Continental Drift

Adventists in America are drifting. As are those in Canada, Europe and Australia. Continental-drifting, that is—moving further and further away from reaching people on their own continents. People like themselves.

Why are these Adventists adrift?

Because they don’t know what effective (including cost-effective) evangelism looks like in first-world countries. They don’t know how to reach modern people in the Internet age. Basically, when their area of expertise is no longer effective in a region, they go somewhere where what they know—where what they have always done—works better. Where it works like they want it to. Where they can find a success story to tell.

They go for the low-hanging fruit. The fruit that can be picked using pre-Internet evangelistic methods. Namely, “public meetings.” Not that that fruit isn’t valuable. Not by any means. A gold ring that is lost is still a valuable gold ring, no matter what continent it is lost on or what culture it finds itself immersed in.

Sadly, the Adventist institution in the first-world doesn’t seem to me to care about innovation or being creative. It’s happy with the same old roadmap it reliably turns to decade after decade. This is proven by where and how the church chooses to invest/spend it’s money. If only the church’s books were more easily accessible; more transparent.

The Adventist church claims to be taking a much needed message to the world. And I ask, in response, how the church plans to accomplish this without reaching the entire USA, for instance?

By holding an evangelistic event in a major US city from time to time where 1,000-3,000 people show up, half of whom are Adventist? Okay… well, New York City has more than 8 million residents. Los Angeles has nearly 4 million residents. Chicago nearly 3 million. Even Tucson has over half a million. Now tell me how holding an old-school evangelistic event will reach everyone in each of those cities. We’re talking about numbers that are more like .0125% rather than 100%. Come on.

Let’s talk about costs. Often times “halls” where these events are held cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Equipment and personnel must be flown in. Multiple times. Before, during and after. That’s not cheap. Merchandise has to be ordered. Hotels are needed. Screens and projectors have to be rented. The list goes on.

I wonder if there’s a better way? And by that I mean I wonder if there is a more effective (reach, retainment, cost, etc.) way? I’m going to ask such questions because the truth never minds.

Look. I’m all for reaching out to people. But in the smartest, best way possible. Thinking that the church is being a good steward with God’s money is important to me.

I’ve been a part of these events. On both sides of the stage. It’s awesome to see someone make a decision for Jesus. But for hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’d like to see more than 1,000 people show up, half of whom are Adventist, with just a couple a night getting baptized. I say there MUST be a better way.

Should hard problems simply be ignored?

And don’t even get me started on evangelism via satellite TV. Just look how the Hope Channel builds up it’s audience:

Hope Channel began broadcasting in the United States in 2003. But today, Hope Channel is a global network with 23 Channels that cover Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the islands of the Pacific. Programs on each channel are contextualized for its local culture and and is broadcast in many languages including Spanish, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Mandarin, Russian, Tamil, Hindi, Ukrainian, Arabic, Farsi and Telugu.

Wow! 23 channels covering Africa, Asia, Europe… practically the entire world! Now tell me how many secular people actually watch. You can even tell me like you mean it. I’m not impressed.

Hmm. What else is there? Mass mailing copies of The Great Hope (aka, a revised version of The Great Controversy) to every home in America? Well, since post-office trash cans were reportedly full of those books, I’m guessing that didn’t work so well.

Knocking on doors? While people are watching their favorite football games? During the day when the vast majority of Americans aren’t home because they’re at work? Selling our beliefs? For money?

I won’t argue with you that people have come into the Adventist faith thanks to public meetings, satellite channels and literature evangelism. But I will argue with an assertion that the church is reaching the whole world through these methods.

If someone enjoys evangelizing via these methods—I’m all for it. Be my guest. Put everything you’ve got into it. Just don’t limit other people who want to try something new or different.

 The Internet Is The Missing Link

The Internet is widespread. It’s in nearly every American pocket. It’s in nearly every American home. It’s nearly ubiquitous throughout the first-world.

The Internet is full of information. And in this day and age, many people turn to Google before turning to God. Search, and social media, are how information is disseminated today.

The funny thing about the Internet is that people can use it whenever they want. To search for whatever they want. If they are having a specific issue… they can find a specific answer.

Good news, though! The church has websites and social media accounts. Church “administrators” have iPhones with Adventist apps loaded onto them. Actually, having something, or just being aware of something, is not at all the same as knowing how to use something. Not. Even. Close.

Meanwhile, the Internet numbly uproots entire industries: the music, newspaper and publishing executives can attest to that. It’s ridiculous to think that the church hasn’t been effected.

And what’s it going to take to get the church to realize that the Internet has fundamentally changed the world—especially for young people?

This whole Internet majiggy? It’s time to learn how to use it. Time to understand it. The time for lame excuses is long gone.

The age of the Internet is the age of customization. And customization is now something that all young people—Christians included—are now accustomed to. As learning to program becomes a popular pursuit, individuals are increasingly empowered to turn the world around them into a reflection of their own tastes and preferences.

In the UK, 5 year olds are learning to code. The church should not continue to ignore coding, coders and the unprecedented levels of customization they are bringing with them.

What does the customization of the first-world look like? Flipboard delivers a unique digital magazine experience every single time it’s opened. Pandora is personalized radio. Netflix has spent millions of dollars to make it’s recommendations more relevant to individual subscribers. And those are just popular companies I was sure most people would know about.

Everywhere you look the forecast calls for personalization—everywhere but the church.

In the brick-and-mortar church experience itself, a person doesn’t necessarily consume the content that would be the most relevant or to them on a personal level. The message is basically buckshot and the pastor must try to hit the widest possible target (or aim for the lowest common denominator).

Congregants (or do I mean robots) are served a menu/bulletin with exactly one choice of main course, appetizer, dessert, etc… Don’t like the message, the music, the time or the structure? Tough. It’s traditional—untouchable.

Isn’t it about time the Adventists realized was is an 8th continent? The digital continent. Yep. The Catholics beat us to it:

I remember when we proposed to Pope Benedict XVI the possibility of opening a YouTube channel. He told us very clearly, “I want to be where people are.” This is the milieu where people are living — hundreds of millions. We are therefore invited to announce the Gospel to the men and women of today on this “digital continent,” as Pope Benedict put it.

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