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Ministry in the Digital Age (www.LocalChurchDepot.com)

In times past the fundamental means of presenting your message to an audience has been through correspondence, radio, or television. Each of these methods is still viable – yet requires a monetary investment, sometimes substantial, to undertake. When using these methods, their effectiveness is most often defined by the responses they generate. Consequently, the investment is made up front, and a response is hoped for to justify the investment. Realistically you pay $5000 for a month of airtime and hope that the $5000 of air time reaches people, touches them, and generates a response from them. You find out if your objectives have been met AFTER the $5000 has been spent. Many ministries are unable to make that level of commitment.

Over the last few years, technology has begun a shift in society from an “as broadcasted” audience to an “on demand” one. Where at one time we listened to the radio or watched the TV at a designated time for our preferred show, setting our schedule around when the program was on. Now we can videotape the program or record it on a DVR for later viewing. We can go online to listen to audio or watch video as we desire, at a time that fits our schedule. Recently it has become available for users to download NBC TV programs to their iPods to watch episodes they missed in previous weeks. People are becoming used to getting content at their discretion and using it at their leisure. It is causing a paradigm shift in how we produce and present content. It is also providing us an opportunity to leverage these advances to reach more people where they are, with less initial investment.

While correspondence, radio, and television are still very viable options, today’s technological advances have provided us the ability to provide teaching to people at their leisure, at their location, “on demand”. These new advances can be incorporated with the other methods into our ministry approach for reaching people, providing them various types of content at a much lower cost to the ministry. Where we have been throwing the net out and hoping for a response, we can become the cupboard where those who are hungry come for food. This cupboard isn’t relegated to a specific geographical region, or to a specific time zone or timeslot. From it people from all over the world can receive, have needs met, and be given an opportunity to respond.

With over 10 billion e-mails sent worldwide daily and 1.5 Billion people projected to be online by the end of 2006, online communications are expected to double in the next few years. Within this rapid growth advances have been made to make online video both easy and affordable. These new video options allow us to add the human element of emotions, gestures, and personality to what in times past had been simple text. How many times have you read an e-mail and mistakenly added your own emotional interpretation that was never intended by the writer? Video now makes communicating online clearer, and much more personal. A person’s voice inflections, facial expressions, and style can be communicated and draw people in, as the unique style is accentuated and captured in video.

In what historically speaking is a short amount of time, we have moved from the dedicated ministers who faithfully rode the circuit from town to town preaching God’s Word to a day and age where the Word of God can be preached and beamed to the far ends of the earth. What was once a local or regional outreach has now become one that is truly global in reach. In recent years we have marveled at the technological advances that have allowed the church to broadcast the gospel throughout the world via satellite and the internet. These advances have suddenly made the fulfilling of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 feasible, and present the church with a practical medium to help accomplish this charge.


Dealing With the “Fear Factor”

For those who don’t consider themselves computer savvy, the thought of branching out into the new realms of digital communications can seem foreboding. Memories of nights spent in vain trying to program that old VCR conjure up feelings of fear and anxiety. These feelings cause them to believe the new “techie” items will cause them to relive those old experiences on a new, grander scale. It’s not that people aren’t interested in the possibilities, but more often than not it is that they don’t see themselves being able to either learn what is needed, or afford the technology and the person needed to make it all work.

As digital communications have become a mainstream item in our society, businesses have tailored their approach to bring the technology to the average user at prices that they can afford. Where you once had to employ a small IT staff to produce and maintain a website and email, you can now find businesses aggressively competing with each other to bring you those same services at a low price, with much less expertise required. It has never been easier to launch out and use the web and its associated technologies to reach your congregation, your city, or even your missionary friend half-way around the world.

What Would Jesus Do?

With this question popping up everywhere on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and bracelets, let’s look at what Jesus did to reach people during His ministry.

• Jesus went where the people were to reach them. He traveled throughout the countryside to from town to town teaching and preaching.
• Jesus ministered to people from all walks of life, visiting them in their own homes and environments. In Mark 2:13-17 we read the account of when Jesus went to Levi’s home for a feast being held to honor him.
• Jesus used the resources available to him to allow him to most effectively reach his audience. In Luke 5:1-3, Jesus was granted the use of a fishing boat to launch out a short distance from the shore and then used the natural acoustics of Lake of Gennesaret and its surroundings to speak to the multitude gathered there.

