a leaders meeting that they can attend. And so in order to bring those leaders in and give them a leaders meeting, we've started these online leaders meetings where they're part of a purely online class.
And so, these group leaders attend and online leaders meeting every week in preparation for their online discussion group. In those leaders meetings, there's a doctrinal talk that relates to the passage, a key truth that's being that comes out through it. There's prayer, they go through training, in doing their, their their role, and then they review the lesson themselves and prepare for the discussion each week. So here's kind of a little picture of that where you've got these online groups and the group leaders will attend the online leaders meeting at a separate time in preparation for that But then any one of these group members could be called into leadership as well. And maybe they replaced the group leader that they had needed, they start a new group. But an interesting aspect of growth that comes out of this is sometimes a group leader wants to be a leader, but rather than leading an online group, they want to start one of these physical satellites that I talked about earlier. And so that group leader may become a group leader for a distance or physical satellite that meets in a home or in a church. But because they also don't live anywhere near an actual physical class, they attended online leaders meeting as well. So that's how they get their training and preparation each week, and they can, they can start to meet their group locally. I mentioned earlier my wife's classes my wife's group that she led last year, one of her members wanted to do this and was able to start a group in Prague. As a result tying into an online leaders meeting in this way, even though there's no other physical class close by, and that that group has now grown to include a second group now. And it's just fun to see that kind of growth and expansion made possible through these means. And so what the interesting aspect of this is that we see online being fed by physical where members who want to join in on the online because they can't attend their class or they just can't get to one for whatever reason. But then likewise, we see online feeding physical as well and so they can grow and build on one another. As we continue to expand. This is a picture of a satellite of a missionary family who a woman who had been really kind of starved for fellowship and the like, and as soon as this became available, was able to join in, she was excited and downloaded the lessons right away. She said that they start sharing their their lessons every day. So they go through With the family and and work through it as well, in addition to her participation in the group, but it's just been a great boost to her and encouragement to her being out there many times these missionaries feel very isolated. And this allows them to on a regular basis on a weekly basis be strengthened with one another. Okay, so having gone through all of that, and that background and stuff, here's some of the challenges that we face. And fundamentally, the biggest the biggest general issue that we are facing right now is scalability. And just as an illustration of that, when we started when we introduced the online leaders meetings, we started doing that by basically offering a full class online. And that means we have like nine or 10 groups that we have leaders ready for nobody in them, but all attending a common leaders meeting and ready to get started and we put one posting on Facebook within two hours, every one of their groups was full. It just didn't take very long at all. And that just indicated to us how rapidly this thing can grow. If we actually start to promote it, we have not been promoting it at all we've told our leaders and you know, indicated how they can get people that join, if they like that kind of a thing. But we have not been pushing this. We have not been advertising it. We've just been informed a few people and you know, you can't even find that that link to register on our website unless you know exactly exactly where it is. And the reason is because of the scalability, we have challenges in that in in it, we have it with our training, our leadership ranks, filling those out and helpdesk support, and these aren't insurmountable issues, but they're things that we have to focus on and get in place in order to be ready to meet the demand as it comes in.
Specifically for it, we need a tighter integration with some with our existing database and systems, we built this using a no code platform, so that we could build it quickly and prove it out. And that works really well. But our integration with the rest of our systems is not as tight as we really need it to be. And that affects how quickly we get people processed, and, and how, and the consistency of of our overall data, which is important for our reporting and just managing things overall. And so we need a tighter integration. And that just takes some time in order to accomplish that. The other thing and having used having developed a core sort of a packaged low code platform, you kind of get what you get. And you can you can override that and provide additional capability on top of that, but for the most part, you can't make it as usable or friendly as you would really like to. So it's really well tuned for your particular application. And so we want to really implement something something new that's really Ideal for what we're doing here, what we have or it's great and, and, and will does the job. But we want to enhance it further, because we want to smooth on ramp for everybody coming in
and less administrative work on our part.
