Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
A model for everyday ministry to real people and how to use social influence for kingdom building as it was demonstrated through the life of Jesus Christ.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, He:
Credit: Digital Discipleship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church
modified by Jamie Domm, Digital Strategist for the North American Division
In this model:
Individuals who are seeking to serve as digital missionaries can fulfill all these roles on their own or work within a network of digital missionaries to optimize reach, build community, and share content. By creating an ecosystem of digital missionaries, they can capitalize on each other’s areas of specialty through mutual collaboration and shared social influence. A group of digital missionaries can learn as a group and adapt to changing technologies, increasing their ability to address relevant topics in a timely manner.
Organizations can provide structure for content creation that reflects the official mission and branding of a ministry. An organization should also develop a system for distribution internally and externally, as well as determine ways to tap into the reach potential of its members. Ministries can also set up teams of engagers who work within the brand structure to strengthen the relationships within the church community and/or who are trained to act independently as disciples, developing relationships outside of the Church for the purpose of evangelism. These organizations can also interact within the larger organizational structure of the Church to create a multilayered ecosystem of content creators, distributors, and engagers.
Each organizational level both creates and distributes content through their digital channels: up the chain, down the chain, and to the external audience. Each formal organization should also have a team of engagers to interact with the online community. In terms of the local conference and churches, the role of the engager will need to go beyond the digital space for in-person experiences.
The function of each layer of the Church can be summarized as follows:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Four Action Steps to Get Involved in Online Evangelism
You’re on your way to becoming a digital missionary!
This is the final post in a four-part series where we aimed to break down online evangelism.
Now that you’ve gone through what online evangelism is, its importance, and the role each individual can play, learn what you can do today to get involved.
1. Pray and Ask for the Holy Spirit
In Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ promised to give us power through His Holy Spirit so that we could be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. This includes the online world.
Arm yourselves with humility; pray that angels of God may come close to your side to impress the mind; for it is not you that work the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit must work you. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the truth impressive. Keep practical truth ever before the people. – Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 57. (1900)
2. Actively Engage in a Digital Evangelism Project
Be intentional about using your time, energy, and gadgets for soul-winning. Consider the gifts, talents, and resources God gave you and then choose a project. Learn how to start one here.
Here are 10 personal digital mission projects you can start today:
3. Support a Digital Missionary
You can support a digital missionary financially through their Patreon accounts or ask them how you can help their ministry.
Supporting is not limited to financial contributions.
Encourage digital missionaries with your prayers and words of encouragements. Those go a long way in helping to fight daily trials.
If a digital missionary makes a mistake, there are Christ-like ways to deal with the matter instead of condemning criticisms. Also, engaging and sharing a digital missionary’s content helps tremendously.
A supportive role is just as important as an active role.
4. Educate Yourself
Many people exclude themselves from the work of digital evangelism because they feel it’s “too techy” or they don’t know “computer stuff.”
Surprisingly, digital missionaries who have the most impact have little to no background experience. Many did not receive formal training in the area of communication or media.
These individuals were willing to be a part of the Great Commission and then took tangible steps to learn basic skills. Many taught themselves to edit audio and video, use a camera, design graphics, take photographs, and speak in front of a camera.
You can subscribe to The Center for Online Evangelism newsletters, watch how-to videos, attend conferences, take online courses, or attend free webinars. The NAD’s Big Data + Social Media department provides articles, downloadable guides, and training videos as well as a newsletter.
The best part? They’re all free!
Anything that a member needs to become equipped to do this work is already available.
So, What's Stopping You?
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
May it not be said of this generation that we bypassed sledgehammers and chose feathers to crush rocks. Our devices are sledgehammers to break down barriers and show the world Jesus.
Let’s be wise to use our gadgets effectively to accomplish the most in spreading the Gospel and to tell the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement.
Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of. – Letter 20, 1893.
Previous posts in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
We continue our overview of digital evangelism. If you haven’t already, read part one about the keywords in online evangelism.
Also, read part two where we cover the three main reasons why digital evangelism is very important.
In part three, we review the role that each person and institution play in advancing the mission of online evangelism.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
No doubt, digital evangelism (or digital discipleship) calls for the development of many skills such as writing, editing, design, and creativity. Though certain aptitudes help tremendously with creating content for people online, one may master these skills yet lack power.
We must never underestimate the need for the Holy Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit, the biggest budget and most detailed strategy will not work in saving souls. A video may be perfectly edited and a blog post may be meticulously written, but without divine power, souls cannot be won.