It was Jesus’ way to go where he was needed and use what was available to help him minister most effectively. His heart was to reach people and reveal the love of God to them. Today Jesus can work through us to use the tools available to reach the world and share the Good News.

General Applications for Digital Communications in Ministry

Many churches have launched out onto the web with their own websites. These sites can range from simple sites with the church’s basic information to sites that are interactive and present a large number of areas within the site to serve the congregation. Church calendars, announcements, sermon outlines, email notifications and even email hosting are regularly provided through these sites. The types of services you can provide are constantly seeing a narrowing of the gap between what you can afford and what is available. Low-cost, easy to use web tools are available that make building a basic site a viable project for someone with average to above average computer skills. Now the ability of the church to project an online presence has become easier than ever before. Below are listed some of the standard methods of digital communications that are currently in use on a broad scale.

Downloadable files:

These can be one of many several file types containing text, audio or video that is made available for download from a website. Popular formats such as MP3 for audio files are downloaded to the user’s computer for future use, and can be played by the user at his or her convenience. Digital recordings of services, teachings, and other content can be made and edited on a computer with low cost software such as Sony’s Soundforge, and made available to people for their use. Churches and ministries of all sizes can now produce high quality recordings and make them available.

Streaming Audio and Video:

Audio and video files are “streamed” and listened to or viewed on a web media player in real-time as it is received. Unlike downloaded files which are viewed after they have been downloaded to the computer and are available for future use, streamed content is not saved as a viable file on the user’s computer. Much of the online content found on the internet today is streamed content, as is webcam video and internet phone calls. Many sites today are utilizing streaming video and placing the content directly on a webpage, where it is then viewed. Streaming audio and video have so many possible uses that you are really limited only by your own imagination.

Podcasting:

Podcasting is a term that describes the technology used to push audio content from a website down to consumers of that content, who typically listen to it on their iPod or other audio player that supports mp3 at their convenience. The latest editions of Apple’s iPod now support video download and playback as well.
What makes podcasting special is that it allows individuals to publish (podcast) content that interested listeners can “subscribe” to. With these subscriptions people can automatically receive new content without having to go to a specific site and download it from there. Members of your congregation, ministry partners, or others who “subscribe” to your content can receive a steady flow of information from your site as you make it available.
Email Newsletters:
The use of email newsletters as a form of communication for ministries has grown steadily in recent years. While the idea originally began as a little more than a text mail sent to a group of interested recipients, today email newsletters with rich graphics and streaming media are in wide use. Email newsletter vendors have appeared, offering low-cost online services that help you prepare and send your newsletter. These services also provide the user safeguards to allow them to remain compliant with today’s federal anti-spamming laws.
Online Giving:

The explosion of web commerce over the past few years has prompted the banking industry to develop low-cost ways of accepting and completing sales and financial transactions over the internet. Online sales have grown rapidly and in doing so have caused the creation of an atmosphere in which internet users have grown accustomed to online transactions. With this in mind, churches and ministries have begun offering an option on their websites to allow people to give their tithes and offerings via secure internet transactions. The cost to the organization offering the option is low, and the amount of individuals taking advantage of the option has steadily increased.



New Innovations to Enhance Your Ministry

Along with the standard methods that are widely used are newer innovations that are opening up the horizons of small scale personal communications. These innovations are bringing the science fiction of 30 years ago into our homes and making it reality. The ability to send and receive viewing quality live video from your location and not the television studio has arrived, and it has never been easier to access and use.

Instant Video Messaging:

The ability to hold a real-time instant message chat with a friend or colleague while using a webcam currently exists. Now imagine being able to add up to four people from different locations in the world to that session. There are many possible scenarios in which this could be useful, such as missionaries in different countries being able to conference up with their central support office and hold meetings in which they are able to see and speak to each other – relating to each other at a whole new level. To make this even more beneficial is the ability of those parties in the conference to share files between themselves while the conference is active. This will enable parties separated by long distances to meet and discuss items that can be available for all the parties involved.

Video E-mail Applications:

Missionaries, pastors and leaders with a simple webcam and a low cost web-based video e-mail account can create and send video clip messages to supporters. The video will arrive in the supporter’s email box and will be able to be viewed with minimal effort on the recipient’s part. Older versions of video email have existed for a few years, but required some technical know-how to use, and were somewhat costly if used regularly. New innovations in this field have made available video email products that are very affordable and easy to use.