Training is important. These new online teaching leaders as they come in, they have to get trained, but our capacity to train online teaching leaders have some limitations. We actually bring them here to headquarters to train him. And it takes staff time and various things and just the ability to grow that more quickly, is something we're looking at how do we scale that up. In addition to that training that they get and the training that leaders get in their weekly leaders meeting, we want to develop training resources specifically for our online online leaders. That helps them take full advantage of zoom or other tools to to lead well to help their groups Connect well with one another. We want to help them make it as effective as they, they can make it. And so we want to give them the resources to do that. Well, one of the things we've learned through our research is that the better connected, the members of a group are to one another. The more engaged they will be in all aspects of BSF, it's their connection with one another that really spurs that engagement. And so to that extent, we want to improve or enhance that connection among the members as much as we can, in order to help ensure their, their participation and all aspects of it. And so and trainings, a key part of that and just getting all of that in place is something that we're investing in. Another thing is just the leadership ranks, bringing in the people who are willing to lead and able to lead and providing support for them, which means we have the leadership in place who oversee the online classes and that sort of thing. What we've done so far is basically bring online BSF online in as an additional thing to what our physical classes do. And so it's like one more thing that they deal with kind of on the side, what we want is a branch of our leadership that is focused specifically on online and, and makes that that's the focus. That's what they do. That's what they're experts in. And so we're working to get that branch of leadership in place. There are also processes, procedures that we've run into that have to be done differently online. Things that just just work differently. For example, in our in our physical classes, every group, you know, they'll talk about prayer requests as that one group leader was talking about. So how do you want to share prayer requests that type of well in a physical class, they do that after every discussion, and and they kind of share that briefly and then they pray about that through the week. Well, in the online class, it just organically developed the people who would use some messaging like system like Like WhatsApp, and they would just start sharing organically throughout the week. And so you didn't any more need to have this time for sharing prayer requests. It just was happening time. And so things just kind of start to work a little differently in this environment because I can and because it makes more sense. It changes how we handle administrative things and other aspects. And just making sure we have those things clear for our leadership, and people know how to do that consistently. So those are things we're working on as well. Finally, there's a help desk support. This is really important because in the online world, people are very, very demanding and actually very kind of impatient. Um, it kind of it's, it's that way in the online, online world, which means that as people register or get set up, if things don't work, well, you can lose people very quickly. And so if they're having issues, you need to be responsive to them. And so people kind of expect that or they'll just kind of walk away and not come back. But also when you are responsive, we found they greatly appreciate it. And so that that quality of service that their responsiveness is really, really important. So we set up a help desk, we have volunteers from various places around the world who contribute to this. We've given them like key things that they address and know how to answer or take care of things that they can't address, they then pass on to us or escalate to us to handle here as we need to. But the key thing that we're trying to emphasize is being responsive, addressing those issues, and having a strategy for that, and helping ensure that the member sees that we are working on their particular issue and addressing their concerns. It's really kind of the implications of being being global that you need to have this responsiveness and any point things are on and going which is very different from our history, where you have a class day or class night meeting once a week. And, and most of the work takes place right then or at the leaders meeting in preparation for that. So it's a whole different world. And as we look at all these different things, and as we look at scaling, those are the key issues that we're looking at addressing more effectively.
But we're excited by the opportunity, we're tremendously excited, and are eager to make it grow even further and faster than we're able to at the moment, but doing his as quickly and effectively as we can.
so much, Tom Bartz, for leading us applauding doesn't really work in zoom, because we're all in different different sound channels, but we can give you the is this is this the sign language for applause?
I've heard that.
Yes. All right. Well, thank you so much. We express our appreciation to you. We've got a bunch of leaders online who are decision makers at their own institutions. I'm just gonna throw this open. I have a bunch of questions too, but let's share Tom's time. What are your questions from your minister perspectives and introduce help us understand the context just a tiny bit from which your question is coming. This is open dialogue.
