Principal and designer for Types & Symbols.
The Conflict Beautiful was a crowdfunding project to create a new, heirloom-quality, NKJV edition of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of the Ages series. We reached our $144,000 funding goal on November 15, with a total of $153,330 in pledges, and since then we’ve been managing fulfillment logistics, overseeing editorial changes, refining design details, and working with the printer. It has been a tremendous joy for us to be able to work on this project, and we are humbled that so many people supported it. We’re humbled even further that, in spite of our inexperience with raising money, we were able to meet such a high goal.
This was our very first crowdfunding campaign as a studio, and the first time any of us had worked to raise this much money. While we went into it with a strategy and certain amount of preparation, we learned a lot throughout the process that we’d like to share.
Our primary strategy was to design something so beautiful and meaningful that it could sell itself. While we didn’t necessarily expect the project to go viral within Adventist circles, we did think it might be possible, and that if the project was worth doing at all, it would be because it was exciting to enough people, and not just ourselves.
And by enough people, we mean about 1,000 people. The minimum print run required to get these printed at the quality we wanted was 1,000 sets, and it seemed to us that it was possible that there were at least 1,000 other Adventists who both appreciated these books and appreciated good design. If we could just find that many people willing to order a single set, we would reach our goal.
We should note here, for those unfamiliar with Types & Symbols, that we are a design studio dedicated to creating beautiful Adventist experiences for the church and its members. We often work with clients to help them establish brand identities, design websites, design publications, or produce promotional material for marketing campaigns. In most of those cases, we are working with established audiences, or helping fulfill a larger marketing strategy developed by an internal team. We are professional designers, not (yet) marketers, so we had very little direct experience with promoting a project of this scale.
With that said, we knew we would need much more than just a beautifully designed project, so before launching the campaign, we got in touch with a number of Adventist leaders to get their input and feedback. We also knew that we needed to launch with some kind of existing base, so we also started to build a mailing list in the months and weeks before launch, through purchasing print and digital ads, and exhibiting at events. In meeting with people, both leaders and lay-people, we heard a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, and it buoyed our hopes that this project might come to life.
Finally, once the campaign was live, we knew that we would need to continue building awareness, so we also prepared various design and video materials so that we could maintain a steady stream of promotional posts throughout the campaign.
And then we launched the project.
Except for the concern around money, we realized that we could have, and still had the opportunity, to provide greater clarity about why this edition was unique, how it wouldn’t exist without pledges made in advance, and how to go through the process of pledging itself.
In response to the slowing growth, and some of the reasons we were hearing, we got more more advice and began tweaking our approach. We adjusted our promotional messaging, updated the campaign page for clarity, and added in a few higher level pledge options. And we prayed, a lot.
As it turned out, we ended up receiving a significant amount of our pledges from the higher-level pledge amounts, contributed by a small group of very generous individuals. That, paired with an increase in single-set pledges during the final few days, allowed us to reach our goal, and what a relief and encouragement that was!
What we learned:
1. Crowdfunding is not commonly understood
We knew that not everyone would be familiar with Kickstarter, but we had assumed there would be enough familiarity with the concept of crowdfunding. Because of this, we didn’t make a point of clearly explaining how it worked—preferring instead to make posts the focused on the value of the project. After speaking with people, we realized that we certainly should have provided more education about how Kickstarter worked. We spoke with a lot of people who had heard about the project, or seen the video, and quite a few of them said things to the effect of “I’d love to get a set once they’re available!” We would then explain that they might never be available unless people preorder. A lot of our early ads, both print and digital, had been subtle and minimal, with aspirational messaging like “coming soon”, and at the end our messaging started to approach more desperate and overt, like “coming never!—unless you go to Kickstarter and make a pledge/pre-order right now!!!”
2. There is no silver bullet
Another thing we learned, or, better stated, was reinforced for us, is that reaching a broad swath of Adventists is very difficult to do. While a number of publications have a wide reach, there are so many things competing for people’s attention, even within the Adventist Church, that it is really easy for people to ignore all of them.
