Dion's random ramblings

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Using media in ministry (redux), facebook, twitter, blogs, youtube and more


Please click here to download an MP3 recording of the Radio interview I refer to below.

I am always amazed at how I stumble and stutter once I am on air!  It is quite a challenge to remain coherent and sensible when thousands of people are listening (and there's no backspace key!)  Ha ha!  The interview went off well (I think), and as I mention, I would love to hear your thoughts.  So, here's the podcast file (13MB in MP3 format)

This evening (6 September 2009) I shall be doing an interview on Kate Turkington's Sunday evening talk show on 702 / Cape Talk.

I am extremely excited about this opportunity!  Kate is a remarkable woman, I was so thankful to be contacted by her producer Wendy Landau, who asked if I could come on the show to talk about the use of new media (facebook, twitter, blogs, video blogs, podcasts and e-publishing) in ministry.

Let me give a little bit of background to my interests in media and ministry.  Let's start with the media bit - I have been using the internet almost since its inception (I suppose that in Malcolm Gladwell's terms, see Outliers, I was born at just the right time and had a few fortunate opportunities along the way!)

I have had a website since early in 1994 (when I was a student at Rhodes University - in those days they had Unix boxes with Mosaic browsers and some of the 286 and 386 PC's had Netscape 1 installed on them!)  I realized at an early stage that this medium would have both forming and formative effects.

On the forming side, the ease with which information could be shared, disseminated and published would revolutionize the way we see and think about things!  There is little doubt that our capacity for understanding the complexity of the world (in terms of vast geography, economies, cultures and global interdependence) has changed in the last 15 years!  Access to such a huge quantity and variety of information has formed the way we interact, the way we make choices, and of course even some practical and functional aspects of our lives (such as communication, forming relationships, and crafting our 'picture' of ourselves, others and the world).

From a formative perspective I also realised that there was an incredible opportunity to get ahead of this social and information technology in order to add value to the lives of people all over the world!  Of course in the early days web sites were quite static (except for those ghastly 'animated gifs!') - by static, I mean that it was so difficult to add content that websites tended to be static repositories of information.  My first website on the Rhodes University Computer Users Society server (rucus) had a bit of boigraphical information, a few essays and papers that I had written in Theology (oh, and a hidden list of links to hacking sites and methods... I was quite proficient at getting through the Novell servers at the University and had become somewhat skilled at hacking the lab machines to access the internet...  Remember, those were the early days of computers!)  The point is that my first website was simply, and it had to be coded in html script in a plain text editor!  So adding content was very difficult!

One of the first theologians / priests that I connected with on the internet was Steve Hayes who was teaching in the Missiology Department at UNISA.  I think that was around 1995-1997 - is that right Steve?  Steve has always been way ahead of the curve in using new technologies to create networks and establish relationships (from the early days of dialup BBS' to the more current 'syncroblogs')

I suppose I had always seen a clear link between ministry and media (i.e., the necessity to manage how I, and others, are formed by the information we receive.  As well as using the technologies at our disposal to influence, inform, and help others to form fresh, life-giving perspectives on themselves, others, God and God's world.)

Basically, I see that there are two ways in communication technologies can be used for ministry.  I'm sure that there are many more, but these are the two broad uses I understand.

1.  They can be used to share information, thoughts, ideas and inspiration.  So, you'll see on my blog I give away three of my books for free.  This is an effective and easy way to publish my books to a very wide audience and have them interact with the content.  I also do videos and audio podcasts, and of course there are the shorter blog posts.  These tools can be quite effective for ministries and organisations that are producing content (whether it be sermons, books, reports, videos, materials etc.)  It is quite interesting to note that the Global Day of Prayer (whom I serve as part of my current ministry) has one of the most visited ministry sites on the internet, and their mobilization videos and resources are among the most downloaded and used ministry resources on the internet!