Yeah, this is Jean Wilks and with bH Carroll theological Institute isn't so much a question as an affirmation for what you're doing and how you're doing it. bH care was founded about 16 years ago for two specific reasons. One was to return theological education back to the local church. We are in the rare stratosphere of formal church based theological education. We're accredited seminary with ATMs and ABA. We have 100% Online Library, and we teach our classes through this method. What you're talking about Tom, but in local churches again as BSF the challenge we have is that not everyone wants a master's degree. And not everyone wants a PhD, though. Todd, I'm I'm on your page to raise the value of pastors theologian. And that's the second reason most of our faculty are pastors, church members with terminal degrees in their area of expertise. So, we have found this to be very, very valuable. And we see more and more of this. I do our challenge that I believe that Tom vSf and others are reaching is Jonathan, you know, you posted a panel discussion with Darrell Bock on on your, on the website, the aqueduct website and talked about the need an opportunity for non formal theological education. training. And that that is where we see the greatest need and our challenge. So when we offer a master's level class in the local church, there is there are those who are enrolled in that degree, a diploma, degree program, but also then our we call them readers or folks who audit the class. So trying to partner with a local church, not to be an extension of the seminary, but to join their discipleship and leadership development program. So it's kind of cliche what y'all are done. And I really don't have a question again, just want to affirm what you're doing and we're discovering the same scalability issues near the size you are, but we are finding those same issues but applauding and thank you for being on the frontlines of this
Thanks, Jean. So
yeah, this technology thing is going to change a lot of our lives really deeply. Thanks so much, Tom for being with us. Yeah. Other questions, please.
I have a question more about your software platforms, how you manage all this, what programs you use, what software because what we do here in Silicon Valley with a lot of this stuff gets invented
is um, we're we're,
we're doing a lot of our ministerial training. Ours is not so much a theological school as it is a ministry training school. So our focus is not academic so much as it is application we teach people how do I do it? How do I run a ministry class? How do I preach a sermon? How do I pray for the sick, how do I do these things? So we're connecting a lot of our training to apprenticeships, and, you know, assigning people, mentors and those kinds of things, but we are already Schools been around for impact school ministries, about 20 years now we've had it. And we are launching our online platform, this coming fall where we're putting a lot of our training classes online. We've gone from being a single site church to being a multi site in the last couple of years or so we have campuses all over the state of California and down into Arizona and possibly into Nevada, Las Vegas area. So we're concerned about getting our training out into all these places. We can't expect all our leaders to come to San Jose every time they need training. So looking at what you're doing there looks like something that is very similar to what we've had in mind. I was just curious as to what programs what software you're using to make this happen. Right.
And what we've used so far is what I what I use here to develop this is a low code platform called nak k n AC K. Max calm and and I use that because it was easy for me to get something up and going. I'm a software developer in my background. But I'm not part of the IT team here at BASF. I'm part of the ministerial side of things. But we see I saw this need and the developers and it were basically just didn't have capacity. And and this allowed me to develop something very quickly, which was the main thing now nak is a platform that basically gives you a database in the cloud. And that's where I could set up all the different user roles and and the information even even links to some of the documents that we initially shared and made available. It's where I could then write the various pages that allow people to see what groups exist. I put all the groups in the database and who's who's connected to which ones in terms of leading them what classes they're associated with. All this stuff went into the database, they're in the cloud, and then you can click Free pages that that look that present that data or for different users for what they need. And so that's where I was able to develop the the tables that show those groups for that particular time zone that a particular member would be in. So that's, you know, that that, that worked pretty well for getting things up and getting things up and going and could even work for, you know, we could continue to use it. But in terms of the new a new implementation, it is is working on developing that. I'm not sure exactly what platform they're gonna end up using. Um, but that has been really instrumental. The other is, is I have to say zoom is an outstanding platform for that, you know, for providing interactive training. We've made extensive use of like the the breakout rooms were during the discussions. You know, the leader breaks them up into Groups a 234 however, and then they do an exercise if it were training or they they discuss if it's during the discussion on the the leader can join in on that and see how it's going. Or they can invite the leader in. When the time is over, everybody gets a message and within 60 seconds, everyone comes back together. That's been really very, very useful. And we've used that effectively in training. And that's important for the coaching aspect of training as well where they're doing exercises where where the overall trainer is able to give feedback on what they're doing and how that works.