We ran print ads, social media ads, exhibited at events, were interviewed for different publications, had other organizations share the project on their own feeds, and in total these were all the different entities that included some mention of the project:
We completed the campaign with 419 backers, with many backers choosing to back more than one set. The total number of sets purchased through Kickstarter was 880.
Ultimately though, a significant percentage of our funding was the result of personal connections, and the personal connections of those personal connections. This doesn’t necessarily suggest to us that we should invest less in advertising with the above entities for future projects (multiple exposures are always valuable), but perhaps that we should invest more in developing and cultivating these smaller, more passionate audiences.
3. Building an Audience is key
Related to the above, we realized that could have done a better job at building an audience ahead of time. As a studio, we’re not actually very active on social media, and we don’t currently produce much content, so when it came time to reach out to our existing audience of followers, we didn’t really have an audience. In creating this project, we’ve certainly built one. Our mailing list gained nearly 800 subscribers which we’ll be able to reach out to in the future (and helps get us close to 1,000 true fans). We’re also thinking about ways to provide more ongoing value so that, when it comes time to launch another project, there is even more familiarity with our studio, the quality of work that we do, and what we value.
4. Timing matters
We realized partway through the campaign that we could have benefitted from launching at a less fraught time. This is more of a suspicion than anything we can measure, but we launched our project around the same time that a lot of concern was starting to be felt in North America (our target market) around conversations at GC Annual Council as well as NAD YEM. The news cycle during this time moved a bit more quickly than it tends to at other times during the year, and we realized that write-ups and links about our project were getting buried pretty quickly. For a marketing campaign that relies on more traditional forms of media, paying attention to the news cycle is important.
What we will do differently on the next project:
Something we learned from our discussions with people who have engaged in fundraising before is that it is valuable to build in commitments before launching, so that we launch with a certain amount already promised, or ‘in the bucket’. It’s possible that having such a large goal as we did caused some individuals to think that it wasn’t worth pledging because it seemed like such an impossible goal for them to make a difference to.
On that note, we arrived at the figure of $144,000 because it was close to what we needed to cover the cost of production, and it seemed like a fun detail, even though it involved rounding down a bit. A lot of people who saw the project also thought it was fun, but we also heard a lot of questions like “but how much do you actually need?”, so in the future we’ll pick less clever numbers, and try to be more explicit about why we need whatever amount we need.
Another thing we would do differently for future projects is adjusting how we handle the crowdfunding. Some of the major benefits of Kickstarter (discoverability) don’t matter as much for the nature of the products that we create, or for the audience that we create them for. Furthermore, we discovered after committing to Kickstarter that their options for calculating and handling international shipping were very limited, which in effect reduced the reach of our project.
Finally, there were a small number of individuals who’s advice and support had a disproportionate impact on the success of the project, and for our next project we will get them involved much, much sooner.
What’s next for Types & Symbols?
We have a lot of ideas for future projects, but for the meantime we’re staying focused on finishing up work on The Conflict Beautiful and serving our existing clients. If you didn’t have a chance to back the project, we’re still accepting preorders for the full set at theconflictbeautiful.com.
Digital Strategist for Advent Digital Marketing. Advent Digital Marketing provides digital marketing services to business owners and organizations that want to take a professional approach to online marketing.
Let's begin with an overview of marketing fundamentals.
Promoting your product, service, ministry or organization starts with identifying the target audience you are trying to reach, understanding their behavior, and then determining the message you want to communicate to them.
Once this is accomplished, you’ll need to figure out the best promotional channel(s) to reach your audience and communicate your message. When it comes to choosing which channel/platform to use for your promotional campaign, the most important factor for consideration is the size of YOUR audience that is investing their ATTENTION on a channel. If you have a large audience on a channel (such as email or Twitter) but they are not spending much time on it or ignore promotional content, then it will not be an effective channel for communicating your message.