2.  Then there are technologies that are particularly good at facilitating relationships and engagement (facebook is one, but even a regular blog like this with comments is another, and then there is myspace, QIK, Youtube and of course to a much lesser extent there is twitter).  Interaction around thoughts, ideas, and causes has the effect of generating creative and interactive thoughts - often leading to new initiatives or fresh solutions to problems, but sometimes simply connecting people with similar ideas, values and points of view with one another.  Steve's blog is a good example of people congregating around issues, ideas, and causes to both give their unique inputs, but also to critique and discuss the views of others.  Facebook and Twitter are good tools to 'point' people towards issues, causes and materials that can help to enrich their lives and transform the lives of others.  So, for example, some Churches use their facebook fan page, or their twitter feed, to send out information about courses, events and resources in a fast and affordable manner.

Steve is particularly good at the relationship side of new media, whereas I tend to find the information sharing aspect easier (my lifestyle, and even my personality, make it difficult to return to issues that I've 'put out there').

Next, I have a fairly simple strategic purpose for new media.

I see the microblogging and 'short form' media (twitter and friendfeed) as a first means of gaining interest, creating a 'following' and pointing persons towards content and interaction.  Twitter is almost like an invitation to a party or event!  If you make it worthwhile people will want to 'click through' to what you are highlighting.  The key to getting followers in twitter is

  • 1) Worthwhile content (see my post on twitter tips here)  people follow people who add value to their lives and experience of the internet! Of course there are various ways of doing this.  If you're a 'personality' people often find value in gaining an insight into your ordinary life (when you shop, who you hang out with, what you're thinking etc.)  But, for most of us that is not the case.  Our content needs to be valuable (i.e., getting people quickly and effectively to entertainment, news, or helpful resources). 

  • 2)  Build relationships - this is key to following people on twitter, and getting them to take an interest in what you're contributing on the internet (and in 'real life').  I find that the people who retweet my content, or point others to what I am doing are people who I know, or have built a genuine relationship with because I am connected to them and their lives and take a real interest in who they are and what they do!  In short, I need to be prepared to connect wortwhile people to my network of friends and 'followers' in order to expect the same in return from them.  But, more importantly I should simply follow and build relationships with people that I want to relate to. When this is the motivation then a relationship is not forced, it is simply a relationship!

Next you need to have a 'landing space' where people can find the content you're pointing to and begin to create a relationship with you, your ideas, and with others persons who share similar ideas and thoughts.  This is almost like hosting a part!  In my case my blog is the landing space - I will do my best to share something of myself, some of my thoughts, and of course some useful and valuable content here.  A blog takes time, commitment and some consistency.  These are not all my ideas, most of them come, in large part, from Seth Godin's book "Tribes"

  • You need to take time to find and post content - remember - it must be worthwhile for people to visit your page (and to visit again!)  I've spoken about the neuroscience of survival and efficiency elsewhere.  It's a simple fact, people go to sites that are most helpful to their lives (information, entertainment, relationships, etc.)
  • Post as regularly as you can.  People stop returning to blogs that are not updated!  There are simply too many good blogs out there that add good content frequently.  So, if you have a 'niche' and can post once or twice a week (better even if you can post daily) you're on your way to building a loyal community!

You can view a short video I did on New Media, Ministry and Tribes here:

So, the landing page is the place where you start to share your ideas, help to influence, support and challenge people to change their own lives and the lives of others around them.

But, that is not the end...

The final step is to 'build a conversation' - I am certainly aware of the fact that I don't have any definitive answers to some of the issues that I think about, work towards, and want to see changed.  I need your thoughts, ideas, and effort.  So, comments on your blog, requests for contact, and the opportunity to meet people in the 'real world' is essential!

I have had wonderful opportunities to connect with people and discuss their thoughts in relation to mine, to do presentations and talks, or contribute practically to the good work that others are doing!  That, after all, should be the aim of ministry - to bring about real and tangible change.