Tom This is Michael Wilburn, from Richmond, Virginia. I get the blessing of being around BSF every week we host a large lace gathering. I suppose it just this past Wednesday for we're grateful to be supportive and also benefiting from your your work my research interests have to do with graduate level education church Based theological education with full blown seminaries that are located on a Church's property and function under the governance of a single local church. And since 1980, there are about two dozen of those types of institutions, probably, most of them are accredited, either by a bhp or ATMs or some of them actually have regional accreditation as well. In the scalability, many of them are entering distance education, either with extension centers or branch campuses or online education, either synchronous or asynchronous. One of the things that they are all collectively concerned about is losing something of their educational philosophy and moving to more of a online or distance ed platform.
church based theological education, there's sort of this non formal Maybe things that Ted Ward used to write about years ago, that this non formal education from actually being gathered with the other students, sort of a hidden curriculum, have you sensed in the last couple of years? And really the rapid nature of the growth of these online groups? How has it affected your primary church based groups?
I don't think it's like like detracted from them. I what it is really primarily done is is brought in people I can turn to the numbers is brought in people who otherwise could not could not attend. Physically, you know, we kind of looked at that initially and thought, you know, is this going to going to take away from from that, are we going to lose people, we really find, we gain the ones who otherwise can't. And we also adopted the philosophy that, you know, if people switch from one to the other, we're not really concerned about that. If this if this presupposes the opportunity or chance that they will engage in the Bible on a regular basis, we're all for that we don't really care how they do it. I do think it's very important to continue to maintain that those, the, you know, the philosophical aspects of your ministry and what you're doing, I think that comes down to effective training of the leader in terms of how they, they lead those, those weekly meetings or do the training and those kinds of things. And so, that's where I think that has to come into play. You know, it's, it's some of the things that are different is that in this kind of environment, we find that having having, you know, maybe 12 to 15 members or something like that is kind of ideal, especially, especially for training. And, and that kind of impacts little things people people going to a physical class typically expect they may be used to seeing several hundred people or certainly more than they see in the typical group. So it puts A greater emphasis on the group itself, which then I think makes that training of the leader all the more important. Tom, can I ask
a corollary question? And so I clearly believe in telecommunications, I think it's a huge gift. And I trust that the Spirit will use it for amazing things in the church during our lifetimes. And yet, I think it would be a misstep to imagine that the technology replicates, replicates everything that can be done in person. So can you help me through the exercise very briefly, in your from your point of view? What are the things that the technology can do? What are what are its particular strengths that we ought to be monopolizing on? And what are things that we ought to reserve for face to face communication?
You know, we kind of encounter that as we try it, you know, there's a tendency for for people Don't want to replicate everything that's in the physical try to replicate it online and it doesn't doesn't always work so well. And and some people really desire to have that physical connection, you know, and you hear a lot of stories where people did meet, you know, because they happen to be traveling and be in the same place and they're really excited about that there is something about the personal face to face interaction that really, you know, adds a whole lot you know, once once that encounter encounter takes place that you can't fully replicate at least not
at this stage. You know, one
way to access this I so appreciate your experience and your thinking here. One way to access this question is why does BSF fly its leaders out to your offices, what what is the special objective there?
Okay, that's it. That's a good way to tie into it. Better the bait actually, that we're kind of going through right now. Great, great question. And if you've ever been here, I don't know if any of you have it's a very beautiful campus. And and it's it's got a lot A lot of trees and everything. It's it's kind of very rural, even though it's now San Antonio's crossing around it. But you come here and people have a sense it's a very kind of special place. And, and they meet some of the leadership that they've heard about at various times, and they get some really effective training when they're here. It turns out to be kind of an experience that happens here, that that, especially for these teaching leaders, is kind of like a, you know, a key milestone in their growth and development. I'm replicating that online, you can, we can replicate the training and all that. But actually being here at this place, is something that there's a sense that that's kind of special. And so there's been a reluctance to, to take that away. You know, a lot of times, people, you know, at a physical class, they'll go, they may go and have coffee after the class. You can't quite do that. But what we do do is we open up these groups early, and we And we and we keep them on late and people come in early and have informal disfellowship and they stay late and just kind of linger and the group leader can the leader can can even leave you know the meeting will continue. That kind of informal connectivity is how we can kind of replicate that and of course people are free to connect with one another on on there on but it is a little more challenging.