Our skills, experience, or ads will not convert hearts.
But Jesus promised to give power to His workers when they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Digital Missionaries must spend more time in prayer asking God for power to bring in a harvest. The Word of God must be constantly consumed. The content we create must flow from the Truth of His Word.
Allow the Holy Spirit to play His part.
The Role of Church Pastors and Leaders
If our ministers realized how soon the inhabitants of the world are to be arraigned before the judgment seat of God, to answer for the deeds done in the body, how earnestly they would work together with God to present the truth! – Letter 43, 1902.
Leaders must, with all diligence, encourage their members to take up their own portion of the Gospel work and do it with the power provided through the Holy Spirit.
If our leaders and pastors show an interest in the mission work being done online, their congregations will also follow suit.
Pastors, you could reach thousands more if you incorporated digital evangelism into your ministry.
Record your sermons and make them available online.
Encourage your department heads to create content that can be published on the web. Ensure that your communication department receives the budget to properly advertise the church’s services and events online.
Create online evangelism training opportunities for members. Make certain that your church has an effective online presence. Your church does not need to be active on all platforms. Choose one and effectively invest resources into that platform until the Spirit opens the way for you to expand your online reach.
By so doing, a church of 100 can grow to include thousands of online members who may not have access to a local Adventist church.
Use every opportunity to motivate your church members to use their devices for a greater purpose. If training is needed, there are workshops, webinars, and online resources available to churches and leaders.
The Role of Educational Institutions
True education is missionary training. Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary; we are called to the service of God and our fellow men; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education.
The work of digital evangelism is specially crafted for today’s youth. Those who oversee their education can do a great deal to ensure that students are properly equipped to serve God online.
Remind students of the greater call on their lives to be missionaries in their career fields. Teach them to look beyond the temporal returns of a salary and promotion, toward a more glorious reward; the saving of souls. Instructors can wisely use their position to admonish students to be Godly influencers in their online circles.
Adventist schools have an opportunity like no other institution to help students untangle themselves from time-wasting habits and engage in intentional digital discipleship.
The Role of Parents
Parents are putting powerful tools in the hands of toddlers and children. Tablets and iPhones are fast becoming the gift of choice for teens. This generation does not know life without the internet, social media, iPads, and cellphones.
If youth are able to have their own device, they are also able to do online evangelism according to their ability. Parents and guardians can inspire their children to use their gadgets to positively influence their friends.
Instead of discouraging the use of social media, show your young ones how a noble use of their online powers can bring joy to their heavenly Father.
In an age of cyberbullying and suicide among teens, Adventist youth trained in online evangelism can help bring hope to other young people online.
The Responsibility of Every Disciple
The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught. That which He had spoken, not only in person, but through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament, is here included. - The Desire of Ages, p. 826.
Church members are disciples of Jesus. Disciples are continuously on the move, following Christ and calling other people to live as He did. They are actively engaged in or supporting mission work.
The online world is languishing because we are not doing enough individually as members and collectively as a church. You and I will be held responsible for not using every means necessary to share the Gospel with our relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Members must move on from the erroneous belief that evangelism is an event that is organized by specific individuals in the church. Evangelism is like a living portrait; every member of the local church must intentionally work in his colors so that each church can show a beautiful depiction of the Gospel.
As a member of the body of Christ, the Lord blessed you with an exceptionally precious truth for this time. With a sense of urgency, make decided steps today to be more diligent in online work.
Read part 4, where we explore practical steps you can take today to be a part of online evangelism.
Previous posts in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Why is Online Evangelism Important?
In part 1 of the series, we covered the basics of online evangelism – what it is and some common key terms.
Now, we’re reviewing three main reasons why this branch of evangelism is critical, especially in the digital era.
Reason 1: We Need to Change the Online Story.
You can probably think of someone who researches Seventh-day Adventists online, only to conclude that we are a “cult” and follow the teachings of a “false prophet” more than the teaching of the Bible.
Why do so many people believe this? Because of negative content widely available on the internet.
60% of visitors stop attending evangelistic series because they, or someone they know, came across websites or videos that painted Adventism in a different light.
Online evangelism helps ensure that when people search for us online, they find credible websites about our church, beliefs, educational institutions, hospitals, and ministries.
Reason 2: We Need to Save More Souls.
So many people are living and dying without hope in Jesus.
