I spent some time this evening on www.cmuniversity.org, an online accredited children’s ministry learning program. Founded by Dick Gruber and Jason Rhode, the program is affiliated with Valley Forge Christian College.
Having browsed through the site and poked around in their demo course, I think there is a lot of potential with the site. I am curious to know how many students are enrolled and what their experience has been so far. It is very evident that the two founders bring a great deal of passion and expertise to the enterprise. Notably they have assembled what appears to be a highly qualified staff of instructors. They have years of experience and advanced degrees as well.
I wonder whether any of them have much experience in an average size church (75-150 people)? Based on their faculty profiles, most seem to have large or megachurch church experience. This is not necessarily bad as it may indicate a high level of ministry effectiveness which has helped them to grow their respective ministries. But I wonder how well they will translate their expertise to mid-size or small church ministry contexts? For example, do they have extensive experience as volunteer children’s ministry leaders who also work full-time and are raising a family? Perhaps they do. It is hard to tell from their profiles. This is not a criticism. It is simply a point of curiosity since some of their students may not necessarily minister in megachurches or even large churches.
The credit hour costs of the courses seem to be very reasonable. And they have developed a site which seems to integrate seamlessly with the blackboard.com interface. I especially appreciate the use of video, audio and powerpoint for synchronized presentations. I did not spend any time on their message boards, but I suspect they are fairly typical. There is no live text chat feature that I could detect. Perhaps I missed it.
One of the big questions marks is the degree of application and accountability which is integrated into the teaching/learning process. How are the learning aims being applied into the learner’s ministry context specifically, measurably and realistically? Based on my limited experience (8 years) with online community, this may be the key point of success or something less than that. If I were involved in the site’s administration, I would urge users to have onsite mentors in their ministry context with whom they can interact pertaining to their specific situation. This may be a pastor, an elder or a key volunteer ministry colleague.
Some prospective students may be put off by the theological stance of the college. It is Assemblies of God. Notably this would imply pentecostal perspective. The specific AG doctrinal statement is located here. If a student is only taking the online course, I don’t expect that should be too much of an issue. However you probably would want to contact the administrators directly to ask any pertinent questions, especially if your own theological persuasion is not dispensational or pentecostal in general or Assemblies of God in particular.
Additionally I noticed at the bottom of their Instructor Application page the following statement: “CMUO/VFCC actively subscribes to a policy of equal employment opportunity and will not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of race, religion, color, creed, sex, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, mental or physical condition, or sexual orientation. AA/EOE.” Based on what I know about the Assemblies of God denomination, I seriously doubt they would hire anyone who is not a Christian or who practices homosexuality. I only point this out because it might give some prospective instructors or students pause. I honestly have no idea what the laws are regarding institutions of religious instruction.
Bottom line: If you are interested in upgrading your children’s ministry skills this may well be a good fit for you. I recommend test driving the service by using their free demo. Also, if you are interested but not convinced even after using the demo, go to their available message board and ask more questions. Perhaps the Lord will use this tool to challenge and inspire you to greater ministry effectiveness.