So, here are two resources that may be of some help to you.  They are both previous posts I did on Media and Ministry for Media Village in Kalk Bay, Cape Town.

Post 1 - July 2009 from here.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching some classes on new media and ministry at Media Village's School of Video Production.

Since most of the persons on the course were not theologically trained we spent the first day discussing issues related to the 'message' of ministry. In particular we talked about the message of the Kingdom of God and our responsibility to be agents of transformation in society (thus pitching the content of the message towards individuals in order to engage the individuals with the Gospel of Christ, and also empower individuals to transform systems and communities to embrace the ways of Christ).

I have recently become increasingly aware of the fact that the Church sees its mission mandate as a geographical mandate (i.e., go into all the 'world' making disciples of all nations...) However, there are 'worlds' that are not part of our regular geography - these include social networks and new social media. I'm not sure about you, but I so much more connected with many more people because of the technology of social media. I communicate with more than 1000 people each time I send out an update on my twitter feed - http://www.twitter.com/digitadion. I have over 700 followers on twitter, and since my twitter feed automatically updates my facebook profile the 460 friends I have on facebook (some of whom are also friends on twitter) receive my updates. This phenomenon shows when I look at the logs for my website! I see a huge spike in hits to my website after an interesting tweet!

The lectures themselves offered quite a lot of insight into the tools of social media (twitter, facebook, linkedin) and new media tools (which primarily are communication tools to get rich content (such as audio, video, electronic text, or still images) to large groups of persons).

My media strategy, as you shall see from the video below, is quite simple:

1. Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

2. Having built a wide range of relationships I use various means to present rich content to my network. These include videos through youtube and qik, electronic text via my blog, and of course audio via my podcast and images via flickr.

3. When persons visit any of these sites I try to provide content for free (books, podcasts, videos etc.) that will bring about returning visits.

The long and the short of this relationship is that it creates a model for engagement around issues of the Gospel (the love of God in Christ, justice, social transformation etc.) Furthermore, the model also serves as a platform from which to launch my thoughts and ideas - I cannot tell you how many wonderful opportunities have come because my blog is rated in the top 5 in the Mail and Guardian's religion blogs section. I frequently get emails, telephone calls, do radio and television interviews and have generated many sales for my books etc. through these contacts.

The 'secret' if I can put it as such, is to give away ones content for free whenever possible. My idea is that the most valuable thing I have is not the paper on which my books is printed, rather it is the ideas, concepts and engagement that form the books - and of course my time. So, persosn can have my work for free since it eventually leads them to contact me to engage around the content. This in turn allows opportunities for me to share the Gospel of Christ and to encourage others to work with me for the transformation of society and creation!

Well, here's the video on new media / social media:

And, here's a copy of the Powerpoint Slides I used over the three 2 days. Simply click the link to download them. There is a 'reading list' in the middle of the slides that may be of some help. Please feel free to use them as you wish, if I could simply ask that you give a linkback to my blog (or site http://www.dionforster.com ) if you use them.

I'd love to hear your perspectives on how the Church, and Christians, can use social media to bring God's will to bear on society.

Post 2 24 July 2009 from here.

Here's a short interview that my friend Shane Vermooten from Media Village did with me for their series 'On the Orange Couch' at the School of Video Production in Kalk Bay in Cape Town.

In this video I discuss some of the issues related to how we can harness new media in Christian ministry. I also discuss some theological perspectives in the mission of the Church and of individual Christians in society as they relate to the Kingdom of God.

Find more videos like this on SVP 2009

Please share any thoughts and feedback!

You can find my original video, powerpoint slides, and post on new media in ministry on this link.

Post 3 30 July 2009 from here.