The size of the desired target audience and quality of time spent on a platform or channel varies greatly depending on the demographic.
The most important question to ask yourself when trying to figure this out is: “Where does my target audience give their attention?”
Here are a few more pointers to help you work through this:
Whether you decide to take the time to learn how to use these valuable tools on your own or hire a professional, know that every strong digital campaign starts with a strong foundation of research on your target audience.
Watch my video below to learn how to use these research tools:
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.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
The Billboard Analogy
Imagine your church was given a huge billboard on Highway 401, North America’s busiest highway, carrying about 420,000 vehicles per day. (That means A LOT of people would see your sign.)
Your billboard invites people to a special program at your church. But suddenly, you’re told that you have to pay for the days you want your billboard to be unveiled.
You have two choices:
Hopefully, you would pay to unveil the billboard. Why? Because when it comes to letting people know of Jesus Christ, every penny is worth it.
Why consider digital ads?
Let’s face it – most of the world’s population is online.
Today, the question is no longer whether Seventh-day Adventists should have an online presence, but rather, how do we increase our presence? What can we do to be more effective at sharing the Gospel online?
Digital ads, specifically Facebook ads, are like that billboard on Ontario’s busy highway.
1 billion people log on to Facebook every day.
This number includes people in the area around your church who you want to reach.
Isn’t it enough to have a Facebook page?
To strengthen our online efforts, churches and ministries have Facebook pages, Instagram and Twitter accounts, create YouTube channels, and use other methods of digital promotion. If your church or ministry has a social media platform, kudos to you!
But it’s not enough.
Remember the billboard analogy? The billboard is up but no one will see it unless you pay for the tarp to be removed.
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, organic reach is “the number of people who have seen your post through unpaid distribution.” Going back to our billboard scenario, organic reach represents the number of people who intentionally leave their cars, climb up the billboard. and peak under the covering.
We can no longer count on the organic reach of Facebook posts. If you don’t put money behind your ad or posts, less than 2% of people who follow your page will see your content.
What are Facebook ads?
Facebook ads are paid promotional material that targets a specific audience in the effort to let more people know about your church or ministry’s programs or services.
These can be:
More practically, if your church is offering a Bible-based financial help seminar, an after-school program for kids, or they’re giving out winter coats to needy families, should these be advertised on social media?
Almost 20% of people think not!
In a recent poll, 81% agreed that we should be advertising on social media platforms while the remaining 19% thought not, for varying reasons.
What do you think?
As you mull over this, remember the church has been “advertising” for as long as it has existed. However, the methods are constantly evolving.
Your church is already advertising if:
If your church is still printing flyers to give out to your community, consider the words of one CEO:
Some…believe that an attractive flyer mailed out to countless, untargeted recipients will bring results. Unfortunately, this is just one way to kill lots of trees, waste plenty of expensive ink and give the post office your hard earned money without getting any kind of return. Even the best-designed flyer won’t be very effective at producing a response, especially if sent to cold, untargeted [individuals].
What’s the purpose of “advertising” your ministry online?
If you sense a twitch in your spirit because the words “Gospel” and “advertising” are used in the same sentence, that’s understandable. Besides, we don’t ever want to convey the idea that Salvation is a product for sale.
When we promote or advertise, we extend an invitation to those online to be a part of something bigger. For digital disciples or ministry workers, our reason for promoting what we do has eternal value.
Digital disciples (those who share the Gospel online) recognize their responsibility to let others know of the saving grace of Christ.
We share the Gospel in various ways (preaching, health classes, education, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the defenseless, etc.). When we’re planning an event, we want to find the most effective way to get the news out.
The purpose of advertising is to:
With 2 billion people using Facebook every month, you are guaranteed to reach someone in your target audience.
What should the church be advertising?
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15 NIV).
So it should be with what the church offers. We want as many people as possible to know.
More people need to be made aware of what the church offers. Online ads have the possibility of giving the world a better idea of who we are.
