MOOCs are the latest thing in the educational world. No, MOOC is not the acronym for a fraternity or a comfortable line of shoes.

In the old days—that is, my youth—if you wanted to take a college-level course without packing a bag and enrolling, you took what they called in those days a correspondence course. By correspondence, they were referring to what historians now refer to as the mail. You actually would write things on pieces of paper, put them in envelopes, and take them to what archaeologists now quaintly refer to as post offices; and only a few days later, your letter would be delivered to its destination across town.

As we all now know, communication no longer happens through such primitive means (i.e., apart from the Internet). Today, if you want to take a college-level course without packing a bag and enrolling, you take an online class. If that level of anonymity is not enough for you, you now can join hundreds of thousands of other participants in a MOOC.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and they seem to be all the rage. The New York Times declared 2012 to be the “Year of the MOOC.” Big companies are throwing millions at setting them up in hopes of capturing the future of education. Ivy League schools are getting in on the act, too.

To create a MOOC, you take an entertaining and engaging teacher and videotape his or her lessons, mix the video with increasing amounts of whiz-bang technology, and offer the class at little or no cost to anyone in the world willing to sign on. Of course, you are unlikely to meet your professor in person; if you are taking a MOOC for actual college credit—something of a rarity so far—at best you’ll have your submissions graded by a teaching assistant of some sort.

Students of all ages and locations are flocking to MOOCs—and no wonder! You can hear stimulating lectures by compelling instructors without being forced to rub elbows with the actual human beings you’d encounter in a normal classroom. Best of all, you don’t actually have to do anything—not even watch all the lectures! Results so far show that only about 10 percent of students who enroll in a MOOC actually finish the course—about the level of participation of some churches I’ve seen…which got me thinking:

If it’s working so well for higher education, why not in the church world? How about our own type of MOOC—a Massive Open Online Church?

Just think, people anywhere could sign up with a click of a mouse and watch an entertaining and engaging preacher, mixed with some whiz-bang technology, and offer services at no cost. Of course, online giving would be a necessity—no offering plates possible with this model—but because the church would be so massive, you could cut the suggested tithe to 5 percent. Think of the marketing value!

Of course, you are unlikely to meet your preacher in person; at best you’ll be baptized, married and buried by a junior-level online pastor probably fresh out of seminary. However, remember the other benefit: You can drop out whenever you want, and there’s no one there to call and check up on you. It’s the ultimate in anonymity!

Then again, we may not need seminaries anymore. If this trend catches on, we’ll probably just have a dozen or so MOOC congregations, which means we can dispense with all those pastors, church staff members and church buildings. Just pick your favorite among the top MOOC preachers and join in; and if you get bored with that one or think you aren’t being fed, just hop on over to another MOOC.

Actually, that sounds a lot like what’s happening in churches already!

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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