Think of your relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or classmates; have they all heard the Gospel? What about the people at your local grocery store or bank; are they saved? There are many of them who have yet to have their sins forgiven by Christ.
At the Second Coming, only those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will be saved.
Homeowners are no longer opening their doors to canvassers as they used to and handbill invitations to attend church seem to go unnoticed. However, a video on YouTube or a blog post might be the key to pointing a friend or relative to Jesus. Online evangelism increases the likelihood of them coming across an opportunity to have a personal relationship with Jesus, thereby more people can be saved.
Reason 3: We Need to Be Relevant.
While the Gospel message never changes, how we deliver that message will change.
Today, no one would advocate traveling on horseback from state to state to preach the Gospel. This method was most effective during an era where a messenger traveled as fast as the fastest horse. Today, cars, trains, and planes have provided more effective ways to travel.
If we wish to remain relevant and effective in carrying out the Great Commission, we must learn how to use the platforms that will get us in touch with the masses.
Today’s evangelistic efforts must be appropriate to the current time, period, and circumstances.
Why Are We So Far Behind?
Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and hare gives an idea of why we are lagging behind when it comes to using the most revolutionary methods to share the Gospel. It seems we, as a church, became very comfortable with the progress we were making and mistakenly assumed that we could slow down. But in resting, we became lukewarm, not only in our own spiritual growth but in our efforts to win souls.
Also, we hesitated to accept emerging technology and failed to see how these new digital means of communication could be used for a higher, nobler purpose.
We are far behind in online evangelism because we are constantly shifting the mission responsibility to someone else instead of recognizing our own personal role to help finish the work. We’re playing Holy Volleyball; instead of dropping the ball, we’re getting worked up tossing it on the other side. Members toss the ball to leaders, leaders toss it to workers, workers toss it back to members, and so it continues.
But all hope is not lost.
Online Evangelism Is Growing.
As Seventh-day Adventists begin to see the significance of online evangelism, members are jumping at opportunities to become online missionaries. Today, digital disciples like Greg Serada, Mark Fox, Justin Khoe, and Dustin Pestlin are collectively accumulating millions of views on YouTubers. Jasper Ivan Iturriaga impacts the online world through stunning photography. Taj Pacleb and Kenisha Simms produce beautiful devotional videos. Santiago Nuñez creates inspiring graphics, Aleksandar Popovski uses his creativity, Kaleb Eisele shares our collective stories and builds community, Alistair Huong manages a hub for online sermons, and the Aus Table Talk team and other podcasters address relevant issues through their podcast. These are only a few among many others who are using their talents in the digital space for evangelism.
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (Acts 4:33 NIV).
The Clarion Call
Now, there is a clarion call to every member, worker, and leader to either be directly involved in online evangelism or to support digital missionaries. We must stay up to date with the times so that we can utilize all avenues possible to preach the Gospel and Three Angels Message to the ends of the world. We can no longer afford to remain on the sidelines of evangelism.
In part three, we'll explore the role each person can play in online evangelism. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
Previous post in this series:
We’re one day closer to the return of Jesus Christ! Now as awe-inspiring as that is, it also evokes a lot of thought about how many people have yet to know Him personally.
Online evangelism is one method that is proving to be very effective in pointing more people to the Savior. This series of articles will explore what online evangelism is, why it’s important and how you can get involved.
There are other key players to help us understand online missions. Check out this series by Jamie Domm from the North American Division and this descriptive blog post by Rachel Lemons-Aitkens from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia.
Also, we made this series available for download. Scroll down to the end and download the entire presentation for FREE!
Now let’s jump right in!
What is Online Evangelism?
Online evangelism is the systematic and intentional use of internet platforms to spread the Gospel to the online population. The goal is to introduce people to Christ and then connect them to a church family.
You may see the terms digital evangelism and online evangelism being used interchangeably. Both cover various evangelism strategies that require the use of the internet, cell phones, laptops, video cameras, and other modern technologies. Click here to see how these and other digital missionary terms are defined.
Traditional Methods Not to Be Replaced
It is important to note, digital evangelism should be incorporated with traditional forms of evangelism – it does not replace traditional methods such as canvassing, tent meetings, or distribution of tracts. Gospel workers should survey their field and use the methods that would be most effective.
Is Digital Discipleship Different?
Another term you may come across is digital discipleship. It is “a movement to make disciples and inspire people to grow in discipleship.” Rachel Lemons-Aitkens explains three categories of digital disciples; content creators, content distributors, and content engagers.
