Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Recently, advertisements sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began running on prominent YouTuber Justin Khoe’s videos. What makes this surprising is that Justin is a digital missionary for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For every advertisement that runs on his videos, Justin gets a percentage of the revenue. In other words, when the Church of Jesus Christ targets their ads to subscribers of his channel, they are financially supporting his ministry, an Adventist ministry. Before we get into why this strategy makes sense and what it means for Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic methods, let us share some background information.
Who is Justin Khoe?
Justin Khoe is a digital missionary. Known online primarily as “That Christian Vlogger,” Justin runs a Christian YouTube channel with over 65,000 subscribers (as of October 2018) that seeks to have a positive impact on those searching for spiritual answers online. His YouTube videos have been seen around the world by over two million people. With over ten years of preaching, literature evangelism, and teaching experience under his belt, Justin’s current focus is leveraging social media to help reach unchurched young adults. Co-hosting the show with him is his wife, Emily. Justin and Emily aim to encourage young adults to have a stronger and deeper relationship with God and to help them discover who God has created them to be. They call this way of living “experiencing faith in the first person.” In the past year, Justin has created an interactive Christian community and received 2,334 requests for Bible studies.
How YouTube Advertising Works
Advertising on YouTube is simple and straightforward: pay Google a set amount ($0.20 per view, on average) to insert a commercial to play before a particular video. The revenue from this advertising is split between Google and the content creator.
With over 1.8 billion people watching videos on YouTube each month, it’s easy to see why advertising on the platform is attractive for businesses looking to reach a wide audience. And they are coming in droves; in 2018 alone, advertisers are expected to spend an astonishing $3.9 billion dollars on YouTube advertising.
It’s makes sense. Armed with an endless supply of targeted data from Google’s immense user base, companies can now target prospective customers with pin-point accuracy. Travel agencies can target young families with an interest in exploring South-East Asia. Makeup companies can target 13-17 year old girls from the United Kingdom who have recently searched for specific brands of lipstick. The examples could go on and on.
Opportunities Beyond Profits
But YouTube advertising isn’t the exclusive domain of makeup companies and travel agencies looking to turn a profit. For many organizations with non-financial motivations, YouTube has become an ideal platform for influencing targeted groups of people. Using Google’s powerful targeting tools, politicians use the platform to target key voter segments, nonprofits use it to target likely donors, and—most recently—churches and other religious organizations have begun using it to target spiritually-interested people searching for answers to spiritual questions.
This last scenario is one that should be of particular interest to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As mentioned above, a religious organization has recently begun running ads on Justin Khoe’s (aka “ThatChristianVlogger”) YouTube channel. One ad in particular describes the conversion experience of Richard, an Asian-American atheist who became a Christian.
The approximately three-minute video describes how Richard was unhappy with his life and how he began to search for a greater purpose. Richard ultimately found, not only a faith that could fill his need for purpose and meaning, but also one that appealed to his need for logic as a scientist. Eventually, Richard met with some missionaries and decided to join a church that loves and welcomes him with open arms.
A Neglected Field
The crazy part of this story lies in which organization is sponsoring these ads on a Seventh-day Adventist YouTube channel: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ, known for their evangelistic zeal, have recognized—better than most churches—that when young people have questions about purpose and identity, they don’t turn to pastors and teachers as they did in previous decades. No, they turn instead to social media—Google, Facebook, YouTube, and the like. In fact, Generation-Z can’t live without YouTube, with 95% of them using the platform and half stating they can’t live without it.
Gen Z prefers to watch, rather than read. They view digital video and short-form clips almost six times as much as they read traditional digital publishers/blogs. Social influencers play a significant role in defining what youth audiences like, view, and buy…This is particularly true when marketing to Gen Z, who grew up with the internet and are not only demanding that all brands entertain them, but also that entertainment shifts to behave like a friend—it’s also why influencers are so effective in selling to this generation. —Maude Standish, Vice President of Programming Strategy, Fullscreen
Rather than ignoring this trend, or attempting to counteract it, the Church of Jesus Christ has made the evangelistic leap that all churches seeking to remain relevant in the 21st century will have to take: they became digital missionaries. They found an existing online community of spiritually interested individuals (built by Justin Khoe through his YouTube channel), and then paid Google to spread their message to that targeted audience through advertising.
As a result, a Seventh-day Adventist digital missionary—Justin Khoe—finds himself in the ironic position of being sponsored (via YouTube advertising) by the the Church of Jesus Christ, because they recognize the immense evangelistic value of the audience he his building, and the need to target the next generation on the digital platforms where they are searching for answers.
Supporting digital missions can take a variety of forms. For the individual, this may mean leveraging your own digital influence for the gospel or supporting your favorite Adventist influencer financially. Encourage friends and family members who feel called to the digital mission field, especially when they are frustrated and have doubts. When you don’t understand what they are trying to do, ask questions and never dismiss their ideas due to their “youth.” In my experience, most principles gleaned from the physical mission field have application in the digital one. If you have evangelism and discipleship experience, be a guide and a mentor that encourages young people’s ideas. You may not be a content creator, but if you’re on social media, you can share their content to help expand their reach.
This will take a cultural shift at every level of our Church to recognize, encourage, support, and assist our youth, who are the best suited to reach their own generation. We must recognize digital missionaries as legitimate missionaries. This means not only making room for digital evangelism and discipleship in our churches, but preparing our youth for this mission field by equipping them with the right technical skills. We, as a denomination, must value the tech-savvy and social influencers if we are to accomplish our great commission in a digitally-focused society. It’s time to invest heavily in digital missionaries, platforms, technologies, and advertising strategies at the corporate and local levels of our Church.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a grassroots effort that became a global movement. The explosion of digital technologies is affording us the opportunity to once again unite in a common purpose to expand the gospel. We are more connected than ever before, and the mission field is huge. I believe the next great awakening will be a digital one. I am challenging us to another grassroots movement of skilled individuals using their different talents (blogging, video, design, podcasting, IT, preaching, writing, healing, etc.) to share one message. I know there are thousands of faithful believers with the skills, expertise, and faith necessary to take our message online en masse. There is a place for everyone in this movement, but it will take everyone working together. The wisdom of traditional evangelism combined with the technical fluency of the youth could preach the three angels’ messages with a loud voice to the ends of Earth. This is possible if we seize this opportunity before it’s too late.
Follow Justin Khoe on YouTube
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