By Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most pastors know that having well-trained volunteers and lay leaders is essential for the health of any local church.
But few have a strategy for training, said Todd Adkins, director of leadership at LifeWay Christian Resources.
Enter MinistryGrid.com, a new online training site designed to deliver easy, affordable and high quality training at anytime, anywhere.
The site features more than 2,000 original training 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, said Adkins.
“If you don’t give people a framework, they won’t grow,” he said.
Adkins said in the past, local congregations sent volunteers to conferences or used denominational programs such as Training Union to equip church members for ministry. That’s no longer the case.
“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,” said Adkins.
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. “I am excited about Ministry Grid and how it will help churches more intentionally invest in leaders.”
The site is easy to use. Once a church subscribes, church leaders can group volunteers into 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 Candy Crush, part Netflix and part Baptist Training Union. They can have some fun along the way by earning badges similar to Boy Scout 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,” said Adkins.
Ministry Grid organizers believe churches of all sizes can benefit from the site’s training options. Church leaders can choose built-in tracks or provided 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 MinistryGrid.com 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 the eight approaches to how children learn; Danny Franks, connections pastor at The Summit Church in North Carolina, considering the importance of preparing for guests who visit your church; and Mark Marshall, pastor of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., offering pastors practical tips and information 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, pastor of Austin Stone Community Church, and Derwin Gray of Transformation Church, and Aubrey Malphurs, professor of leadership and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Malphurs, who serves as an advisor to Ministry Grid, says most congregations don’t do enough to develop leaders and volunteers.
“Churches don’t do training,” he said.
Malphurs finds Ministry Grid’s content and its use of technology 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,” he said. “And I think Ministry Grid fits that.”
Ministry Grid has also partnered with congregations like Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas; 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,” said LifeWay president Thom Rainer. “We see a great opportunity to provide almost unlimited 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.”
Bob Smietana is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Carol Pipes contributed to this story.