So whether you say online evangelism, digital evangelism, or digital discipleship, all of the terms involves working with people online (directly or indirectly) to propel them toward a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and bring them into a community of faith.
Key Terms in Online Evangelism
Digital Marketing incorporates strategies such as content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), online ads, social media strategies, and other online methods to help churches and ministries rank higher in search results. That way, thousands more are blessed.
It is imperative to understand that online mission work must incorporate some form of digital marketing. For example, you may have an online Bible study group (your mission work) but you can get more people to join the study by running Facebook ads, creating social media graphics, or optimizing your website.
Content marketing refers to the production and distribution of online material that elicits interest in church or ministry services, rather than direct publicizing and promotion. Materials can be blogs, videos, podcasts, or graphics.
Search Engine Optimization
Proper SEO goes a long way to ensure that websites showcasing our churches and other institutions are found by online seekers. Without SEO, quality information about Adventists remains hidden away online. Learn more and download our SEO Guidebook.
Online ads (e.g. Facebook or Google ads) reach far more people than any other form of advertising. Churches can launch Facebook ad campaigns to promote evangelistic campaigns, community events, or any other program being hosted by the church. Ministries can recruit more supporters and get more donors through digital ads.
The truth will be made so prominent that he who runs may read. 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; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism.– Review and Herald, Sept. 30, 1902.
In part two, we will further explore why digital evangelism is desperately needed. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Digital discipleship and evangelism are ways to activate the social influence of a church membership, building bridges to the local community, developing a meaningful understanding of felt needs, and determining relevant ways to serve the community (both in and outside the church). It's also a strategy to scale up friendship evangelism and empower individuals to be actively involved in the larger goals and mission of your church.
It’s a way to reach seekers, especially young seekers.
As of 2017, the average person spends around two hours a day on social media, which adds up to 5 years and 4 months spent over a lifetime. When social media was ranked against other daily activities, it revealed that the average person will spend almost three times as much time socializing on social media as opposed to socializing in person. The average adult spends most of their waking hours behind a screen for work, entertainment, education, and socializing.
These averages are across all age demographics. When we only look at people under 30, a dramatic increase in social and screen time spent is observed. Teens can occupy upwards of 9 hours a day on social media or behind a screen. However, millennials can spend up to 18 hours a day consuming media in the form of movies, podcasts, social media, video games, reading, etc. This is an astounding amount of time spent on digital devices. Research studies vary, but it’s clear that increased use is only limited by the confines of a 24-hour day, and basic human needs such as sleep.
Only 20% of Americans regularly attend church, and only 2 in 10 millennials consider regular church attendance important. If we consider time spent “in church,” a member who attends twice a week for a worship service and one other event only engages for four to five hours a week. How we respond to this reality either represents a challenge or an untapped opportunity. These statistics may seem bleak for our mission, but there’s another way to look at the situation.
How can we reach the 80%? Simple. We go and meet them where they spend their time, not where we want them to be. We have nine or more hours a day to connect with them. Part of this effort must utilize digital technologies to better understand behavior and needs before creating programs or resources that satisfy our assumptions about our target audience.
People are googling for God.
Each year there are millions of Google searches for answers to questions like:
Thirty thousand people search the keywords “church online” every month, and they mostly find opportunities to watch people in a building. People searching for answers need more than a program to watch.
At any given time, 22-28% of people are in crisis in the United States and Canada, says Samuel Neves, Associate Director of Communications, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This amounts to 80 million+ people who need support. Crisis can be defined as loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, loss of a job, depression, drug addition, food insecurity, etc. For those who search for answers and comfort online, who is there to answer their questions and help them spiritually?
In addition, Neves says, the two main content categories people search online alone are religion and pornography. Both search categories are related to the need for relationships and connection. How can we steer seekers in a healthy direction?
90% of surveyed people have used social media to communicate with a brand, and millennials prefer to reach out to an organization via social media rather than traditional channels like phone or email. This brings me to my next point: not everyone is ready to come to church; some are not even ready to discuss their issues in person. Over four million people visit North American Division church/ministry websites each year, and countless more engage on social media. The Church can be a voice that answers back to those seeking help through these channels and help open a door for a seeker’s spiritual experience.
The digital mission field is vast and not restricted by geographical locations. 42% of the world’s population is on social media, and 77% of Americans are on social media. Every inhabited continent is represented in the digital space. While Christianity is on the decline in the West, it has never been easier to reach people. I believe the next Great Awakening will be a digital one, and reaching the digital mission field is our generation’s great commission.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Click here to learn more about digital discipleship and evangelism.
