New vision for media
What would you do if you were handed the responsibility of running Adventist Media? For most of us, that’s a hypothetical question. But for one person it's not. And that person happens to be me.
After an exceptional period of leadership by my friend and colleague Neale Schofield, I was asked towards the end of last year to lead our Church’s media ministries in the South Pacific. What a privilege, challenge and opportunity all at the same time! Thankfully, we have a fantastic, creative team in the office, as well as around the South Pacific. A team who are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus through media.
But here’s the challenge we face.
Do we continue doing what we’ve been doing?
Or if we do something different, what would it be, and how should we decide?
Continuing to do what we're doing may be a comfortable option but it’s not a very good one. Every sector of our society is changing, and none faster than media. If we want to be relevant, we need to change too. The alternative is irrelevance.
In the past the “public square” of social influence was the temple courtyard, used by Jesus or a tent as used by our young pioneers. Today it’s most often a small, portable screen. That is where we go to be informed and entertained, where we go to learn and to communicate. So either we get our media efforts right or . . . well, we fail in our mission to reach our modern world.
Saying we need to adapt to a changing world is useful, but we have to ask ourselves how?
To answer that question, our team analysed a full range of questions, starting with: what’s our goal?
We decided our goal isn’t to make TV shows, films, music or magazines. Our goal is to introduce people to a loving Saviour, a healthier life, and link them with the Seventh-day Adventist community, where they can grow as disciples of Christ.
That’s a great goal. Who would disagree with it? But how do we do it?
Vying for our audience’s time today are not just all the broadcast TV channels, satellite networks, Netflix and other online providers of movies and TV shows, but tens of thousands of online magazines and over a billion websites. If we try to reach everyone with a generic multigenerational product, the chances we break through the clutter are almost zero. This is particularly true because we have very limited resources. So we’ve endeavoured to make God-inspired decisions about where we invest the talents God has given to us.
In deciding where to focus our limited media resources, we researched which demographics are most open to the gospel. For this we talked with pastors, evangelists, lay soul winners and church administrators. We also researched what has been written on the subject. It turns out that people are most open to the gospel at specific times in their lives. In short, it is during periods of significant crisis and change that people are most open to the Gospel.
Across the Pacific, churches and individuals passionately work with people dealing with particular issues—abuse, depression, health. At another church it’s a different issue with a different demographic. We need to focus our media on a demographic that applies around the Pacific, so that when they come to our local church communities we can really meet their needs, regardless of what challenges in life they face.
“Wait a minute,” one of our team, Jared, said, “we’ve got something for young families.” “What do you mean?” I replied. “Well, think about it—virtually every church in the South Pacific has children’s programs and they are great. They involve singing, stories and often a craft.”
“You mean Sabbath School?” I responded. “Yeah. But you know, people pay good money to send their kids to secular programs like that. And we have these superb programs going on, week in, week out, all over the Pacific, for free! At nearly every church. And more than that. We’ve got Adventurers. We’ve got Pathfinders. We’ve got great schools, hospitals along with a host of other services and activities for families, including the world's largest kids triathlon. We’ve got something pretty amazing!”
I have to admit, Jared had a point. If someone decides to drop into an Adventist Church because they were intrigued by a piece of media aimed at parents of young kids, we can be pretty certain that they’ll find something awesome for their children—and for themselves. No matter where in the Pacific they are.
At our most recent board meeting the members unanimously agreed: focusing our energies and media outreach on young families makes sense (not before some serious discussion and not before noting that most of the board members are at the young grandkids stage rather than the young kids stage).
So how do we make our media available to young families? Deloitte Consulting’s recent media report showed that the number one source of information and entertainment for the 20-35 year old demographic is . . .
Well, what do you imagine it is? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not obscure satellite TV networks. Indeed, it isn’t even TV. Or radio. Or print. The number one source is the internet. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
And so, we’re going to focus our resources on producing media to be delivered over the internet. And then connect that media with online resources, interactive information and, of course, to our local churches and schools. After all, if you’re a young parent, there’s no better place to go!
All sound too good? In some ways it is. Because in order to pivot our focus onto young families, we have to take our focus off some of the things we’ve been doing, and change others. And that is painful! We may make changes you don’t personally agree with. I understand that, but I hope you will understand in time. Change is painful. But it also represents opportunities to try new things, in new ways. Continuing to use the media the way we always have when all around us society is changing so rapidly would be a waste of the resources God has blessed us with.
Along with focusing our attention on young families, we want to democratise our media. What do I mean by that? I mean that we want you involved in a much more direct way, where your videos, songs, poems, and stories contribute directly to our goal of connecting people to Jesus. Watch out for details of how.
I know our church community is absolutely oozing with talent. And these days, we all have access to the technology to turn talent into a little piece of media. Adventists got talent—I know we do, because I know Who gave it to us! Share it with us and we’ll share it with the world.
Before I close, can I ask you for something? Look around our cities in this great region. How many of them have we really penetrated with the great news of Christ’s soon return? How many people living in Auckland, or Melbourne have even heard of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Because I spend almost all my time talking with Adventists it's easy to lose sight of just how far we have to go to give the good news to our societies. We’ve been active for well over a century in the South Pacific, yet everyone knows other companies started in just the last few years—Facebook, Google, Uber—and we remain largely unknown in our largest cities—particularly in Australia and New Zealand.
If we want that to change, we have to change.
As we make the most of the opportunities this change in focus brings, our team needs every ounce of encouragement you can find in your heart to give. And our team need every prayer you have the grace to pray. I want more than anything to see lives changed, souls redeemed, and parents and their children finding meaning, fulfillment and peace as one of Jesus’ disciples. There will be stumbles and mistakes along the way, of that I am sure. But, under God’s grace, I believe He will use our media to glorify His name and bring others to Him. Good things are happening. Let’s all join together to support the effort—and as a church family, let’s lead other families to Christ.
A privilege? No doubt. A challenge? You bet. An opportunity? Absolutely!
Kalvin Dever is CEO of Adventist Media.