Live Broadcasting Applications:

One area that has experienced a drastic change in cost, ease of use, and availability is the area of live broadcasting. After years of tests and experimental ventures in live web broadcasting, the technology has become reliable and affordable for small scale use. Early ventures were costly and limited to use by large corporations, but now limited viewer broadcasting can be done for a fraction of what it once cost. Now pastors and leaders can utilize live web streamed broadcasting to bring their message to a larger audience.

We’ve all seen examples of the military using satellite uplinks to connect a soldier on a distant field of service with his family to see his newborn child, watch a child graduate, or talk to his ailing father. Those images warm the heart, and we see the effect that those few minutes of video interaction have on all the parties involved. Live web casting makes it possible for your church or ministry to provide the same thing without having a military sized budget. Imagine being able to do the following:

• Provide live church services for those who are unable to physically attend.
• Link up with missionaries during your worship service or meeting and have them be a part of the proceedings.
• Provide live bible studies to multiple groups simultaneously and allow for feedback and interaction.
• Provide live webcast concerts of your praise and worship service, youth band, etc.
• Provide live webcasting for special events such as weddings, baptisms, etc. for friends and family who are unable to attend. What a blessing it would be to be able to provide a member of your congregation who is serving abroad the ability to watch his child be baptized via a webcast.

Video Blogs:

With video blogs leaders and laypeople will be able to take video clips with their cell phones and instantly upload them on their blog page on the web for instant viewing. Imagine the power of sharing the content around the world in such a quick manner. Blogs provide a unique way to communicate with individuals of like interests, and the inherent capabilities available in video blogging provide a way to present content in a more personal, richer environment.

An Easy to Use and Cost Effective Way for Your Ministry to Go Digital

One new and innovative option in taking your ministry to digital web media is provided at www.helloworld.com. By utilizing advancements in data communication a suite of products is provided that are very cost effective and easy to use. For the ministry branching out into web video they offer several options that will allow you to reach those you desire to reach without breaking the bank. Among the offerings provided are:

1. A Video Social Network with Streaming Video, greater appeal, multiple features and extremely tight security. You’ll be able to post your videos, pictures, MP3’s, on your personal site to share with those who belong to your network. The Video Social Network will allow you to set who is able to access your content, and provide you with the means to monitor and update your site from any location via the web.

• Let’s say you’re in China on a mission’s trip taking pictures of a group project from your cell phone. How do you get those to share with your family, friends and church family? It’s simple! They can be sent to your Social Network Video Blog page for your family & friends to see.
• RSS Feeds – These feeds provide daily fresh content that people put on their websites. Just like your morning paper, it has new daily content for you to view. With your Video Social Network, you can have your daily video news sent to the Email address to everyone that subscribes to your news without them visiting your website to access it.

2. A Video Email Client that is web-based, providing you flexibility and reliability. With the web based Video Email Client, you will have access to your video email account from any PC that has internet access. Some of the features available with the Video Email Client include:

• The new client will open in all major web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox.
• Integrated in the Email Client is a feature named Ajax that allows you to put your cursor over the URL inside the email and up pops a window showing the site without leaving your page. If there’s a phone number, click it and through Skype it will automatically call the number.
• You have the option to customize your own personal or business graphics and change the URL’s to forward to destinations you select.
• The new client will provide detailed reporting on who received your email, when it was view and how long it was viewed. Detailed data on your emails is vital in understanding how to better serve your recipients and maximize your efforts.
• A search engine to allow you to easily search files by name, date, etc. to allow you to easily manage the items in your email boxes.
• Use of newly developed transcoding to help you get higher open and conversion rates. Every day people attempt to watch online video only learn that you have to install or download some new media player in order to view it. The new Video Email Client takes the video you created, sends it out to your recipients and delivers it in whatever media player they have loaded on their computer.
• New business packages will allow owners to use their own domain name when sending out Video emails.

3. An enhanced “Live” product will allow you to broadcast live right from your computer with minimal time and effort. Whether on location overseas or in your office you can have the ability to be your own television station. Some of the features include:

• Your video can be watched live from anyone that is going to visit our Video Social Network. You can set the video to be watched live or later as a recorded broadcast.
• Your video will be able to be viewed from your desktop computer, laptop, television (with proper equipment), an iPod or any video enabled device.
• Multiple speakers can be utilized for a presentation. You’ll have the ability to do a live presentation and send it to your partner in Hawaii. That same presentation can then be sent by him to your other partner in Japan, etc. without your client leaving your live webcast page.

