Hiram Rester, DMin, pastors the Columbia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbia, Missouri, United States.

What if you could generate interest among young adults in your community by sharing concise evangelistic videos and then inviting them to an evangelistic series? And if you did, what if they actually attended?

Good news. You can, and they will. At least, that was what happened for us, and in the process, we had more than 850,000 video views on social media in our area of about 180,000 people.

During our previous outreach efforts, we found it difficult to draw young adult attendees, and so we decided to try a new approach.

Generating interest

Communication Director Ednor Davidson points out that traditional approaches to evangelism (such as a lengthy series of prophecy lectures) may not reach many of the younger generations. So we must include new ways of communicating the Adventist message.1

Professor Joseph Kidder states, “The mission of Christ is to evangelize the world. An effective way to do this is through social media when you do it professionally and with a loving heart.”2 Several Adventist personalities have developed large social media followings and shared the gospel in fresh and inviting ways as young adults are constantly consuming content via social media. Yet often those followers are spread across the world, and there are very few for us to work with in our local territory. We wanted to embrace the hope of social media success and develop a plan to generate interest among young adults in our geographical ministry area.

Most Millennials and Gen Zers are on social media daily and frequently watch concise videos on such platforms. Anyone who uses social media can observe the ever-increasing presence of video.3 Videos have become the method through which these two generations prefer to learn. When both a written article and a video with the same content get posted on a site, Millennials (at a rate of approximately four to one) indicate that their preference is to watch the video rather than read the article.4 Trends indicate that this is true of Generation Z as well. Furthermore, the duration of videos does matter. Studies have shown that video length affects the viewing percentage and that concise clips have better retention.5

Designing the project

So we decided to develop brief evangelistic videos and promote them on social media as video ads in our geographical area for a period of several months. Then we would invite viewers to attend a live evangelistic series. We had wanted to experiment with something like this for years, and the need for a doctor of ministry project with Andrews University gave us just the reason to go ahead and try it.6 The project was designed to address the problem of declining evangelistic reach, especially among young adults.

First, we filmed three short videos and tested them on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube. In most cases, we initially spent $10 per video as ads on the various platforms. The videos did not invite people to anything. In fact, they were short Bible-based messages designed to build familiarity with the viewers.

As we learned what videos had the best cost per view and which ones had the greatest retention, we sought to discover what was working best and why. We then made other videos and continually sought to improve. Throughout the course of the project, we filmed and shared 40 concise videos. All were done via smartphones and edited with free editing software. It really is something almost any pastor could do with a bit of experimentation, or you could recruit a young adult or teenage volunteer in your church to shoot the video for you and edit it. Many of them are already recording and editing short videos all the time with their smartphones. No need to buy any equipment.

Video titles included 4 Things God Doesn’t Know (a brief gospel presentation), Miracles From Hell (showing that not all miracles originate from God), #1 Secret to Victory (the daily walk), Revelation’s Focus (all about Jesus), and Why Has the World Gone Crazy? (signs of the times).

An evaluation

After additional experimentation and spending a few hundred dollars on the videos as paid ads, we focused on Facebook because it generated the best cost per view in our tests. Over a period of seven months, our church spent $30,883.78 promoting our concise videos locally on Facebook within 20 miles of our church. We had approximately 380,000 ThruPlays (ThruPlays are 15+ second views on Facebook) at an average cost of $0.08 each. About 70,900 individuals watched at least one of the videos on Facebook, and some people viewed multiple videos.

With only two months left until our live evangelistic series would start, we decided to circle back and experiment more on YouTube. Initially, we had set YouTube aside because the “in-feed ads” (ads that show as a suggested next video on YouTube) that we had first tried were more than twice as expensive per view as Facebook video ads. But at this point, we now determined to place our videos as the “skippable ads” (video ads that a viewer can click to skip after five seconds) that run at the beginning of most YouTube videos. We had an average view rate of 35 percent, which was really good, with an average cost per view of $0.04. Again, the ads targeted viewers within 20 miles of our church.

The approach proved to be very successful for us and resulted in our connecting with more young adults. YouTube is a great platform for reaching a younger crowd. “In May 2022, an online survey in the United States found that 96 percent of Gen Z users . . . had a YouTube account. In comparison, 87 percent of Millennials were registered on the popular video platform YouTube.”7 In our YouTube experiment, 27.2 percent were aged 18–24, 28 percent were 25–34, and 19.5 percent were 35–44. So, 74.7 percent were 18–44 years old. Eventually, we spent a total of $17,813.38 on YouTube video ads with 30+ second views upwards of 486,000 at an average cost of $0.04 each.

On this project, we employed the kind of funds often reserved for a major evangelistic campaign. The total on video ads was $48,510.54. Between Facebook and YouTube, we had combined total views of about 866,000 within 20 miles of our church. The total number of views exceeded the population in our area by about five times. They gave us huge exposure.

Live meetings

So then what happened? In the final two weeks, we began to invite viewers, again via concise videos run as ads, to attend our live evangelistic meeting in our church school gymnasium. The church also opted to send out handbills.

Ninety-six people reserved a total of 211 seats. On opening night, we had 80 guests. Including subsequent nights, 111 guests came for at least one night. Upon arrival at the live event, we invited participants to fill out a registration card containing an age and advertising survey. Approximately a third of the attendees (35) did not complete the survey information, which is pretty normal.

