4 Things to Do at Flipped Church

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Below are four practices you could try with your community. Each section includes just enough direction to help you get started, without dictating every detail.

I have first hand experience with most of these, and I’m excited to test the others in the coming months. We will update this list continually as we implement ideas and have results to share.

If you decide to try on these practices with your community please share the results with us. You can email your findings to neighborlychurch@gmail.com.

Partner Conversations

Two people on a beach. By Anna Shevchuk.

Small group conversations are my favorite way to practice together. They give people the opportunity to be heard, to be understood, and to better understand their community one or two people at a time.

”If you and I… dared open our hearts to one another, there’s no telling what would happen to us as a result of this conversation.
— Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Before gathering: Create an agenda. Come up with two or three open-ended questions to help people reflect on their past experiences, current situation, or future goals. The question you come up with are meant to help participants think back on that week’s at-home sermon and to give them opportunities to process their learning together.

Conversation in Action

During the gathering: Briefly summarize the main points of the at-home sermon to refresh memories and bring new folks up to speed (in five minutes or less). Introduce the first question and provide your own answer as an example. Give yourself the same amount of time to speak as your participants (1.5 min is usually enough time). Ask participants to split into groups of three, set a timer for 90 seconds, and begin. You can also give each group their own timer, so you don’t have to yell over the many excited conversations.

After all three folks have gone, it’s time to share the second question and give an example. Repeat this process until you are out of questions or out of time.

Why groups of three? You have to do what works best for you, but generally I have found that:

  1. Groups of two are ideal for good friends and folks who work well together, but there’s a higher risk of being “alone” with a problematic "audience."
  2. Groups of four need more time to share and transition. Plus, four people may feel like a crowd to a timid speaker.
  3. Groups of three aren’t perfect, but they balance speed, complexity, and culture. For example, if you can pair a new person with two returning members you can feel more confident that things will go well.

Bonus: Once your group has the hang of this, consider shaking things up. Maybe allow your groups to walk ‘n talk, clean up the beach, or do a puzzle while they work through each question.

Contemplative Practices

The Tree of Contemplative Practices
The Tree of Contemplative Practices from the The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Contemplative practices go by many names and look like many things: sitting meditation, communal silence, centering prayer, mind training, walking meditation, etc.

Contemplation is the practice of being fully present—in heart, mind, and body—to what is.
— The CAC (cac.org)

You can make contemplation the main event/practice of a gathering or use it sparingly throughout. Silence at the beginning is a useful tool to quiet the mind and help folks transition from their busy lives into a more mindful space. Silence in the middle or end gives participants space to consider, embody, or release whatever came before.

Contemplation is the highest expression of our intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.
—Thomas Merton (pdf)

Contemplation in Action

If you choose to use contemplative practice as the main event, take some time to summarize the main points of the at-home sermon (2-5 minutes). It’s a easy way to refresh memories and bring new folks up to speed. Then take just a few minutes to explain or demonstrate that week’s contemplative practice. I usually recommend giving people a few options to pick from. For example, sitting meditation, walking meditation, or journaling.

If you opt for a guided meditation, try to leave at least half of the time unguided to give participants some choice.


Person writing. By Kevin Malik.

There are quite a few ways journaling could benefit a spiritual community and its members.

“Journal what you love, what you hate, what’s in your head, what’s important. Journaling organizes your thoughts; allows you to see things in a concrete way that otherwise you might not see.”
— Kay WalkingStick

For the longest time I did not appreciate the power of getting my ideas out of my head and working with them on the page. Journaling has helped me break out of thought spirals, pin down fleeting inspiration, and prepare thoughts before I shared them with others. In short, journaling has made it easy for me to communicate with myself. Which, I believe, is foundational for better communication with everyone else.

“Your journal is like your best friend. You don’t have to pretend with it, you can be honest and write exactly how you feel.”
— Bukola Ogunwale

Journaling in Action

Here are a few ideas to create a culture of journaling in your community. First, simply encourage people to bring their journals when you gather (and remember to bring your own). Create incentives for people to journal before gathering. For example, you could encourage folks to share something from their journal before opening up the floor to others. Over time people will realize their odds of getting to share increase when they make time to write down their ideas. Journaling can also sub-in for other contemplative practices like sitting meditation or centering prayer.

“All the noise in my brain. I clamp it to the page so it will be still.”
— Barbara Kingsolver

Goal Setting

I'm excited to create communities of people who set their own agenda; both as individuals in their own lives and as a community. Imagine if once per year you could meet with your group, and walk away with enough ideas to keep everyone busy for the next 12 months. This is what we do at my work, and something I want to see in church.

Here’s one way you could structure a gathering to effectively capture the intentions of a group of diverse and opinionated people, and turn their ideas into an organized, actionable, and meaningful agenda.

Goal Setting in Action

I recommend splitting the gathering into three parts. Part one is to generate ideas. Part two is to group and categorize those ideas. And part three is to give people a chance to vote.

Part One - Ideate

It’s important to create a space where everyone has equal opportunity to contribute. Before you begin, go around and give everyone a handful of sticky notes and something to write with. And then explain there will be no talking during this first part.

Hands writing a note. By Bruno Bueno.

Silent writing time means you don't have to worry about someone shouting over others, talking too much, or prematurely influencing what the rest of the group will feel confident and excited to include in their own individual brainstorming. As the facilitator, you’ll need to come prepared with 1 big question you need people to answer. Something like “What do you want to get better at over the next year” could work. You can also ask follow up or related questions to get people thinking. For example, “What was something we did last year that you want to do again this year?” Do try to ask as few questions as possible. You’ll be happy you did when the time to organize rolls around.

Part Two - Organize

Once all the ideas are down on paper, ask folks to post their sticky notes up on the wall. If you have lots and lots of people, you may need to break into more manageable groups of 4-6 and use multiple walls. Give participants some time to group their sticky notes into categories and put duplicates on top of each other. Once the notes are organized, you can move along to part three.

Part Three - Prioritize

The goal of this last step is to figure out what your community cares about most. One idea is to give everyone a limited number of stickers (maybe 10 each?) which they can stick on their favorite ideas. Another method is to give each person a piece of paper where they can write down their top 3 favorite ideas (in priority with a short explanation as to why they are most excited about it). Either way, the facilitator will leave with a wall full of ideas and a sense for what people are most excited about.

After the Event

Groups are great for generating lots of diverse ideas, but things can get messy quickly when it's time to make final decisions. Whoever is in charge of leading your community should be responsible for selecting which ideas will make it into the calendar.

Assuming that person is you, and you are responsible for actually implementing the ideas, it’s only fair that you have the opportunity to turn down an exciting, but logistically impractical idea. Another reason to save decision making time till the end is that one or even two hours of brainstorming is not enough time to work out the details of so many different ideas. It will fall on you as the leader/facilitator to follow up with members of the community to get more specific or to make up the details yourself.

If all went well, you'll end the day with your community not only feeling heard and feeling excited for the future, but also with a laundry list of meaningful ideas to bring to life.

Time in Nature, Singing, Large Group Conversations, Reading, etc.

There are SO many things you could do at a flipped church gathering. It can be flipped church so long as folks are given the opportunity to think for themselves and work with that week's material.

If you have an idea or an experience to share, please write to neighborlychurch@gmail.com. We will continue to update this list as ideas roll in. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Personal Autonomy

You have the power to pause, rewind, or step away from that week's message. Pick the learning style that works best for you. If you want to share with the group, you can share before, during, or after the Sunday gathering.