Viral Biblical Education: A Case Study

The Apostle Paul used Roman roads and ships (the transportation technology) and papyri (the communication technology of the first-century Church) to aggressively deliver the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul's clarion call was to preach the gospel “by all possible means.” In the twenty-first century, five breakthrough innovations developed by secular, multinational corporations have stunning potential for the exponential growth of Christian leadership development.

A case study of those breakthrough ideas is helpful in providing a cohesive picture of the application of modern technology through a single organization that efficiently serves the global Church. In 2005, a small ministry, Internet Biblical Seminary, applied these breakthrough ideas and launched a platform for the delivery of leadership training and education with the potential to change the face of world missions.

These ideas were tested and proven in the business world via three major corporations—Apple Computer, Amazon, and Ebay.

Breakthrough Idea #1—Global Thinking. Amazon began with the idea that one company can service many other companies utilizing a common technical platform for product sales, distribution, and payment, thus making global online sales and distribution simple and efficient. Amazon thought globally and delivered a web store—now the world’s largest third-party fulfillment center providing a safe transaction system for tens of thousands of vendors.

Breakthrough Idea #2—Shared Platform. Apple invested US$100 million to support independent software developers who wrote applications for the Apple iPhone. Apple shared revenue with app developers and streamlined end-to-end technical systems. The result: over 250,000 applications and the success of the iPhone.

Breakthrough Idea #3—Shared Resources and Revenue. Amazon and eBay introduced platform-sharing, permitting vendors to enter into a common platform, thus dramatically enhancing individual vendors’ customer bases. Without the shared platform, vendors would be unable to afford the marketing, financial management, or technical support required for online sales.

Breakthrough Idea #4—Enhanced Flexibility and Access. Society is rapidly moving toward a 24/7 culture now evident in media, business, and education. A number of online educational institutions currently offer classes in any time zone and in any location.

Breakthrough Idea #5—Multi-national, Multi-lingual. Apple, eBay, and Amazon each advanced the idea that a single concept should be made available globally. In today’s marketplace, product and service providers who easily move from one language to another can then make their services and products instantly available across national boundaries.

Integrating Biblical and Business Principles to Accomplish Ministry Objectives
Beginning with the premise that serving the global community of ministries pools resources, leverages expertise, creates opportunities, multiplies cost efficiencies, and utilizes global specialists via the web, Internet Biblical Seminary (IBS) launched a platform for making affordable, online, biblical education possible for the maximum number of Christian leaders globally. The breakthrough concepts are attributed to Apple, Amazon, and eBay, but the principals are applicable to global evangelization in the twenty-first century.

This technology serves the global needs of the Church to prepare exponentially greater numbers of Christian leaders serving churches, ministries, communities, regions, and nations with a broad array of coursework and curriculum.

Shared Technology, Resources, and Revenue. “…having everything in common…” (Acts 2:44)
While there are as many as one hundred commercially available software packages for online education, most are designed for use by a single organization. Instead of one thousand organizations each purchasing, installing, and supporting their own system, IBS introduced this unique shared platform. Since 2005, IBS invested over US$1 million to bring this technology at no cost to the individual ministry, church, or seminary.

Five breakthrough innovations
have made online, biblical
education affordable.

The software platform allows organizations to create courses, manage course content, manage classes, track and retain all classroom interaction, and use other system functions to manage student enrollment, progress, teaching staff, student payments, and databases. It was designed to deliver education in some of the most adverse and poorest conditions.

Partner ministries are free to distribute courses by broadband, dial-up, CDs, downloadable files, or in print. We are no longer held hostage to the cost and technical support needed to run individual learning systems. Partner organizations utilizing the IBS Software System:

  • share and disseminate courses published by multiple publishers;
  • manage student financial transactions;
  • provide facilitator-led instruction, as well as independent study instruction;
  • receive global technical support;
  • manage student transcripts; and
  • personalize branding and marketing for their institutions.

A Bible school in Africa may subscribe to an array of courses to meet their individual curriculum requirements already published by partners, substantially reducing costs associated with the development of new courses. Individual institutions share courses with others and a small royalty is calculated into the price of each course offered. The recipient organization pays nothing for a shared course, but students pay a nominal fee to the course publisher, thus providing revenue to publishers. Shared coursework reduces costs, improves quality, and substantially increases use.

Enhanced Flexibility and Access. “…make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)
There are many places around the world that are difficult to access. However, broadband Internet access is becoming ubiquitous as one million new broadband connections are added each day. IBS and its partners currently operate in 113 countries and dozens of international time zones, all working against traditional class attendance schedules. Students are required to log in and work in their specific class three times per week. This asynchronous model of education permits students to choose their best times for class work and later link up with his or her class to review materials and post messages to fellow students and facilitators.

Multinational and Multilingual. “…becoming all things to all men in order to save some…” (I Corinthians 9:22)
When a student accesses the landing page of IBS, he or she finds the entire website can change from English to Spanish, to Chinese, to Arabic, to Vietnamese, and back to English in seconds. The website and courses are being translated in thirteen languages, thus providing learning access to almost fifty percent of the world population.

Cultural and local distinctives must be taken into account. A hybrid approach to theological education is the preferred model integrating face-to-face meetings to start and end a course, while allowing much of the weekly interaction to take place online. Because courses are written for a global student body, as much of the cultural context is stripped away as possible. The trained facilitator guides the students and helps them create the necessary conceptual links to the specific context. While biblical truth comes to us within a historical and cultural context, the principles and truths are universal and timeless.

Going Viral with God’s Word
Preparing the next generation of leaders for ministry is beyond the capabilities of any one organization. Understanding these five breakthrough concepts could catapult online Christian education into viral growth; unprecedented cooperation; and freedom from time, place, and language limitations.

Debbie Farrar has been a fund development strategist for faith-based ministries since 1998, working with nearly one hundred ministries globally, including Josh McDowell Ministries, Awana International, Trans World Radio, and Operation Mobilization. She serves on the board of directors for Global Mapping International.