Technology Use Tracks Adventist Innovations, Report Finds
merica's churches are adopting technology in ways that echo years-long efforts by Seventh-day Adventist congregations, a report by the Barna Group, a research firm based in Ventura, California, United States, finds.
Although the Barna study did not directly compare other Protestant congregations with Adventist ones, the Barna findings track innovations used in Adventist churches for at least the past 10 years, such as satellite broadcast downlinks and an active Internet presence for congregations.
According to Barna, receiving communications via satellite broadcast has had the smallest growth of any of the technologies studied in the research, rising from 7 percent of the Protestant church market in 2000 to just 8 percent last year. Growth has been more significant in the Northeast and, unexpectedly, most restrained in the technology-savvy West. The size of the church is related to the likelihood of including this tool in the technology arsenal: only 3 percent of small churches have a satellite dish, compared to 10 percent of mid-sized churches and 17 percent of large congregations.
By contrast, the Adventist Church in North America estimates that at least 2,700 and perhaps as many as 3,000 of approximately 5,000 congregations have satellite dishes, or between 54 percent and 60 percent of all congregations. Additionally, Adventist churches around the world have used satellite technology to bring church programming to their communities at relatively low costs.
Barna also reported an increase among Protestant congregations in the use of individual Web sites; liquid-crystal display, or LCD, projectors as a part of the worship service to display hymn and Bible verses, announcements, and sermon talking points; and "e-mail blasts" to inform congregations of weekly activities. Such technologies have been in long use by Adventist congregations, with the world church itself having marked more than 10 years on the Internet with the www.adventist.org Web site. Three Angels' Global Networking, or TAGnet, is a lay ministry cooperating with the Adventist Church that has also been operational for 10 years, offering hundreds of Adventist congregations Web sites and e-mail services (see Adventist News Network, Oct. 5, 2004).
Speaking of the overall results of his study, George Barna noted that the wider acceptance of these technologies has triggered other ministry trends, such as multi-campus churches: "During the next half of this decade," he commented, "we expect increased broadband access, podcasting, and ubiquitous adoption of handheld mobile computing devices by consumers to further alter the way churches conduct ministry."
Already, several Adventist congregations and ministries have adopted podcasting as a way to bring their message to the public, including The Place Adventist Fellowship in Newbury Park, California; La Sierra University Church; Amazing Facts' "Bible Answers Live" program and The Voice of Prophecy's daily radio broadcasts.
Fifty-four to 60 percent of Adventist churches in North America have satellite dishes. However, these dishes are not limited to North America alone but can be found in Adventist churches globally.
Earlier Adventist church technology outreaches have included the Adventist Forum on CompuServe data service, the placing of weekly Sabbath school Bible lessons online, and Web sites for the church paper, Adventist Review, as well as Adventist News Network.
"Any church that is committed to taking the gospel to the world has to take the Internet seriously," said Mark Finley, vice president of evangelism for the Adventist world church. "With millions of new users logging on every week, the potential of the Internet as a vehicle to share God's last-day message is overwhelming. I'm excited about what God is doing in the church today, to use every avenue to tell the story of Jesus."
John T.J. Banks, an associate communication director of the General Conference, noted that innovations in technology are not a new phenomenon for the movement.
"Among Christian churches in Australia," Banks said, "the Seventh-day Adventist Church was one of the first to embrace digital technology for video production and editing. We have always tried to utilize the most cost-effective technology available to fulfill the church's mission."
"No other American-based denomination has turned so fully to modern communications technology, including the use of the Internet," wrote Paul K. Conkin, a distinguished professor of history at Vanderbilt University, in his 1997 book, American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity.
--This article was based in part on research supplied by The Barna Group, Ventura, California.