This is Dave lesney. The virtues campus Minneapolis. I just want to commend BSF for what they're doing online education. I'm not sure I have a question just to share a little bit of our experience. We are shorthand Christian community college we work with 18 to 24 year olds in church based college education, and we bring the the online learning together with face to face on campus. local churches come alongside a local churches, helping them double up his college classroom is Monday through Friday. So our college students that need four hours For on campus classes, overseen by an academic pastor, for two years discipling, mentoring coaching, while they're taking their on campus courses, they're also taking online courses from an accredited university. And so getting their Associate of Arts Associate of Science degree through the accredited university. So it's a blending of online learning with face to face accountability, mentoring, and discipling. And we find that the two aspects, so work well together, bringing both online learning plus the face to face, cohorts will never get more than 25. And we want to multiply these in churches of all the nominees nominations across the United States. So just sharing our experience of bringing the face to face community aspect, mentoring aspect together.
Online Learning and he encouraged me through that,
David, thank you so much for that comment.
Can I Can I
ask a question to the entire group including Tom and that is so one of the Things that happen. I mean, you've embedded in our mind. Now, Tom, in 2017, you had two of these groups in 2018, you had 90 and this year, you have 600. And you're having to hold those numbers down. So you're showcasing a really big transition that we're all going to be facing in one way or another in these years ahead. May I throw to everybody the question of partnerships. So these educational initiatives have operated in their own little worlds because they had to because geography was a necessary part of the ingredient to make education work in the past. And now over the years ahead, those rules are changing. So there's an opportunity for partnership that has not existed between educational initiatives. And yet, I don't think I don't think we know how to do this. What are some ways or some guidelines that that we should be focusing on as partnership becomes possible in the future? And yet, these may be new ideas for us. How could we partner in the future?
I'm Vicki Gatchell from Fort Wayne, Indiana Central Institute is a church based theology school. We don't offer any college credit at this time. We have lay people within our own congregation that have been very interested in classes
is a lot of what you do. It's contained in your websites. That's what I'm trying to discern, I think you're probably way ahead of us technologically. But again, we're new about 18 months and running. But we've had 500 and close to 570 different participants By this time, and we feel like there's a lot of interest to have gained that many people in such a short period of time so I'm kind of looking at all of you to see how far ahead of us you are and where we might take that and as we grow. Yes, partnering with other organizations like yours makes a lot of sense to me. This is Carol in San Jose here? I see different emphasis emphases on you know, there your some of your institutions are accredited with more of an emphasis on degree programs Master's, those kinds of bachelor's degrees. Whereas like I said earlier, our school is more of skill oriented. So I can see a partnership that would be profitable, where we cannot produce, you know, master's level or bachelor's level classes. We don't have the resources, we don't have the the personnel, we don't have the whatever to I wouldn't want to replicate something that already exists. So if some people who are coming to my ministry school say, hey, I want a bachelor's degree, I want a master's degree, to have a connection to another institution where I could point them there and say, Hey, you can go here and get that. And especially if it's online, we're now distance and that that whole thing is eliminated. To me. I can see that To be a profitable partnership.
That's really helpful, Carol. Thank you.