When a product or service is worth it, creators focus on how they can use all the methods available to them to promote something they believe is useful to consumers. Knowing how useful our ministries are (online and offline) will push us to work feverishly to use as many tools as possible to reach more souls.
How do Facebook ads work? Now that we’ve established why online ads are important, let’s get to how to actually create Facebook ads.
HubSpot recommends keeping these things in mind when creating ads on Facebook:
Create a Facebook ad in 7 steps:
So, should you advertise on Facebook?
Effective advertising on Facebook increases the chance for more people to learn about your church or ministry. While we promote the church to those in the community, we shouldn’t neglect those who are seeking for truth online.
However, it is critical that churches and ministries remember that it is NOT ads (digital or otherwise) that win souls. The Holy Spirit wins souls.
“There is a necessity, it is true, for expending money judiciously in advertising the meetings, and in carrying forward the work solidly. Yet the strength of every worker will be found to lie, not in these outward agencies, but in trustful dependence upon God, in earnest prayer to Him for help, in obedience to His Word” — Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 110. (1909)
By promoting your church or ministry activities or programs online, you let more people in on something life-transforming.
Has your church or ministry used Facebook ads? What worked for you and what didn’t? Tell us below!
Reposted with permission from centerforonlineevangelism.org.
Facebook Advertising Resources:
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.
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
When it comes to reaching millennials, social media is a necessity, not a luxury.
With only 2 in 10 millennials considering regular church attendance important, it just makes sense to meet young people where they are, and in 2018, that’s online.
Millennials spend on average 18+ hours per day behind a screen consuming movies, podcasts, social media, and playing video games. If you think that’s crazy, consider this: when I shared this statistic at Andrew’s University, over 50% of the seminarians I asked said that this was an accurate representation of their day.
As a church, our first response has been to point out the inherent dangers in online media, and rightfully so. However, if we have any desire to reach the unchurched or those who have left the faith, running away from social media is no longer an option. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Rather than running away from social media, I believe God is calling us to run toward it, not as mindless consumers and gullible sheep, but as digital missionaries.
The digital missionary recognizes that “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, NIV). But as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15, ESV). The digital missionary is a faithful Christian who is committed to taking the gospel to the world, whether that means selling books door-to-door, hopping on a plane to a third-world country, sharing their testimony on Sabbath afternoon, or creating videos on YouTube.
So here are 5 of the most important tips that I’ve learned in my three years as a digital missionary:
Tip 1: Assume no one will ever come to your church.
When most begin thinking about digital evangelism, one of the first questions is, “How do we get them to come to church?” Respectfully, I think this is the wrong question to ask. After all, the mission given to us by Jesus was to make disciples, not to grow our local church. Stop treating Facebook or Instagram simply as advertising platforms for weekend services or midweek socials. Instead, ask yourself this: If the only teaching or discipling that my viewer receives comes from my online ministry, how would their walk with God look? Would their love for Jesus be increased? Would they be challenged? Would their faith grow? By taking the “disinterested benevolence” approach, always serving and never expecting, God will place us directly in the path of those who need it most. Sometimes that means our ministry will reach the shut-ins and disabled, the persecuted Christian living in a Muslim country (true story), or someone like Brook.
Paradoxically, by making this assumption, people do show up at church. In fact, this past month Helen dragged her husband and all four of her kids to church when she found out that I would be speaking at a local Adventist church only 2.5 hours away. She may not be baptized yet, but as someone who has been convinced of the seventh-day Sabbath, Helen is doing the hard work of wrestling through these difficult questions. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to do this on her own.
Tip 2: Numbers matter, but not in the way that you think.
As a digital missionary it’s easy to believe two lies when it comes to “numbers.” On the one hand it’s easy to get proud when a video “goes viral” and the subscribers start rolling in. Conversely, it’s easy to get discouraged and think it’s not worth the effort when only a dozen people watch a video that took you five or six hours to create. In the same way that God values the small local church of a dozen members and the mega church with tens or hundreds of thousands of members equally, the same is true for the online video. It doesn’t matter if your video gets millions of views or dozens; God values it the same. After all, what matters to God most is the impact on the individual. It can be so easy to forget this simple fact, leading us to start interpreting views as a simple metric instead of what it really represents: actual real-life human beings who have taken the time to watch your content.
