Adventist Internet Leaders
Ponder Future Web Growth
or the fourth year in a row, technology specialists, pastors and ministry leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church – numbering close to 100 -- gathered for a Global Internet Evangelism Forum
, to learn how to use modern technology to help spread the gospel message. The conference, held at Newbold College in Binfield, England June 28 to July 1, came as new data emerged showcasing the increase in the use of the Internet – and its use for spiritual pursuits.
According to a July 2007 www.internetworldstats.com
report, some 1.154 billion people, or 17.6 percent of the world’s population, are online. The American-based Pew Internet Project February-March 2007 survey of 2,200 adults revealed that 35 percent of those surveyed said they have “looked for religious or spiritual information” on the Internet, contrasted with the 28 percent who went online seeking information about other religions in a 2003 Pew survey. That increasing number is one of several trends suggesting a continuing boost in Internet-based spiritual activity.
Keynote speaker Raafat Kamal spoke at the Forum, themed 'Radical Message, Radical Method, Radical Christ.' [Photo: Glenn Mitchell/ANN]
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which for more than 20 years has been at the forefront of using online services such as CompuServe, and now the Internet, to support and nuture members as well as reach the world, remains committed to a progressive online approach, leaders say.
"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. He said he was encouraged from the energy displayed at the conference, as well as the number of newcomers "buying in" to utilizing technology.
Recently, teenagers in 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."
Many attendees said it was a good forum for networking and picking up new strategies. Some seemed surprised the church's leadership is investing in listening to younger technology experts to improve methods of ministering via new media.
"Don't tell the [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.
Some participants pointed to 40-minute sermons still being used online, instead of shorter video clips now common on wireless devices. Others suggested more emphasis on coordinating church messages and encouraging youth to use the Internet for evangelism.
In the Thursday night keynote address Raafat Kamal, Field Secretary, Global Mission and Stewardship director of the Trans-European church region said, "The Internet is the only mass medium whose audience share has grown during the past decade. The proportion of the population using the Internet for faith purposes has increased by two-thirds since 1998."
Presentations through the weekend then expanded on the opportunities and challenges of using the new technology including a look at cyberethics, cultural globalization, and a review of Internet outreach projects.
Among the proposals raised at the event, Kirsten Øster-Lundqvist, an associate pastor at Newbold church, suggested more emphasis should be placed on encouraging youth to use the Internet for evangelism. "It is the 12 to 15 year olds that do the social networking on sites like 'MySpace'" she told participants. "They are the ones using the new technologies."
One U.K. attendee was enthusiastic about the event: "It was exciting to meet so many people enthusiastic about using the Internet for God," British Union Conference Web and IT specialist, Yunuen Carrillo stated. "I now have so many good ideas for the church and the Adventist Discovery Centre."
According to Glenn Mitchell, communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Northern Asia-Pacific region, having different locations for the GIEN meetings – 2008’s sessions are due to be held in Cape Town, South Africa – allows a greater assortment of participants. He also lauded the participation of Rolf J. Pöhler, a professor of Systematic Theology at Friedensau Adventist University in Germany.
“By having the forum in different parts of the world, we are able to have new people each year,” Mitchell said. “Most of the participants appreciated the inclusion of Dr. Pöhler, who is a theologian and ethicist; he helped focus on more than just the technology.”
Other speakers included Mark Finley, a general vice president of the world church; Miroslav Pujic, director of the Office of Adventist Mission’s Center for Secular & Postmodern Studies; James Coffin, Senior Pastor of the Markham Woods Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Longwood, Florida; and Martin Lee, Web coordinator of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Workshops included introductions to webradio technology, media asset management, multilingual website issues and a whole range of practical topics including "Writing for the Web" by Hulbert.
According to Marvin R. King, Web manager for Adventist World Radio and a workshop presenter at the forum, participants were left with a motivation to improve their use of technology in the service of the Gospel.
“The crowd’s motivation to minister online didn’t come as a result of learning new concepts or a new communication medium. The desire to make current sites better was driven by the success of social media’s influence on human interaction,” King said.
— Reported by Adventist News Network. British Union Communication, and Adventist Review staff.