Christian University creates digital chapel for online students


Campbellsville University, located in Campbellsville in central Kentucky, is a Christian institution founded in 1906. It currently has an enrollment of about 3,200 students. That enrollment includes students attending two satellite campuses, in Louisville and Hodgenville, as well as students enrolled entirely in online programs.

Campbellsville has partnered with The Learning House, Inc., to offer four online associate-degree programs, a BSN completion program, and six Masters-degree programs.

The university’s administration wanted to provide online students with “access to the same spiritual growth opportunities the main campus students have.” So, Dr. Shane Garrison, “assistant professor of educational ministries and director of theology online,” was charged with developing on online chapel.


He quickly discovered, however, that there were no online chapels to provide him with a working model. The ground-breaking online chapel that he eventually developed includes three main areas—for worship, for prayer, and for Bible study.

For a Christian institution to develop a digital chapel for its online students seems like an innovation that very much ought to be applauded.

I have to admit, however, that reading about this innovation did bring to mind an article that I had read on drive-through chapels. But there is a great deal about the digital environment that takes a lot of getting used to, especially for those of us for whom the college experience—and, indeed, our whole formative life experience–simply had no digital elements.

And, although I do not wish to suggest that a student’s spiritual development is the equivalent of state-of-the-art fitness centers and rock-climbing walls, I also couldn’t help but wonder if the online chapel is not, perhaps, indicative of a broader pattern in how most of our institutions now seem to operate: that is, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was not illustrative of the seemingly greater attention to enhancing the extracurricular amenities available to our students than to enhancing the educational experience of our students.

These reflections may have less to do with anything that Campbellsville University is actually doing and more to do with my attention to recent reports that have raised questions about the efficacy of MOOCs in particular but also about online education more generally.

I have no idea how good Campbellsville University’s online courses and programs are, but one would hope that the online chapel is not the singularly distinctive aspect of the institution’s online offerings. One would hope that the ingenuity evident in its development is being complemented by equal ingenuity in the delivery of the university’s online courses and programs. That balance would provide a model not just for other Christian institutions but for a much broader spectrum of institutions, on site as well as online.