Global Internet conference shows benefits of Web integration for church outreach.
While Seventh-day Adventists in the United States are slower to adopt new personal technology than the public, they are on the "cutting edge" of Internet evangelism, research presented during a global conference on the church's approach to technology suggested this week.
Adventists in the U.S. are generally older than the wider public, which may explain the trend, said Paul Richardson, executive director for the Center for Creative Ministry for the Adventist Church in North America, speaking at the church's Global Internet Evangelism Network (GiEN) Conference.
In Brazil, the Adventist Church's coordinated Web integration of social media and Bible studies is leading to thousands of requests for personal visits. Unfortunately, the church is only able to meet less than one-fourth of the requests.
"That, I think, is instructive for us here in North America," Richardson said. "People are looking for connection and they want to build trust."
The church's GiEN Conference drew 120 Adventist Web technologists, communicators and administrators from around the world to Orlando, Florida September 9 to 11 to discuss new ways of conducting outreach using Web technologies.
"This is to help inspire people, give them training and offer a greater global vision for sharing ideas and experiences," said Williams Costa Jr., conference coordinator and the associate Communication director for media production at the Adventist Church's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In the past, the church has been slow to capitalize on the Internet, said Jobson Santos, coordinator of Internet evangelism for the church's media center in Brazil. "It took eight years to launch an Internet department in our media center, but the church is finally moving on this," he said. "We are now investing the necessary time and money."
The conference also highlighted the impact of NetAdventist and Adventist Church Connect, two church Web site management platforms that allow local congregations to easily launch and manage their own Web sites. Because more than 70 percent of potential visitors will browse a congregation's Web site before choosing to attend that church, a strong online presence is vital, Richardson said.
His study, Adventists and the Internet, is a survey of the 6,000 Adventist churches in the United States, 52 percent of which have less than 100 members.
Research suggests that one-fourth of Adventist churches have an e-mail account belonging to the church, highlighting the low usage of Internet among Adventists, Richardson said.
Adventists use the Internet more than the wider public to conduct banking online; they are about even with the public in reading blogs, and use the Internet less than the public to read news, make purchases and play games.
"We have a lot of [members] using social media, but it's mostly the younger generation," Richardson said. "Out of this comes another challenge: we've got to help the older generation embrace these technologies and help them use them for outreach," he said. "[People in Brazil] are feeling a connection through technology."
Some 400,000 prayer requests have reached church leaders in that country since the launch of its media center, and more than 40,000 people have completed an online Bible study course, something Santos attributes in part to the sense of community people can find online.
While GiEN is doing a great job of "galvanizing" an interest in the Internet among Adventists by showing its usefulness for outreach, Santos said he hopes research presented this year will spur church leaders to hire more young, tech-savvy types to help turn that interest into action.
"They're excited, they have good ideas and they've just finished their degrees," he said. "May are already volunteering to help, but we need a strong global commitment to bring them in."