Internet conference focuses on denominational integration
For church Web professionals attending an annual Internet conference, the real work got done at breakfast where advice
was exchanged and conference speeches dissected as attendees chatted. “That’s where the real networking gets done,” said Andrew King, Web manager for the Adventist world church’s Communication department.
About 160 participants from around the world gathered for the eighth annual forum. This year’s event was held in Hong Kong, May 23–27, 2012. The forum is held in a different world region each year to better accommodate local church administrators and members.
Presentations this year underscored the need for simplicity and focus in Web design and interaction. In separate speeches, both King and Adventist Risk Management marketing and communication manager, David Fournier, outlined advantages of ridding a site of historical baggage. “The more information you have the more careful you have to be about organizing it,” said Fournier, who was one of several participants urging a greater commitment to effective information architecture on denominational Web sites.
King said that new initiatives are notorious for making officials think that their organization needs a new Web site. “I can almost guarantee that the top stakeholders in the organization have not asked themselves, ‘Have market trends and the needs of our customers shifted, and should our current Web site be adjusted accordingly?’ ” King said, and instead recommended that new initiatives be incorporated into an organization’s existing site.
Others offered tips on facilitating better user experiences on the Web. During a sideline discussion, Jesse Johnson, president of netAserve, which provides technology support to the Adventist Church, said links on a Web page do not help the organization because it pushes away users. “Instead, incorporate another organization’s content on your Web site, especially if it’s a local church Web site,” Johnson advised. “Users will enjoy the content and will feel stronger about your site and Daniel Jiao, communications director for the Chinese Union Mission, said people are increasingly using mobile devices to access the Internet. Indeed, at the end of 2011, there were an estimated six billion mobile subscribers, representing 87 percent of the world’s population, according to a December report by the International Telecommunication Union.are more likely to visit your church.”
Other leaders advocated for church communication and Web managers to design their Web sites for mobile usage. “It may end up being a more simple site,” said King, “but if you design for mobile first, you’re reaching all of whom your audience might be.”
Several participants offered evening presentations highlighting mass Internet evangelism projects in their own territories. The Adventist Church in Germany and Austria last year held the Faith.Simple project, an eight-week outreach series to postmoderns. Klaus Popa, who co-led the series, said hundreds of discussion groups were held in homes and churches throughout German-speaking areas of Europe.
Adventist leaders in South America continue to tweak mass media evangelism events, finding that interactive campaigns with interactive components have proven better online response rates compared to events that are just streamed. For an increasing number of outreach events, respondents sign up on the outreach Web site or Facebook to complete a Bible study. The challenge is making sure local pastors or members can follow up with the 4,000 responses from a recent event, a media manager said. “If pastors or church members don’t contact them, they are less likely to join the church,” said Rogerio Ferraz, a project manager for the South American Division, based in Brasilia, Brazil. “People need that personal contact.”
In the Trans-European Division, based outside of London, communication department leaders have established LIFEconnect, an online community where people can meet, share their life experiences, and offer spiritual support.
Williams Costa Jr., the Adventist Church’s ommunication director and forum organizer, affirmed Adventist technologists, saying, “You are not just dealing with Web sites and platforms, you’re an important part of the church. Today, making easy content, stories, and testimonies can be used by the Holy Spirit.”
—Ansel Oliver, with additional reporting by Penny Brink and Darryl Thompson.