No Bible worker would for a moment feel ashamed when only a dozen people showed up to their Bible study. No pastor would ever consider the many hours in sermon prep a waste if he only got to preach to 50 or 100 people. The same should be true for digital missionaries. Why? Because each view isn’t actually a view. It’s a person
Tip 3: Teach what your viewers are looking for, not what you’re interested in.
One of the most overlooked facts about YouTube is that it is the second largest search engine in the world. In fact, every month, YouTube sees over 3 billion searches! “How-to” videos are growing 70% each year. We know this intuitively. After all, what do we do when we need to learn how to change a tire? We YouTube it! Need to learn how to tie a tie? YouTube it! Trying to learn how to install a piece of software on our computer…YouTube it! The same is true for spiritual questions. Over 100,000 people every single month are searching for answers to questions like, “Is God Real?” “What happens after death?” “What is Faith?” and even…“What is a Seventh Day Adventist?”
Instead of uploading an hour-long debate on who the King of the North is from Daniel 11, try targeting what people are actively searching for. Here’s a pro-tip on how to discover what people are looking for online. Open up YouTube on an “incognito tab” on Chrome (if you don’t know how to do this, ask a 13-year-old in your church). By doing this, you won’t allow your personal search history to influence the auto-complete in the search bar. Start typing phrases like, “What does the Bible…” “Does God…” and “Why does God?”
Pay close attention to what shows up. YouTube is telling you that these are the most commonly typed questions by YouTube viewers from all across the world! This is where you should start when creating online content.
P.S. Use free tools like VID IQ, Google Ad Words, or Tube Buddy to get more in-depth information on specific questions many people are searching for.
Tip 4: Remember, community matters most!
Most of your viewers will be casual viewers: those who watch one or two videos only to wander to some other part of the internet. Don’t be discouraged by this. Jesus mentioned that there would be different soils each time we try to plant seed. Don’t be easily discouraged when it seems like your audience is highly transient in nature. If you are consistent in creating quality content, never “grow weary of doing good.” The promise is that, “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
Building deep community takes time. This is true of digital missions and IRL (in real life) ministry. People may visit your church dozens of times before they truly engage with the community and get involved through service. When I first started my online ministry, I asked myself how I would define “success” if I were planting a church. After 12 months, would an engaged community of 50 people be success? 100? 1000? Apply this same long-term mentality to building an online community. Don’t get impatient.
Other than creating consistent, quality content, there are many more things that you can do to build community. Respond to every single comment. Yes, all of them. Every comment is an opportunity to build community. Think of every comment as a real interaction (because that’s what it is). How would you respond if someone had something complimentary or critical to say to you after church? What would you do when a visitor had a question to ask the pastoral team? Respond to every single comment. Even the haters. Some of the most meaningful interactions that I have had online actually have come from people who were initially, “haters.” When fellow YouTuber, “The Raging Atheist,” made a very colorfully worded and angry video focused on attacking my channel (http://bit.ly/2NVbTrU - sensitive ears beware), instead of getting defensive, I tried to reach out.
Two more VERY colorful videos and several months later, “The Raging Atheist” not only considers me a friend but is actively encouraging his atheist subscribers to go and subscribe to my channel. To hear the full story, check out the Restore podcast by Javier Diaz.
Make it a practice to reach out to your viewers. Connect with them on other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ask them questions. Offer to video chat or call them when they have questions. Respond to every email as if they were a person knocking on your church door, and over time you will build a deep and meaningful community.
Tip 5: Prayer is not enough. Educate yourself and collaborate with others.