This is a video interview / discussion with Bill Wasik on Viral Culture & New Media @NextSpace Santa Cruz

Before you jump to the video (and you'd best have some bandwidth to spare - but it is well worth watching), I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book 'The outliers'. It presents some fascinating research to challenge our views of success! For example, did you know that the overwhelming number of professional hockey players were born in January (in fact most of them in the first three weeks of January!) Did you know that most of the Tycoons of Industry were born in the 1830's, and that the tycoons of the internet (Gates, Joy, Jobs etc.) were all born within a few months of each other in the 1980's?

The point that Gladwell makes from his research is that 'talent' is only a small part of success. What made all of these aforementioned people a success in their fields was that they were ahead of the curve. Think about this for example, if Gates and Jobs had been just a little bit too young they would never have got ahead of the computer revolution and lead their way into the industry. If they were a little older they would perhaps have been married with kids and so not been willing to take the risks of starting up a new enterprise, and so some other younger, hungrier, more daring persons would have done it instead... Do you see the point? Being aware of where you are in history is an important thing!

There is little doubt that communication technology is absolutely revolutionising the world! The world is not the same as it was even 10 years ago. We can connect at no cost, and in an instant, with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world using a computing device that we can put in our pocket! Text messaging, facebook and twitter are changing the ways in which conversations are structured and engaged...

What is the Church doing about it? We still employ a 20-30 minute sermon as our primary means of communicating the unchanging Gospel to an ever changing world! My goodness that is unwise!

Bill Wasik on Viral Culture & New Media @NextSpace Santa Cruz from Allan Lundell on Vimeo.

Here are some other posts (videos and lecture notes) that I prepared on New Media and Ministry... And here is an exceptional reflection and critique by Steve Hayes that consciders a different aspect of technology and its use in ministry.

I would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and insights! How can we use these tools in our ministry? Do you know of anyone who is doing it well? Do you agree with me that our generation must get 'ahead' of this curve or we may just miss the boat?


  • Dion,

    I began calling BBSs about 1988-89, and saw their potential for ministry almost immediately, but after 20 years I still haven't managed to persuade anyone else to make significant use of them. By 1990 we were connecting to the internet -- hey, did you know that I was the one who suggested to the guys at Rhodes that they use Fidonet technology to link SA to the Internet, and they did -- ALL South Africa's Internet traffic went over a single 9600 bps modem from Rhodes to Oregon, where Randy Bush gated it back to TCP/IP and uucp.

    In 1992/93 we had some fairly useful discussions on the MISSION conference on FamilyNet, but things have disintegrated since then. It still exists in the form of the Missiological forum, but it carries less traffic than it did in the early 1990s, and getting people to participate in it is like drawing teeth. They would much rather throw sheep at each other on Facebook and things like that.

    So I think, and have thought, that new media have enormous potential for ministry, but most of that potential is still unrealised. One place where it is being realised, however, in the exchange of information, is Wikis.

    Give my greetings to Kate Turkington. She probably won't remember me, but I took a bunch of guys from Zululand to her TV production course at Instructa at RAU in 1982. It was an expo of educational technology, with a lot of courses laid on, including Kate's TV one, and it was there that I got sold on microcomputers, and bought my first one - a New Brain, with 32k RAM, which sounded enormous in those days.

    By Blogger Steve Hayes, at 4:08 PM  

  • Thanks so much for the comment Steve - you've always been an inspiration in the manner in which you've brought people together through technology!

    Rich blessing,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 8:49 PM  

  • Really enjoyed the interview - did not hear the stuttering you mentioned! Love the way in which you use all means to communicate the Gospel.

    By Blogger Andre, at 1:16 PM  

  • hi buddy.....ur study regarding twitter followers was really very amazing ...these facts were really unknown to me..Visit http://thetwittersecret.com/

    By Blogger Sweton F, at 12:27 PM  

  • I never told you Dion that I found you on the web when I was doing background searching on John de Gruchy and then found out you were all over the new media, so that intrigued me! It was a great interview, thank you.

    Wendy Landau

    By Blogger Wendy Elaine, at 5:17 PM  

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