Church Continues to Push New Media Methods for Ministry

:  About 100 Adventist Church leaders, communication professionals and technology experts from around the world gathered for this year's Global Internet Evangelism Forum to learn new methods of evangelism. [ANN file photo]Source: Adventist News Network

[July 9, 2007] Last month, teenagers in Pastor Victor Hulbert's youth group put video clips of mountain boarding and other antics from a church camping trip on YouTube. They said their friends, who aren't Christian, saw the clips and were surprised that Adventists were "normal" people.

"This is actually evangelism," said Hulbert, communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United Kingdom. "They're seeing Adventists as real people who can have fun."

Learning new methods of such subtle, or even overt, evangelism brought together about 100 Adventist Church leaders, communication professionals and technology experts from around the world for the fourth annual Global Internet Evangelism Forum at Newbold College in Bracknell, Berkshire, Britain, June 28 to July 1.

"Those who are still not with us need to know that there is a deliberate approach to the Internet in the church," said Rajmund Dabrowski, communication director for the Adventist Church world headquarters, which sponsored the event.

"Some are stuck with the predictable approach to evangelism," Dabrowski said.

However, he said he was encouraged from the energy and amount of newcomers at the event "buying in" to utilizing technology, even if people had different ideas on what the conference was about.

Many attendees said it was a good forum for networking and picking up new strategies.

Some participants seemed surprised that the church's leadership is investing in listening to younger technology experts to improve methods of ministering via new media.

"Don't tell the GC [Adventist church world headquarters], but ... the Friday afternoon breakout sessions are headed disproportionately by young tech guys," 28-year-old blogger Alexander Carpenter wrote on the Spectrum magazine blog during the conference.

In a follow-up interview, Carpenter, a California graduate student in new media and a conference presenter, said he hoped future church conferences would include younger experts and that more people giving input would benefit the church.

"[Church leaders] will become less dominant as more people take responsibility for translating the beliefs of Adventism into action in their context," Carpenter said.

"Some leaders may see this as dangerous, but [some] seem to be willing to get out ahead of this wave and actually use the power of the institution to harness this creative energy," he said.

Some participants pointed to 40-minute sermons still used instead of short clips now common on wireless devices. Others suggested more emphasis on coordinating church messages and encouraging youth to use the Internet for evangelism.

Raafat Kamal, a field secretary for the church's Trans-European region, said the percentage of the world population using the Internet for faith purposes has increased by two-thirds since 1998.

While some attendees are still learning of new media uses, others wished the conference was more hands-on and less theoretical.

Hulbert, the British communication director, said he doesn't need to be up on the latest technology to still reach kids. He views Web pages of teens in his youth groups and said he sees what kids are doing and encourages them to do it well.

"I'm not sure I need to understand all the technologies," said Hulbert, who sends three text messages a year. "It doesn't mean I don't understand the kids who are sending a thousand a year."

"It's the 12-to-15 year olds that do the social networking," said Kirsten Øster-Lundqvist, associate pastor at Newbold Church.

"What would you think about in the future actually inviting a group of 12-to-15-year olds to actually give us some real-live feedback?" said Dan Houghton, the conference recommendation group moderator.

For more information on the conference, see the Web site www.gien.adventist.org.