What is Digital Evangelism? What is Digital Discipleship? What Does It Mean to Be a Digital Missionary?
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
With the explosion of creative and tech savvy Christians trying their hand at digital mission work, many new terms have been added to the Christian vocabulary to describe this type of ministry. To make sure we understand the differences and similarities between them, it is worth taking time to create clear definitions. As children of God we are all called to do His work, and many find it useful to define their practical role in sharing the gospel—helping to shape their goals, find purpose, and communicate their mission to others.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age: Matthew 28:19-20.
evan·ge·lism | \ i-ˈvan-jə-ˌli-zəm \
Evangelism is generally understood as the act of publicly preaching the gospel and the teachings of Jesus Christ to persuade people to adopt a Christian worldview. The word evangelist comes from the Koine Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as euangelion) and originally meant a reward given to the messenger for good news but later came to just mean “good news” (Wikipedia).
Evangelism, then, by extension, can be understood as publicly sharing the good news. The way it is packaged and delivered may change, but as long as the gospel is being shared, it is evangelism.
Digital marketing is the promotion of products, services, causes, or ideas in the online space using digital technologies and tools such as the internet, social media, paid display ads, website platforms, and mobile phones.
Therefore, digital evangelism is defined as promoting the good news of the gospel and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the digital space using corresponding technologies to persuade others to adopt Christian beliefs. A digital evangelist is one who engages in digital evangelism as defined above.
With this in mind, how should digital discipleship be defined?
dis·ci·ple | \ di-ˈsī-pəl \
Definition of disciple according to Merriam-Webster:
one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.
In this context, a digital disciple is one who accepts and assists in the spreading of the doctrines of Christ through the use of digital tools in the digital space. However, digital discipleship is not limited to digital spaces but can, and often should, intersect with the physical world through the services offered. If we follow Jesus’ example as a model for discipleship, we should expand this definition to include showing genuine interest in people and seeking to fulfill their mental, physical, and spiritual needs before inviting them to follow Christ and adopt His principles.
To do that, we have modified the definition of digital discipleship, as first presented by Rachel Lemons Aitken, Digital Discipleship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to be:
a way to build relationships, meet the needs of the community, and advance the gospel message in the digital space, around a digital need or by utilizing a digital tool.
mis·sion·ary | \ ˈmi-shə-ˌner-ē
Definition of missionary according to Merriam-Webster:
a person who undertakes a religious mission.
Religious missions are traditionally seen as a means to promote Christianity, or another religion, in a foreign country. However, a digital missionary is one who shares their faith and beliefs in the digital space with digital tools and technologies, without being physically confined to a single geographical location. Digital missions are evangelistic campaigns that leverage digital tools and spaces for the distinct purpose of attracting converts to the faith. Digital evangelists, disciples, and missionaries all engage in digital mission work.
Digital bible workers utilize digital technologies to share the gospel and stimulate religious thought by creating and packaging content that addresses relevant needs/questions and encourages people to advance in their spiritual journey. Digital bible workers build relationships with those in the broader community, online and offline, and usually within a specific geo-location territory, in order to create opportunities for one-on-one or small group Bibles studies held in person or via digital tools. They work in partnership with a local church and pastor to evaluate the needs of a community and determine relevant opportunities for outreach and service. They mentor converts in their development of Christian character and commitment to faith as well as train and equip new members for active discipleship roles. This role encompasses a mix of digital discipleship and evangelism to bridge the gap between working in the digital mission field and achieving real-world impact. Click here for a sample position description.
We hope you found these definitions useful. Click here to learn more about digital discipleship and evangelism.
A pastor in Estonia and active digital disciple.
FOR MY FRIENDS, PRAYER IS JUST ONE ‘LIKE’ AWAY
I am a very private person. I am certainly not one of those people who would constantly post ’Jesus Loves You’ memes or gospel songs on Facebook. Shouting out loud about my beliefs or life circumstances is really not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I am a devoted follower of Jesus and thus, under the jurisdiction of His Great Commission. This inevitably leads to moments when these two aspects of my life clash.
Last September I could sense one of those clashes coming my way. For some time I had had it in my heart to offer my friends an opportunity for prayer. Yet the other, introverted, private part of me thought that I should not rush with it. Maybe the idea would leave if I remained quiet long enough.
It did not leave. I had to pick up my courage and act.