Hey, everyone. I'm Jeff cubing. I'm in Chicago, I've been leading the fire school of ministry for about nine years here, really small. Usually, we have five to seven full time students, and then maybe 30 to 40. Part time, also lead a network of house churches here in the city. We've been using zoom, actually, for the last three years and before that, we use Google Hangouts as a way to convey content, terms of biblical coursework, as well as using it for practical things in the church. Context like prayer gathering sexually, when we're snowed in leadership, meetings and communication, Bible studies and different things like that. I have a question for you, Tom. And I'm really I presented to the group it's a concern of mine. For the Church in general. And that is, while I, we've benefited a lot from the virtual forms of communication I, I have a deep concern about the cultivation of, for lack of a better word, a virtual personality. That's not the same as a person's actual personality. And even something you said earlier, Tom made me shudder on the inside, that people are willing to share and confess sins virtually when they're not willing to do it in person. I'm actually troubled by that. Because it suggests to me that we're, we're not we're not training people how to relate to one another in honest ways and that some things we do virtually might actually actually feed that dysfunction. And I just, I'm wondering how we deal with that as People of God and how we are how we are maybe unwittingly feeding that dysfunction or may not understand BSF has a pretty specific and narrow focus and yet we're all leaders in the church and we all have the responsibility to kind of be aware that as the technological capacities grow, we are in fact creating a world in which people don't even actually need to leave their homes. And I'm not sure that that's something I want to be a part of. So anyway, I, I don't mean to be the, you know, the guy who's raining on our parade, but like, what, what kind of thoughts do you have? What What is this a concern at all you have? Or is this something that needs to be factored in? Or is that just the job of local pastors to kind of deal with that? So just throwing it out? Yeah,
no, great, great question, Jeff. And I've had a similar observation. I have thought about that as well. I want to I want to kind of clarify that. I don't really mean to say that people will share in this way and they won't otherwise. What I mean is, they feel safer sooner in this environment. Just and that's that's a hard issue. That's that's a sin issue. That's a pride issue. That that we have I believe that's, that's rampant across our churches and the Christian community overall. I see that in general, not withstanding online at all. But what we've seen in online is that people are they open up sooner, in our in our regular classes in our regular groups, we likewise encourage and, and and see that kind of vulnerability and openness. What I was trying to convey is that we see it happen more quickly, in this environment and that kind of honest openness and sharing and confession And, and support, and all of that. That's really what we're after. Overall, regardless of what the particular venue is, and I think it's really, really important. I think it's a great, great question and concern to ask about. And, and, and I, what we're seeing is, this is a way that helps promote that faster. We also don't see it as a substitute for, for, you know, meeting in person. I think it's one of the reasons I it's one of these, I'm excited about the avenues in which people can join together with others and start local groups as well. But for some people, this is the only way that's really going to work for them given their lives or where they live and those kinds of things. And so I see them working together, but I see both being places where we want to promote that kind of openness that you're talking about. Jeff,
I hear your concern too, and I think that's why it's a both and when we offer these classes are in our local church setting so there are people in in that room when they're when they're sharing the information, dialoguing as well as online. So I share your your, your concern, and the Word became flesh. And I still think it's through genuine relationship, spoken word that hearts are changed and God does his work. I'm in agreement with you cautionary, but at the same time, as Tom said, it is a way for some This is the only access they have to community into the information of training. So thanks for raising, raising the issue.
I actually wrote that down as one of my Three Things that have this long list of positives and three concerns. And one of the concerns with you that using technology in this way is the idea that we're going into change some fundamental definitions. Like what happens when you separate vulnerability from life accountability or accountability to life change? It's one thing to say we're going to create this environment, it's going to make it easier for people to share. They don't have as much resistance to sharing. Okay? But are we changing our definition of vulnerability, because vulnerability should not be detached from the idea that you are accountable for life change. You've got people who in research that is showing that the emerging generation 13 to 16 and the amount of time they're spending on things like they don't use Facebook anymore, they use other things. Okay, but the amount of time they spend in social media, they're learning to share life details. Some pretty in depth life details. Was Noah sense They are accountable for changing any of that, about themselves.
The idea that
fellowship can somehow be established without life partnership,
that you're not partnering together to accomplish anything.
