Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Brave New World

I think most of us would agree, we live in an ever changing world. Nothing stays the same. Buy a smart phone on Monday and on Friday it’s obsolete. Technology and culture are constantly redefining themselves. The question I want to ask is in this new bold world, which has moved from a word based to an image based society, how do we share the timeless message of Christ’s love and forgiveness?

Most of us understand the power of today’s media and its ability to influence and shape public opinions and perspectives. But how has the Christian church dealt with the issue of media in a ever changing world?

Traditionally, we have seen a number of churches, especially megachurches, embracing media ministries or television ministries. Since the dawn of the cable age in the 1980s, churches have been broadcasting their services on local television stations, cable, or public access. Some bought high-end video equipment and built their own media departments. Over time that concept has evolved by bringing on a creative director to develop content to be used primarily within the church service to reinforce the message or theme that was being communicated by the pastor.

As the Internet became more popular, content was repositioned to be used online for other purposes. Today we’ve seen a major shift thanks to Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Georgia, more churches are moving into feature film production. We all know about the success of Facing the Giants and Fireproof. It seems like now everyone wants a little Hollywood. But is this a good model for outreach? Alex Kendrick, the producer of both films, would probably tell you that his films are aimed primary at a Christian audience. In other words, he’s preaching to the choir.

Recently, another church has modified Sherwood Baptist’s strategy. The Vineyard Church in Springfield, Ohio, also decided to venture into the world of film production. But instead of aiming at Christians, they are looking to impact a larger mainstream audience. A Strange Brand of Happy recently wrapped up production and will be released theatrically later in 2012. If this movie is successful by crossing over with its Christian themes, it has the potential to make a significant impact on the culture. It wouldn’t surprise me if more churches will eventually adopt this strategy. There’s a lot riding on A Strange Brand of Happy, as previous crossover films have mostly failed. So all eyes will be on this upcoming release.

However, there is another strategy that most churches are probably unaware of. As I have said countless times on my blog, we live in a visual society. Images now define our reality and drive our behaviors and worldview. As a result, I believe in empowering every member of the church in the new brave world that we face. It’s not enough that a few key media professionals who work in the Church create and distribute all of the content. Today, we all must become visual storytellers. We now have the technology that everyone can become a content provider. Think about it. What if the majority of the church congregation were using social media, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, YouTube and Vimeo to communicate Biblical principles to their friends and family? Is that possible? Absolutely. In fact, it’s the future.

It’s already happening. For example, the recent hit show, Lost, used its audience base for content and ideas which in part helped make the show an international success. Lost fans created an extension of the show by using social media, internet and other resources to create a world and a story that went beyond the television show. Without the fans, this would not have been possible. The producers of Lost saw this as an asset, not a distraction.

What if the Church embraced the same strategy and saw the congregation as a creator and distributor of media content that help to reinforce the message of the Church? Where would you start? First you would have to make this a priority by communicating the importance of visual storytelling to every member of the church. You would need someone to direct the program, probably someone already on your media team. Second, you would need to create content as well as video elements, templates, graphics, and web pages the congregation would have access to as a resource. And finally and perhaps more important you would have to provide training. I can see a course on Social Media and Facebook 101. Churches that embrace this new strategy will be well positioned for growth in the future. It’s cutting edge. It’s the direction our culture is headed.

Everybody will become a content provider. The truth is the Church can no longer afford to be behind the times. In this new brave world, that’s no longer an option. We must embrace change, not to change the message, but how we deliver it.

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