The flipped church

Last October the New York Times featured a fascinating article titled, “Turning Education Upside Down.” It’s about flipped schools, in which students watch lectures at home, and then do homework at school.

Please take 5 minutes to read the article by clicking here.

In flipped schools, students view lessons outside class on their computers, tablets or smartphones. Teachers produce their own videos, or assign web content such as TED talks, audio files, or other reading materials that make their points.

At first, teachers would to record 20- or 30-minute video lectures, but they quickly discovered that lessons of 3 to 6 minutes worked better. The key to good learning is a short, memorable presentation that students can rewind and watch over and over if they don’t grasp the concept the first time through.

In flipped schools the classroom is no longer the forum where ideas are introduced – it’s the place where ideas are clarified and put into practice. When students arrive at class they ask questions, do lab work, solve problems, and get personalized instruction from the teacher.

The most exciting aspect of flipped schools is their results. Clintondale High School outside Detroit saw a huge turnaround after it flipped:

“On average we approximated a 30 percent failure rate,” said [Principal Greg] Green. “With flipping, it dropped to under 10 percent.” Graduation rates rose dramatically, and are now over 90 percent. College attendance went from 63 percent in 2010 to 80 percent in 2012.

Flipping changes teachers from lecturers into coaches. It turns classroom time from talking to mentoring. The teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage,” but rather the “guide on the side.”

The more I read of the article, the more I began thinking about “flipping” church.

By Pierre Bona (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Pierre Bona (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Our current model of church is stage-driven. The centerpiece of Protestant worship is the sermon – a lecture delivered live (or increasingly, via video). We sit passively as the pastor stands in front of us and introduces an idea. Or several ideas.

The problem is, most sermon content is quickly forgotten – because there’s no practical way to reinforce the idea or turn it into action. We’re given no opportunity to discuss the sermon – no place to ask questions or receive personalized instruction and coaching. No way to immediately practice what was preached.

Home groups are supposed to be the answer – but less than half of churchgoers regularly attend a weekly spiritual group. And very few of these groups are dedicated to reinforcing or practicing the content we hear on Sunday. Most home groups do their own thing.

So what if we flipped the worship service?

What if we watched the lesson at home and then gathered weekly for individual instruction and coaching? For personal support and prayer? For service and fellowship?

What if pastors put their teaching on video, and then used the weekly meeting time to nurture the flock? Or expanding on this idea: what if the pastor distributed daily devotions via e-mail that prepared the flock for the training they would receive on Sunday morning?

I can hear the objections already: what about visitors? What if people don’t watch the video or read the devotions? How can we have a service without a sermon? And what about worship?

Flipping a church would be challenging – but look at the potential rewards. More effective teaching. A chance to turn Sunday morning into a true disciple-making experience. Less stage-time and more life-on-life time. Less passive pew sitting and more doing. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

So what do you think of this idea? Would you join a flipped church? What are its strengths? Its weaknesses? Comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.


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  • Gregory Wonderwheel

    I’m not convinced of flipping the presentation model. But I am convinced of flipping the relationship. The question just needs to be “Is your religious teacher, pastor, minister, priest, etc., a sage on the stage or a guide on the side?” What’s wrong with the answer, “Both”? If s/he is exclusively only one or the other, then there may be a problem of one-sidedness or bias. Formats that allow for the relationship to be both need to be available and not just one or the other. But it is the relationship that is important, not the presentation.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I like the idea of flipped communion. People could simply practice their own communion ritual at home. It would be more in line with the original intent described in the Gospels.