Communication Professionals Meet at GAiN Europe
, British Union Conference News
Bringing together IT and media missionaries and enthusiasts from every part of the British Isles, Demark, Holland, Norway, and beyond, the South England Conference (SEC) Communication Department hosted its first regional GAiN conference (Global Adventist Internet Network) in Europe. The conference took place at Newbold College, February 27 through March 2, 2014.
Introducing GAiN to delegates from across Europe, Kirsten Øster-Lundqvist, SEC Communication director, described society’s incredibly fast move into an online culture: “We have evolved into ‘digital nomads.’ Everyone is mobile, and everyone has nearly unlimited knowledge at their fingertips. If we don’t have an online presence, we basically do not exist.”
The GAiN Conference focused largely on understanding the principles behind the exponential growth of technology, and learning how that technology can be used to enrich the mission of the church.
Guest speakers at the conference included Rajmund Dabrowski, former General Conference (GC) Communication director; Delwin Finch, Web pastor at Forest Lake Church in Florida; Costin Jordache, vice president for Communication at the Central California Conference; and Tom de Bruin, executive secretary of the Netherlands Union Conference. These international presenters joined UK-based experts in focusing on the theme “In Media Res: Communicating God to a Digital World.” Presentations included topics as diverse as live video streaming, “big data,” and Postmodernism.
So how does the church share the gospel in fresh ways that are meaningful to growing numbers of digital nomads? Rajmund Dabrowski, former Communication director for the Trans-European Division and the General Conference, asked delegates to consider those to whom they are actually communicating. While the church is supposed to be a missionary community, it often spends most of its time talking to itself about how good it is. “Good news has to be proclaimed from the rooftops,” he said, “not from our badly lit churches.”
Dabrowski proposed four principles for success in communication: imagination, boldness, risk, and creativity. He echoed Ellen White’s observation: “The Bible does not condemn genius or art; for these come of the wisdom which God gives. We cannot make the heart purer or holier by clothing the body in sackcloth, or depriving the home of all that ministers to comfort, taste, or convenience” (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 16, 1882).
Other highlights of the conference included:
Karsten Øster-Lundqvist, lecturer at Reading University, challenging the “industrial approach” to education, arguing that e-learning can and should be embraced in church teachings.
Tom de Bruin, Dutch Union executive secretary, arguing that ours is not a postmodern society, but rather a society dealing with the consequences of postmodernism. He gave a useful glimpse in to the complexity of today’s society where no one label embraces all people groups. “My father [who is 72] is postmodern,” said de Bruin, “I’m not.”
Delwin Finch tackled the topic of live streaming in churches. “Streaming allows for a safe way for people to attend ‘try before you buy,’” he argued. Finch listed several reasons to stream, but also why some churches shouldn’t stream stating, “Not all church services are ready or suitable for streaming, and streaming brings with it a lot of responsibility.”
Welsh Mission president John Surridge presented the FreeBible project, and with data statistics compared the cost of various methods of leaflet dropping and digital advertising. There was little doubt that a digital approach provided better value for the money.
Costin Jordache introduced attendees to the world of Big Data, which crunches massive amounts of information into useful overviews. This is an invaluable resource for churches targeting specific groups with evangelization or outreach. His most important proposition: “I have a compelling story of someone who just happens to be an Adventist!” He emphasized, “If you have a great product, you can compete in the marketplace.”
Attendees were impressed by the overall quality of the presentations and the professionalism of the presenters. Some expressed their surprise that the presenters were also pastors. Blogging about his experience, Daniel Blyden from Birmingham wrote: “This is the first time I have been among such a community within my church. So I was excited and proud to talk ideas and strategies with like-minded people. It turns out that we have some brilliant minds in our global community. . . . Knowledge and information not only for use in my church life, but also in my professional life too. I left the conference thinking, Who knew there were so many pastors with up-to-date marketing and communication expertise in my church?”
Media student Espen Johnson was excited to see and hear people talking about media from a church perspective. “This is something I don’t get a lot of,” he said. “All the presentations were excellent, but Dr. Tom de Bruin’s presentation, “Understanding Today’s Society,” was something I didn’t know a lot about. However, I found myself relating to basically everything.”
The youngest attendee was 12-year-old Kwadjo, who runs his church’s ProPresenter software.
Tweeting during the presentations was encouraged, adding another layer of technology, and screens at the front showed the tweets as they went up. This also enabled people watching the live streaming of the presentations to join the conversation.
“It was an excellent program,” said SEC president Sam Davis. “Having talked to several of the attendees, they are impressed with the quality and feel they have received training relevant to both their church and professional life.”
While GAiN focused on many of the technical challenges of spreading the gospel in a digital age, Dabrowski perhaps best summarized the best starting point: “Communication starts when we begin first by listening to Jesus.”
SECmedia both streamed and recorded the presentations, most of which can be found online.
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