It was a Friday afternoon. I was on a train heading from London to Newbold and finally decided I could not ignore that little voice any more. It somehow helped me that I was on a vacation, away from Estonia, away from my usual surroundings, and away from the very people that I was about to reach out to, and whose criticism could intimidate or even hurt me.
Sitting on the train, I opened my Facebook and wrote to all my Estonian friends. I told them I would take extra time for prayer the next day. If any of my friends wanted me to pray for them personally, they just needed to like my post. If they had any specific prayer request, they could private message me. Then I switched off my phone.
I was a little scared, not knowing what to expect or how to feel about the whole thing. What happened next, I certainly did not anticipate.
Dozens and dozens of people liked and commented on my post, some of them writing me private messages and pouring their hearts out to me. And what a cross-section: young and old, Christians and atheists, close friends and mere acquaintances, straight and gay, housewives and pastors, and everything from students to one of the most acclaimed concert pianists in this country.
People who chose to write to me told me about their struggles. They shared health problems and the burden of singleness, worries about their loved ones or the desire to serve God and His church yet not knowing how to do it.
She did not know how to pray so she was wondering whether I could help her. “Yes, of course,” I said. “I will pray.”
Phew! It turned out to be one of the hardest prayer battles in my life. I prayed for weeks for this little fellow who had to endure not one but two open heart surgeries and who almost did not come back to us. To this day his mother sends me photos and videos of his recovery and the ‘careless joy’ only little kids can have. I almost think of him as my own son now. While I have not been able to visit this family yet and have never seen this boy face to face, what a day it will be when I finally meet him!
This ’prayer experiment’ which I have later repeated for several times (with a lot less anxiety and much more confidence) has taught me some important lessons.
First, it has shown me the general longing in our hearts for someone to care enough to pray for us personally. We – both religious and non-religious – really do have this longing in us and as Christians we do well to remember it.
It has also taught me about the potential and power of the social media.
Facebook makes it so easy – can you imagine, a personal prayer just one ‘like’ away! There is no threshold lower than that! I know many of the people I’ve prayed for would not dare to set foot inside a church building, but a ‘like’! That is easy. It is doable.
I have also learned more about the power of prayer than maybe ever before. In the weeks and months following my prayer adventure, I have received many happy and reassuring messages or calls: “Yes, the diagnosis was better then feared,” “This situation has solved,” “that problem has been taken care of.” “Thank you, thank you.”
Of course, there are many people I have not heard from again. And they are probably the ones who have taught me the most important lesson of all – about the need to be persistent in prayer, whether I see results and hear the happy reports or not. God is not so much into public spectacles but foremost into quiet and invisible work in people’s hearts. And when I do not hear from the people, it just teaches me to be patient and continue praying.
I treasure the prayer lists I have from the past year. I love the stories I hear. I love the way I am much more engaged in my friends’ lives after having prayed for them. I care about them more now. I love going to a concert hall and listening to my favorite pianist with different ears (or, you could say, with a different heart) because I regularly lift him up in my prayers.
I have equally come to treasure these beautiful words written by Adventist Church co-founder, Ellen White:
“I saw that every prayer which is sent up in faith from an honest heart will be heard of God and answered, and the one that sent up the petition will have the blessing when he needs it most, and it will often exceed his expectations. Not a prayer of a true saint is lost if sent up in faith from an honest heart.” [Testimonies for the Church, vol 1, p 121]
Creator, editor, and social media manager of Humans of Adventism.
I saw stage lights, wisps of smoke-machine smoke, and dozens of featureless audience heads as I heard the question. “How can we find community after college?” came the host’s voice from the speakers.
I hadn’t planned on being on stage that evening. Like everyone else attending the young adult conference that weekend, I’d grabbed a ticket online and made travel plans to attend, hoping to be inspired by the leaders the conference was bringing in. I was humbled when I got the call to appear as a guest on a live podcast recording they were producing Sabbath evening. See, I’ve developed a reputation now. When I attend events like this, I never walk into a room where I don’t know anyone. The series of handshakes and hugs as I greeted several of my friends--some I was meeting face-to-face for the first time--earned me a reasonable amount of teasing. But it hasn’t always been this way. On paper, I should be the person who doesn't know anyone. I live in a country town in South Carolina, far from the vast majority of my Adventist peers. I didn’t join my friends at Andrews, Southern, or any of the big SDA college areas, but moved away with my wife shortly after high school. Yet, if there’s one thing that I am increasingly known for these days, it’s for my love of building community.