the very purpose that you're coming together is simply to get more information. But that that information doesn't have to lead to transformation. Because there's no accountability because there's no person that you have to sit in front of and disappoint. And the minute that you do disappoint them, you can just click a button and disconnect from them. The idea that you can group people by interest and age contradicts the very idea of the older man and the younger man sitting together and learning about life from people who have experienced life at a deeper level. So if you create a 20 somethings group How are they going to understand what it means to be 30 or 40? Or the life challenges that come from that. And I think that we have to be responsible with our use of technology because technology gives us enormous reach. But if we're not moving people from the extremities of those reaches to personalized real relationships in a real context that has a missional focus, then I think that we're, we're not taking into consideration that while it gives us great reach, we might be misusing it. Because in the end goal, we're supposed to make disciples who make disciples. We're supposed to build churches, communities of people that are on mission together. They want to hold out the gospel to the next Generation. I'm not sure how we're supposed to do that, if we don't even live in the same city, if we don't really know one another, that if I can put on a plastic facade, or share with you in depth, but have no concern about accountability to my own life, I'm not sure how we're going to accomplish that. So we have to be very careful, I think about how we use technology like this. One of the things I was really interested in hearing about was, what statistics do you have? And I get to you're only two years into this. But what statistic Do you have of people moving from online communities to real physical communities?
So you're asking a bunch of really important questions. Many that are. Let's just acknowledge the breadth of all those questions. So there's a whole lot there. Tom, unless you want to spend the next 10 hours you don't have to answer all of that. But are there pieces that you would like to address I'll pick
up on that last one. Yeah, like in Europe is a place where we have really struggled to make any significant inroads in terms of growth and getting getting classes established there. But what's happened is because of the online that brought in a lot of different people, we have developed a large number of additional distant or this the physical satellites that I talked about, or they meet in person locally, like the one I talked about Prague, we have a whole slew of those now. We went to a leadership conference with the European leaders this last October. And because of the work that we're doing online and with our other satellites, there were twice as many leaders as as just three years before the growth that is resulting through what we're doing here the physical groups that that are part of it is just been astonishing. And that is that is where we are deliberately working using online in order to develop physical groups on the ground as well, where they have that person to person interaction. So those aren't numbers. But it's it is a case example where case where we are specifically accomplishing that. And it's becoming like a model for how we want to see growth happen elsewhere. And so yeah, we're not abandoning physical by any means. We want to make in depth Bible study that is transformational, available to as many people as possible. And so the materials that go through the life application and those kinds of things are all part of what we do is the same materials and same kind of teaching context and everything as we do in our physical classes. So I hope that kind of helps.
Thanks, Penny. Thanks, Tom. Hey, Tom, this is Sean Morris here from Roanoke, Virginia. And we I represent an organization called bright the Blue Ridge Institute for theological education. And both both Jeff and Vinny. I'm very sympathetic to the things that you brought up because Thus far as a fairly young organization, we have been entirely face to face in terms of our organization, our classrooms have been entirely in person thus far. At the same time, the board the board, organization, while I won't go so far as to say there's a philosophical opposition to online, I will say there's a philosophical preference for the in person aspect. In fact, when our organization got started, the folks in our community, were actually asking for that item, specifically, of what kind of education we wall for, will it be in a classroom? Because if you tell me, it's just another online lecture, we've already got that that's fine. why reinvent the wheel? All of that to say, the board is sensitive to folks who are at a farther physical distance, or we're even in conversations with a group of brethren on another continent right now? And so I guess my question to you would be with that, in fact, we have a Bible study fellowship that meets in my church every Monday night, so I I see the value of the ministry meeting face to face, as john alluded to in third john, but all of that to say, given BSS origins and her strengths and her wheelhouse, when did you begin to detect the need or the desire for moving to at least an online option? Not necessarily looking for a hardline answer? And what were the cost prohibitive measures that you had to consider as you, I assume, wanted to keep things as affordable as possible. Meeting in a church fellowship hall, I assume is mostly free. Having to use an online software platform of some sort, I assume would incur some cost. How does your organization think about that? And just, I want to learn from you and hear what you have to say as our organization is thinking about these things.