Don’t get me wrong. Prayer is not only important, it is necessary. Any success that we will have in ministry, digital or otherwise comes as a direct response to prayer. But a digital missionary must combine it with an active effort to be informed and competent. Social media platforms change about as often as Apple releases new iPhones. As such, it’s important to continually invest in education and mentorship.
I’m writing this case study having just gotten back from Las Vegas. No, I wasn’t trying to make it big at the casinos. Instead, I had just invested three days with some of the industry’s leading experts on social media marketing.
Side note: many of the most proficient experts in social media are fellow believers seizing the power of social media for kingdom growth!
Over the last three years, I have spent over $10,000 on online courses, coaching, books, conferences, and mentorship. Now, I realize that not everyone is in the position to invest this type of money, but there are so many free resources available to help equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed as a digital missionary (thanks to the NAD for partnering with me to create a FREE course on how to start a video ministry.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about digital missions is that social media actually rewards collaboration instead of competition. Whether you are looking to launch a YouTube channel, podcast, blog, or Instagram account, there is much to be gained from partnering with like-mission-minded people. Connect with other digital missionaries. Learn from their experiences, both the successes and failures. Seek to bolster and support their efforts with the heart of a servant.
Here are some examples of fellow Adventist missionaries & resources:
P.S., if you’re still doubtful that digital mission work really makes a difference, this is Michael Troyonasky. He became a Seventh-day Adventist because of a YouTube video. Yes, it makes a difference.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Social media can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. For most Adventist entities, social media manager is just one of many hats an employee might wear. If you happen to be a full-time digital strategist, you’re likely managing multiple campaigns and projects at once. Regardless of your level of expertise, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything you need to do in order to stay on top of the ever-growing evangelistic influence of social media. Over the years, I’ve learned to streamline my approach in order to tackle a large workload.
Here are my top three tried and true time-saving tips for developing your content or campaign strategy:
1.) Schedule your content in batches – Scheduling your content (and ads) in advance helps you focus on big picture items without the urgency of consistent posting. Plan out regular content in advance and make time to schedule it in monthly or bi-weekly chunks. Then you can focus your attention on engagement, community building, data analysis, strategic planning, and other projects. This also empowers you to be more proactive in your digital strategy, as opposed to reactive.
For example: If you’re running four digital campaign strategies (for different brands) at once, keeping up with the continual need for content is easily managed with this technique. It takes me one to three hours, depending on the campaign, to plan, write, and schedule the posts for a month across multiple platforms for each campaign. If you carve out time each week to focus on just one of the four campaigns, that’s between one and three focused hours a week spent scheduling content. Then your social media posts are taken care of for each campaign on a rolling basis, allowing you to stay on top of performance analytics and enabling you to better evaluate and optimize your strategy. This also frees you up to respond quickly to comments or address any unexpected issues or changes.
2.) Create evergreen content or repurpose posts – Just because you posted a piece of content once doesn’t mean your entire audience has seen it or had the time to react. Remember the “Rule of 7” states that a person must see a message at least seven times before they take action. Consequently, it’s a good idea to use one post multiple times to ensure greater exposure. For an awareness campaign like #enditnowNAD, we had two solid testimonies on why greater awareness and education is needed for pastors, church leaders, educators, and anyone working with children to effectively identify and report abuse. Over the course of a six-month campaign, we scheduled each testimony three times, with slightly different wording and images, and at different times of day and days of the week, to reach different groups of people. Each time, the content was well received. It was a long campaign, and we did this with much of the educational content that we were sharing on our various channels. We invested our time into creating compelling posts, strong resources, and images that could be used multiple times to reinforce our mission instead of constantly seeking to create new original content. New content was weaved in as it became available, but by using this technique, we were able to guarantee a consistent posting schedule.
For event-specific campaigns, you can leverage this technique to build urgency towards deadlines. For example, as the last day for an early-bird registration approaches, you can rework the same message and call-to-action using key buzzwords to attract attention.
Fellow digital missionaries, I hope you found these time-saving tips helpful. Be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear what other ways you save time or streamline your efforts.