I started Humans of Adventism from a cell phone in a work truck. Though my physical community was small at the time, I began to grow more and more relationships through what I had: my cell phone. It turned out that I was able to do quite a lot with that, and what was then a page with less than 100 readers developed over the next year and a half into one with over 5,000. No corporate sponsorship, no office, no additional equipment.
We underestimate the power we hold in our online content. Used correctly, social media can be used to connect and mobilize an unbelievable amount of people, and the community created there drives real-world changes.
Take, for instance, the shirts we designed from the website Teespring. The design was simple: two words, “Adventist. Human.” People read our content, bought the shirts, and wore the message in their own contexts. In Orlando one friend of ours was wearing his in the mall. A woman and her son stopped him and asked if he was familiar with any Adventist churches in the area. The man was able to guide them. Here in Orangeburg my grandparents wear theirs around town. Recently they spoke with someone working at a local fast food place about Adventism, they had questions about some of the content they had seen online. I’ve been stopped numerous times by both Adventists and others to talk about my shirt.
Several months ago I met a young man who had taken a new job at our conference. Though he didn’t know anyone there, he recognized one of his coworkers from her story on Humans of Adventism. It gave them common ground to begin a friendship. Non-Adventist friends point to the HoA community as a positive example of Christianity, share our posts, and offer meaningful insight into their own thoughts on religion and God.
This, in my opinion, is church. The relationships we are building and things we are doing to spread the gospel together online are a digital manifestation of many of the qualities the early church had.
Humans of Adventism is one of numerous emerging ministries that are both sharing the information about God and building relationships with His people. We’re one of many reaching back to and supporting others who are just now starting ministries of their own. Personally, my online church community is what drives me to be involved in my local church.
Because I am not dependent on my local church to provide my sense of community, I can reframe how I go about being involved.
My local church has become my mission field--a cause I care deeply about, because the pressure for it to fill my spiritual and personal needs is largely alleviated by being involved online.
Because of the power social media can have, it’s crucial that we consider the effects our content will have on our audience. Both our negativity and our positivity grow exponentially as they are spread by our audience and friends online. When it comes to church, we can create a community of people that attack or a community of people that heal. I know which one I’d like to be part of.
That Christian Vlogger: Case Study of a Video Missionary Part 2 – How He Grew His Channel from 0 to 65,000 Followers
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
How I grew my Channel from 0 - 65,000 followers
Let’s assume that you’re convinced about digital missions. In fact, let’s say that you’re ready to start a YouTube channel for your ministry, church, or as an individual! The question is, how do you grow an audience? Great content needs to be seen to impact the lives of your intended audience. Let me walk you through five key steps.
Step #1 - Commit to an upload schedule.
Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that growing an audience takes time. Over the last three years I have created over 350 videos. Some of those videos have been seen by tens if not hundreds of thousands of viewers, while some have fallen flat with just a few hundred.
The main reason why you want to commit to an upload schedule is because you learn so much more when you create so much more. Many people expect to release one perfect video and create an audience from that one video. Now, while I do not doubt the power of a viral video, you can never really create a deep and meaningful community off of one video.
When I first started my YouTube channel, I made a promise to myself that I would upload one video per week without fail (it turns out that I actually uploaded 100 videos that year). I am a firm believer that done is better than perfect. So many people get paralysis by analysis simply because they want to create the perfect piece of content.
News flash: your first videos will suck. That’s ok. Everyone’s first videos are terrible. The point isn’t that you create perfect content, but that you perfect the art of creating better content. With each video, you should improve on the one before.
For the purposes of YouTube, I suggest a minimum of one upload per week. If you have the additional bandwidth and skills to do more, that's great, but not necessary. One video per week will suffice.
Step #2 - Do your homework.
Now that you have committed to creating 52 videos in this upcoming year, the next question you should ask yourself is, what kind of content should you create? This is a key question for your ministry, and I go in-depth on this topic in the “How to Start a Video Ministry” course.
The TL;DR version is this. Find questions that people are searching for on the internet and create content specifically designed to answer those questions. Utilize tools like VidIQ or Google keywords and the YouTube search engine to know what popular questions people are asking.
Ideally, you want to find the sweet spot between super competitive searches and questions that no one is asking. If you target phrases that are too competitive, your voice will be crowded out and your videos will fall short. Conversely, if you target niche questions with near to zero search traffic, you may eliminate your potential viewers while eliminating potential competition.