Yeah. So thank you. It basically started as in trying to reach a need, it's, it's, um, it's very, there's a lot of demand for people who are Especially when people who've been BSF and then they move to a place where it's no longer available. And this makes it possible for us to reach them and provide for them this study and the fellowship that comes from it, the learning and the growth that they gain from it, it there are just countless requests for somehow getting BSF in their community. But in order to get something started like this, we found that with our physical classes you generally need to have you need to have at least like 100 people who are interested in being part of that in order to have the leaders or bring in enough leaders out of that group to facilitate it to make it happen. And that kind of thing. And that takes a long time. We in starting new classes. We have you know, we used to have start from just from these these prayer groups where people would pray and many times it would be 510 even some cases 20 years that people Pray before enough interest was, came together to start a class the satellites enabled us to to really draw people in and right away, they get a taste for it and, and get excited about it and start to learn and grow and it grows grows from there. With the remote aspect of remote leaders meeting, we can do that really kind of anywhere. But we still have these situations where you have individuals and all kinds of places that you want to be able to bring in. And it's, it's been really rewarding to hear what they have to say in that regard. The other thing that's interesting, thank you for hosting a church as a couple of you are hosting a class as a couple of you done in your churches. Um, it's been one of the things that occurred to me, I don't think we've had a broader discussion on staff here about this. But increasingly, we see that churches stop hosting our classes because They, they, they require that they charge high prices for anyone to use their facilities more than we can afford. And And so that has been an obstacle for us that this helps us overcome, frankly. So that we can still reach people even though we can't necessarily find a place locally that will host the class.
So that's certainly one of interest. That's very interesting. Okay, just for context, my own church we charge not a dime to BSF so it's free space for them. And, and, and the churches that offer us classroom space for our institute. Again, they don't charge a dime for the meeting hall. So that's that's very interesting to know.
This has been an incredibly rich conversation. We have about three minutes, so maybe just stating questions would be probably a valuable exercise.
Jonathan, I'll give two on the lay level of theological education. How can a consortium create and dialogue on best practices that are transferable On a academic and institutional level, what is the potential for churches to create a self assessment agency for church base theological education institutions? So I will send those to you in a private chat that
goes or Thank you so much.
piggyback on that is, again, what are the best practices in partnerships with local churches? Because, again, we are not the church. BSF is not the church. We are partners servants to the church. And so how does that best work for the church to carry out its primary mission? Thank you so much. I
have a question about the practicality of generating a kind of online library of courses like I don't know. I've done sound like BSF does that but interested to know about Even classes that go there in a way unprompted, because they're just accessible as a library, what is what might what might be involved in something like that? And what might be some pros and cons of it?
outstanding. Thanks, Tom. Include yourself to do you have questions that BSF is that you haven't yet mentioned that further research?
Um, I am kind of interested in knowing what other what other groups are doing. I've heard a little bit about that here. And in the brief statements, it's a little hard to know exactly the extent to which that that is that is taking place, but I'm just kind of curious to know just, you know, throughout the whole Christian community, the extent to which people are doing things similar to this, I'm you know, because I'd like to learn too, as well as from your experiences, and certainly the questions speak to that that have come up, but I'm just interested to see something like this happening. hearing what other people are encountering
outstanding any final words from anybody.
If you don't mind popping in on this real quick, the word library because I'm the librarian for my school kind of brought me It sort of brought out part of something that I think is worth thinking about. One of Carol's goals in teaching whether online or in person, at a church or in some or in our own facilities, or in some other context is to make it to where there is no difference between being physically there. And being there. in an online environment. I can say as librarian, I can't take a student to the stacks electronically, to get them to the materials they need to come to work with excellence. But I can work with them online and do something parallel That I think gives the same result. It's possible that the online and the face to face are different, but equal. And I think that that is something worth striving for it. I think we kind of do a good job at it, Carol, but I'm after 10 years. I'm a little, you know, I may have too much ownership there. But I think it's possible in any of your context.
Thanks, Tom. Great. Concluding words.
I appreciate that comment from dawn. I think that is the thing to strive for, and and how can we do it and maybe even more effective in some cases, but really, yeah, make it equal? How do we do that? I think it's a great, great, great goal, the right thing to pursue. And in the context of all the concerns and questions that were raised.
I'm we're incredibly grateful for your time and your insights. I think you've changed my thinking. I think you've changed the thinking of others. gathered here to Tom Bartz is the director of implementation at Bible study fellowship. Tom, we appreciate very much your time and insights with us. We praise God for what he's doing through BSF and and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future. Thanks everybody. Thank
you Jonathan. Thank you, all of you