Being a Creative, I’ve had a huge burden over the past years thinking about the place of digital media in the Christian Church. During my film studies, I was exposed to trend-setters in the world of media and filmmaking such as Hollywood, Netflix, Tyler Perry, to name a few. What amazed me about these, was not just the thrill and magic, but the high levels of production quality that they stream. I watched breathtaking creative trailers, movies and programs which can keep anyone edutained for hours. On the contrary, most church media content was and is somehow still boring, unedited, of poor quality designs and just plain lousy productions. I could not reconcile the profound message of salvation from the God of quality whom we claim to worship, with the amateur methods we use to communicate and deliver the message. It feels like being part of a huge hypocritical system. Now here are some pointers that can help us to be the leading game-changers in the digital world.
Great Message, But Wrong Approach
Over the past two years, I moved back to Zimbabwe. As I got home, I heard a lot of talk about a Pentecostal church preacher who has been gaining more and more followers online by the day. His following on digital media is mind-blowing; his church has over 200 thousand subscribers on YouTube and over 25 million viewers. As much as such figures wowed me, I was also greatly disappointed, not by this Pentecostal church, but by my own good old Adventist church. I had to look up my church online, and it was virtually ‘non- existent’ on digital platforms. To this day, there is no way we can begin to compare ourselves with a church that has an online audience of over 25 million followers. Until we realize the impact of digital media in ministry, there is little we can do to transform this world for Christ. According to Pew Research, it states that “The Internet is by far one of the fasted leading means of communication in the modern world.” This leaves us with a huge challenge as Adventists to be mindful and use all these online-based digital platforms to spread the Good news about Christ. Until then, our approach is still wrong.
Brand Your Church According to entrepreneur.com
Branding is the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” Digital ministry is mostly about branding. Whether you are a newcomer or have been engaged in media ministry for decades, it is crucial to build and sustain your brand. What’s your message as a ministry? How do you want to relate to your audience? What’s unique about your ministry? Why should online users subscribe to your channel? These are some of the key questions to ask when branding your ministry. Branding also includes creating a logo, building a website, choice of colours and fonts and the production quality. All these design elements need to be uniform and at the same time particularly unique to you and your ministry. Remember, it takes great effort to build a quality brand. At the same time, it will help you to stand out as unique from the rest. Always consult with film professionals.
I’ve visited several churches, and often when I do, I always grab a copy of their bulletin or newsletter, and sadly most of their layout design is usually outdated and out-of-touch with today’s modern style of visual communication design trends. When it comes to creating publications, everything is essential! From your choice of font to colour, layout style, graphics, use of images and your content as well. You may have a well-written journal feature article on the Importance of Daily Exercise, but if you have a poor layout, you may have less than a few members interested in reading your publication. The inverse is equally true; having a great layout design, but poorly researched articles will less likely make your church audience interested in your work. When we talk about branding the Christian church, think of it as more like a place where your modern parishioners would come in and not feel like they have moved way back in time, where everything is just about as outdated as it could be.
Quit Targeting Quick Baptisms
When you begin to adopt media ministry for your local church; it’s essential to have in mind that media evangelism is not just about filming your sermons and targeting massive conversions and baptisms. As much as that is true and important; please don’t misquote me on this point. Media ministry is really about seeking to connect with hurting and struggling individuals who seek to be led to Christ. It’s about using social media platforms such as Facebook, Messenger or WhatsApp to build genuine and long-lasting relationships that can lead others to seek hope in Christ. For example, your local church can create a Facebook page and upload content that can be spiritually enriching and hopefully provide answers to the hurting world. What’s more important is to create platforms that seek to give hope in a hurting world, than to chase after baptismal numbers.
Creativity Is Not a Sin
Creativity is one of the essential points when we discuss involvement in media ministry. Be open to new and justifiable ideas to have an active ministry. Avoid boring and overused ideas. Think of creative ways of producing compelling content for your digital church. While attending a seminar in South Africa; we talked of creativity in ministry. One of the Pastors mentioned that “It’s quite easy to identify church content on the media because most of our videos are of poor quality, and they are just plain boring! I’d rather watch soccer!” Well, that may sound a little straight forward and harsh, but there is an essential truth in it. I strongly think we as media evangelists can do something about it. The church can produce quality programming that has a significant impact on the secular world. A famous Christian Media Evangelist in the United States, Phil Cooke once noted that; “Todays’ audiences are technologically sophisticated, and refuse to watch programs that aren’t up to current standards of quality.” I couldn’t agree more with this quote. We must seek to embrace creative ideas if we are to be effective evangelists in the 21st century. I wish to see more Adventist films on Netflix; partnership deals with big Hollywood film producers such as Universal Pictures, Tyler Perry Studio, Sony Pictures, to name a few. If we are not yet willing the embrace these ‘new creative’ platforms of reaching out to the world, I kid you not; there is no way we can prepare this world for Christ.
Stop Preaching to Adventists
It was just before Christ left for heaven when His disciples asked Him (in Acts chapter one) a question which He never bothered to answer directly. They asked Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom?” However I loved His response, “It is not for you to know, But you shall be my witnesses starting Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends to the world. Digital media ministry is about ministering beyond our borders, that is ‘Judea and to ends of the world’. However, as Adventists, we seem to be content with preaching within our circles. There is a need to work and grow beyond that. Our digital platforms online seem to be tailored for ‘Adventists Only’, and the challenge with that is they can easily be out of touch towards someone who is not an Adventist. The context of our message online must apply to all audiences, be it Christians, Atheists or even non-religious people.
Ellen G. White wrote, “We must take every justifiable means of bringing the light before the people.”—6T 36. She further stated, “Means will be devised to reach hearts. Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past.”—Ev 105. She also noted that there is a need for the church to adapt and adjust to more suitable methods of bringing light before the people. This quote would also mean to address the issue of ‘change’. If we are to become effective gospel ministers in the digital world, we must be willing to adapt and embrace technological changes. Like one of my Pastor friend usually says, “If you don’t change, Change will out-run you.”
As I wind up, let me tell you a story. I was barely sitting down when I heard a voice from the other stall. “Hey, how are you doing?” Mmm… Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the kind of a person to start a conversation in a restroom with a stranger in the middle of a transit airport somewhere. However, to be polite, I responded, “I’m doing fine, thanks!” Hoping that the conversation had ended, I never asked him back how he was doing, but that didn’t stop him. He continued, “So what you’ve been up to?” That’s a weird question, I mean he didn’t know me, why would he keep trying to make conversation but then I responded, “Umm… Well, just travelling to North Africa.” I had to respond without being very specific as to where I was headed. He paused again for a while and continued with another question, “Oh great! So how’s your family doing?” To be honest, I didn’t really like where the questions where going, so what next was he going to ask me? I was feeling very uncomfortable and beginning to get irritated. Just then, before I got to answer another of his never-ending questions, he interjected me with a high tone voice which sounded more irritated than I was. “Listen! I’ll have to call you back; there’s some dude here who keeps answering all my questions.”
Yes, I’m sure you can agree with me that this was really an embarrassing moment. It happens to the best of us sometimes. With the few years I’ve been around as a creative, I’m still trying to learn as much as I can every day. As we all engage in media ministry, we must be careful not to spend years and resources doing ineffective endeavours. We may think our methods are working, but in actual sense, we are not communicating. Despite our earnest efforts, sometimes we may not get it right the first time, rather we can only hold on to promises for hope beyond what we see. All the best by God’s grace in Digital Evangelism!
By Trust Sayi
Author of Digital Evangelism