Technology doesn’t have to be daunting. It is a tool made available to us by God to use for His glory, and to further His kingdom. With each advance, we gain another item to use in fulfilling the Great Commission. What a privilege to live in a time when we can literally touch the other side of the world and share the Love of God from our office, our living room, or wherever else we may be. This is such a unique opportunity for each and every member of the Body of Christ, as each person has the ability and the tools available to impact someone here, or abroad.

Whether you’re a member of a congregation looking for a new way to connect, a Pastor seeking ways to better reach and serve the flock, or a missionary on a foreign field staying in touch with loved ones and supporters – there is something available to help you fulfill your desire to reach others. Take the vision and passion that you have, and use the tools available to amplify the work you are doing. As you grow in your comfort and knowledge of what you are using, you can then begin to branch out into other areas to take your ministry’s outreach to a new level.

There are so many options available today for reaching people, with more on the horizon. You may be thinking, “I like what I’m hearing, but where in the world would I start?” The key is to take an honest look at where you are now, and at the destination that you are striving for. Find what items can benefit you in the present, and identify what items will help you fulfill your vision. Do some homework and find the best direction for you to follow, and then do it. Keep in mind you’re not alone, and there are plenty of other people out there stepping out and learning as well. There are several “church tech” resources on the internet that can provide excellent information to help you as you launch out into the waters of digital communications. You may not go out very far, or very deep – but the benefits of making the move can be substantial.





Free Online Resources

http://www.christianav.com/ - Home of Christian Audio/Visual Magazine. Each issue seeks to help its readers, “Apply Tomorrow’s Technology to Today’s Ministry.” Christian Audio/Visual magazine seeks to provide information to help churches accomplish their mission (purpose) by using new services, software and tools as they become available.
http://ccmag.gospelcom.net/ - Home of Christian Computing Magazine. Each issue of Christian Computing Magazine seeks to provide the information on the latest software and technical services available. It also seeks to provide “how too” articles, helping to give its readers the aid they need to apply new techniques. Their goal is to inspire the church of today to use every means at its disposal, in order for the church to accomplish its needed missions.
http://www.churchmedia.net – “Equipping your church for visual communication” Website and online community formed to help churches and ministries pool know-how and individual expertise in order to utilize new technologies and in doing so serve the Body of Christ.


Glossary


Blog – A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a website where regular entries are made (such as in a journal or diary) and presented in reverse chronological order. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

Content – On a webpage, content is material of interest, put there and changed frequently in order to encourage visits to that page.

Domain Name - Domain names are hostnames that provide more easily memorable names to stand in for numeric IP addresses. They allow for any service to move to a different location in the topology of the Internet (or another internet), which would then have a different IP address.

DVR – A digital video recorder (DVR) is a device that records video without videotape to a hard drive-based digital storage medium. The term includes stand-alone set-top boxes and software for personal computers which enables video capture and playback to and from disk.
E-mail Client – An e-mail client is a computer program that is used to read and send e-mail.
Instant Messaging – Instant messaging is the act of instantly communicating between two or more people over a network such as the Internet. Instant messaging requires the use of a client program that hooks up an instant messaging service and differs from e-mail in that conversations happen in real-time.

MP3 – MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a popular digital audio encoding and compression format, designed to greatly reduce the amount of data required to represent audio, yet still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners.

Podcasting – Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or videos, over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers.

RSS Feed – Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0) web feeds are widely used by the weblog community to share the latest entries' headlines or their full text, and even attach multimedia files.

Spamming – Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited, bulk messages.

Streaming Media – Streaming media is media that is consumed (read, heard, viewed) while it is being delivered.
URL – A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) commonly called a web address, is usually shown in the address bar of a web browser. An example would be the URL www.christianfaithlive.com.
Web Browser – A web browser is a software application that enables a user to display and interact with text, images, and other information typically located on a web page at a website on the World Wide Web or a local area network.

Webcasting – The word webcast is derived from "web" and "broadcast". A webcast uses streaming media technology to take a single content source and distribute it to many simultaneous listeners/viewers.

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