The data from registration cards revealed the following: 40 indicated they had seen the project videos, 8 marked they had viewed Facebook videos, and 32 checked they had viewed videos on YouTube. Of those, 25 came just as a result of the videos. That’s right, 25 guests attended our evangelistic series after viewing the videos we shared in our community for several months as paid ads on social media. Of those, 13 were young adults (7 Gen Z and 6 Millennials). Never before in our 100+ full-message evangelistic meetings have we had any type of advertising draw a group where the majority of adults were under age 40.

Our viewership on Facebook was 56 percent female and 44 percent male, whereas on YouTube, it was 66 percent male and 34 percent female. With Facebook, we had to set parameters to include young adults, or Facebook would automatically allocate most of the funds to senior citizens because they are less expensive to reach with Facebook ads. However, with no set parameters on YouTube (except 18+), 74.7 percent of attendees were 18–44 years of age.

Decisions for baptism

Of the 13 people who made a decision for baptism during the last weekend of the evangelistic series, 4 attended from handbills, 4 were from previous church contacts, 1 came in response to Facebook video ads, and 4 attended because of the YouTube video ads. Although handbills and YouTube both produced four decisions, we spent less on YouTube ($17,813.38) than on the handbills ($21,510.00).

Future plans

Going forward, we are planning to experiment with some concise “message” videos. All those done so far were on basic Christian topics. In the next round, we intend to introduce the Sabbath, the state of the dead, and other topics often termed “testing truths” and see how they affect live series attendance as well as the number of people who make decisions for baptism at the end. More experimentation is needed as this is a pilot program, but we hope that testing might result in a larger crowd for less cost.

Another interesting development is that as the local pastor, I am now frequently recognized in the community at stores and restaurants. People have asked weeks later whether the live meetings were recorded and available online or whether we are going to do the prophecy series again. We see great potential going forward because our investment is now not just handbills with past calendar dates printed on them. Rather, our investment continues with recognition and familiarity in the community as well as being seeds of truth planted by the videos.

If you want to begin using elements from this research in your local outreach, you do not have to spend much money to get started. We filmed all our videos with smartphones we already owned (iPhone 7) and did our editing on free software (iMovie). We tested each video for about $10 each. Our only initial equipment costs were an inexpensive tripod holder for the phone (starting around $30) and a well-reviewed budget lapel microphone that plugged directly into the phone (about $40). Video quality should be good, but perfection is neither necessary nor desired because in the YouTube community, authenticity is very important. For practical suggestions to get started and steps to get your videos working as ads on YouTube limited to your local area, scan the QR code.

Simple steps to get started on a small budget:

  1. Prepare your equipment: smartphone, phone holder, and mic.
  2. Prepare your notes. We suggest very brief bullet points on one sticky note for a video that should be 30–90 seconds in length. Take a walk and go through your bullet point notes out loud and conversationally until you have it down. Stick it to your phone right below the camera lens.
  3. Film: Do three takes and quit. Use the best one in its entirety.
  4. Do a quick clean edit, trimming the beginning and end. Have a good “thumbnail” created. We use Fiverr.com and spend about $12 per video for a quality thumbnail.
  5. Upload your video to YouTube.
  6. Set up a Google Ads account. The process will likely change at some point, but as of this writing, you would
    1. Click “create.”
    2. Choose “campaign.”
    3. Choose as your objective “create a campaign without a goal’s guidance.”
    4. As campaign type, select “video.”
    5. Choose “custom video campaign.”
    6. Enter a campaign name.
    7. Set the total for your test run at $10 and a duration of two weeks.
    8. Under location, choose “enter another location” and select “advanced search.”
    9. Click radius, make it 10 miles (we made ours 20 miles when advertising with higher funding), and enter the name of your town.
    10. Scroll down and enter the URL for your YouTube video and select “skippable in-stream ad.”
    11. For the final URL, use another YouTube video or your website.
    12. Set the Maximum CPV bid at $0.05, and then click “create campaign.”

Allow up to two days for your ads to start showing.

I hope these steps help you move forward with your local evangelism program. May your community outreach connect with many and bring glory for the kingdom of God.

  1. Ednor Davison, “Proclaiming the Gospel Using Technology and Social Media,” Atlantic Union Conference, September 7, 2017, https://atlantic-union.org/proclaiming-the-gospel-using-technology-and-social-media/.
  2. S. Joseph Kidder, "Using Social Media for Evangelism," Ministry 88, no. 2 (February 2016): 30.
  3. Yam Regev, “10 Expert Tips to Improve Your Facebook Video Marketing,” Social Media Today, May 7, 2019, https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/10-expert-tips-to-improve-your-facebook-video-marketing/554182/.
  4. Chad Buleen, “Survey Results on Millennials’ Social Video Habits: 9 Key Questions Answered,” Clear Voice, June 27, 2018, https://www.clearvoice.com/blog/survey-results-millennials-social-video-habits/.
  5. Minsu Park, Mor Naaman, and Jonah A. Berger, “A Data-Driven Study of View Duration on YouTube,” Proceedings of the Tenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media 10, no. 1 (March 28, 2016).
  6. Hiram Rester, “Developing and Testing Concise Evangelistic Videos for Millennials and Generation Z in Columbia, Missouri” (DMin diss., Andrews University, 2022), https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1782&context=dmin.
  7. L. Ceci, “U.S. Registered YouTube User Reach 2022, by Generation,” Statista, October 12, 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1338828/us-users-having-a-youtube-account-by-generation/.

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Hiram Rester, DMin, pastors the Columbia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbia, Missouri, United States.

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