One helpful exercise that I did when I first started was a broad search on YouTube of some of the more commonly watched videos in the Christian niche and I created a spreadsheet of what people seemed to respond to most.
To start, I suggest targeting questions or phrases that have on average 10,000-100,000 monthly searches on Google. Any more than 100,000 monthly views and competition is too fierce. Any less than 10,000 and you’re very likely to not garner attention at all.
Step #3 - Study analytics.
Once you have created an initial library of content (say, a dozen or so videos), it’s time to start studying your numbers and learning from your analytics. You can learn quite a bit of information from the numbers that YouTube provides.
Pro-tip: Some important metrics to take notice of are total views, minutes watched, and viewer retention.
The first two are pretty straight forward. Total number of views and minutes watched per video are obvious indications of what type of content is resonating with your growing audience. If you notice clear trends on which type of content is getting attention, dive deeper into that subject and create more content around it.
For example, if your video on “How to Study the Bible” has noticeably higher engagement over any other type of content, consider creating content around a related topic. Examples could include, “Which Bible translation is best?” “Where should I start when studying the Bible?” and “5 Bible Verses to Help with Stress.” The goal with creating families of content is to allow a potential viewer to binge watch three to four videos at a time. If you only have one video on an important subject, they can’t do this.
Viewer retention is arguably the most overlooked metric for most YouTube content creators. The longer you can keep someone on YouTube, the more favorably you will be treated by the YouTube algorithm. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone watches the entirety of your video.
Consider the “Average percentage viewed” metric. A healthy benchmark to shoot for is above 50 percent.
You’ll notice in the picture that at no point are there significant drops in viewer retention. This is a healthy sign that the video you created was valuable to your audience and has done a reasonable job in addressing the question.
If you ever see sharp declines in audience retention, this is a great time for you to pull a lesson from it. Consider this picture:
You can see a sharp drop from 100 percent to about 60 percent retention within the first 60 seconds of this video. Perhaps my audience was not interested in the subject, maybe I did a poor job of introducing the content in an engaging way, or, most likely out of all the explanations: I took too long to get to the content. Studying your viewer retention can help you change your approach and delivery of your content.
Step #4 - Engage in community.
It is absolutely crucial that you do not look at your YouTube channel as a one-way street. Too often we view the YouTube platform as a digital portfolio of our content. This is a misguided approach that will limit your potential for meaningful impact. You should regularly be asking your audience questions, encouraging them to share their thoughts in the comments, and intentionally trying to build relationships off platform.
A rule of thumb: every single piece of content that you create should invite conversation. The most obvious application of this is to actually ask your audience a question in each video. Encourage them to share what stood out to them, challenge what you presented, to both agree or disagree with you and to let you know why. Appropriate discourse and debate are hallmarks to a healthy online community.
Trolls: Create enough content and you will inevitably encounter trolls. Internet trolls are people who start quarrels or aim to upset people on the internet with the exact purpose of distracting and sowing discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community. The goal for the troll is to amuse themselves by provoking viewers to display emotional responses and by leading the community down rabbit holes.
There are a few ways you can handle internet trolls. All have merits and drawbacks.
For more guidance on assessing your response, download a helpful infographic.
Step #5 - Take risks.
I am a firm believer that you should constantly be reinventing yourself. There is a major difference between 10 years of experience and one year of experience repeated 10 times. Experiment with different styles of content, different approaches, and even subjects that challenge both you and the audience.
One series of videos that I continually take risks are on the issue of the LGBT community. I have done eight total videos on the subject of homosexuality in the Church. Each time I have invited an openly gay Christian friend as a guest to the channel. The videos were not centered around debate, but around empathy. My hope was to humanize the “other side” so that we could talk to each other instead of past each other.
As you can imagine, there was a significant cost to this series. In total, I have lost over 700 hard earned subscribers from this series of videos. If you look on the graph below, you can clearly see when these videos were initially released.
However, while I had lost a major number of subscribers in the short term, I still believe that this was a healthy choice overall. The type of channel that I’m creating is one where controversial topics can be discussed. I, personally, am hoping to create a space where people can wrestle with their faith and ask the difficult questions that churches often avoid.
My audience may not always end up agreeing with my particular stance on any number of topics, but they know that I will always treat the subject and my guests with grace, compassion, and love. This posture of humility and of an open heart invites a very particular type of viewer and has created a heavily engaged community willing to journey through life together with me.