October 4, 2014

Adventist Church Saves $1 Million With Online Event

Penny and André Brink may be
among the most sought-after personnel at the Adventist world church’s
headquarters in recent days.

The South African married couple
work in different departments — Penny is in stewardship and André is
in communications — but the two teamed up on a recent weekend to help implement
an unprecedented online conference that every General Conference department
seems to be talking about.

The event: the World
Stewardship Online Conference, which registered 2,000 sites in 83
countries for 12 hours of presentations by 15 speakers, including General
Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson, vice presidents Pardon Mwansa and Benjamin Schoun, Inter-American Division president Israel Leito, and North American Division president Daniel R. Jackson.

GC vice president Ben Schoun. Credit: Stewardship Ministries

The cost: about $20,000.

Penny Brink, assistant director of Stewardship Ministries. Credit: Stewardship Ministries

Compare that with the
$1,168,000 that it would cost to organize a traditional conference of the same scale, and you’ll
see why church leaders are eager to pursue similar online conferences.

“This was a
precedent-setting experience because I think this was the first of many more
that will take place, in time, for the world church,” said Schoun, who oversees
technology and communications for the world church and previously worked as
president of Adventist World Radio.

The General Conference and the church's world divisions and conferences have conducted online conferences in the past. But this was the first time that the General Conference attempted a conference of this size. 

André Brink, associate
communication director at the General Conference, crunched the numbers after
the Sept. 19-21 conference, and Wilson immediately
asked Schoun and Brink to share them in a report to the six-day Annual Council,
a major church business meeting that starts Oct. 9.

A few figures about the
online conference are unknown, such as how many people watched from the 2,000 registered sites. People have e-mailed photos of 60 to 200 people watching in churches
and halls, while perhaps other people watched alone at home, Brink said. So Brink
conservatively estimated that the online conference was watched by five people
at each site.

That figure would mean that viewers
watched the equivalent of 11,753 hours of presentations.

In contrast, Brink said, a regular Adventist
conference of three speakers and 40 attendees held in a European city would
result in 720 hours of presentations (if the speakers spoke a marathon 18 hours
— instead of 12 — over three days). Airfare, hotel, transportation
and per diem expenses for the smaller conference would amount to $52,800.

Organizers said the online
conference also managed to accomplish several other feats that would be
challenging to repeat at the typical smaller conference:

  • The
    presentations were made available in four languages, English, French,
    Portuguese and Spanish.
  • A total of 48
    hours of video footage — the 12 hours of presentations in four languages — was
    recorded and will be made available online and to church-affiliated television
  • Organizers
    avoided the potentially herculean task of coordinating the jam-packed schedules
    of the General Conference president, two vice presidents, and other leaders so
    they could converge at the same location at the same time. The site of the
    broadcast — General Conference headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland
    — optimized the chances that the leaders would be available to participate. Wilson and Andrews Seminary
    professor Jo Ann Davidson recorded their
    remarks in advance, but their physical absence from the studio was all but
    unnoticeable to online viewers.
<strong>WHO'S WATCHING:</strong> Dots showing the locations in 83 countries where people watched the stewardship conference. Courtesy of Stewardship Ministries
<strong>FOUR LANGUAGES:</strong> Erika Puni, director of Stewardship Ministries, speaking during the conference, which was made available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Credit: Stewardship Ministries

<strong>A VIEWING POINT:</strong> A group of about 200 church board members from local churches in and around Medellín, Colombia, meeting at Columbia Adventist University to watch the conference. Credit: Mauricio Buitrago

Penny Brink, conference
co-organizer and assistant director of the Stewardship Ministries department,
said the total cost for online production came to $18,520, which included $8,530
spent for the design and construction of a reusable studio set.

costs for our event included catering for crew, volunteers and presenters over
the weekend, and the odd air ticket for out of town presenters — who were the
minority,” she said. “In the light of this, I’m guessing that a safe budget for
such an event is around $20,000 minimum.”

The Brinks were quick to note that the conference was a huge collaborative effort, with Erika Puni, director of Stewardship Ministries, leading regular planning meetings from a year before the event, and technical teams joining forces from the General Conference, Inter-American Division, and Hope Channel to make sure it happened.

This week, church leaders headed to the
offices of André and Penny Brink, both located on the second floor at
General Conference headquarters, to learn more about the stewardship conference.

“We are committed to the
effective use of media to train, equip, and nurture church leaders around the
world,” said Derek Morris, editor of Ministry
magazine and associate secretary of the Ministerial Association, who stopped by André Brink’s office at the recommendation of top church leaders.

The next online conference will
be staged by the Global Adventist Internet Network, whose members had planned
to meet in West Africa next February but decided to use the online format because
of the Ebola crisis.

While the General Conference
headquarters was buzzing about the online conference, André Brink said he
doubted that the Internet would replace traditional conferences completely.

“I wouldn’t say, ‘Do away
with advisories,’” Brink said. “You still need that personal connection. But
every once in a while do something online and reach more people at a low cost.

The stewardship conference,
however, underscores new opportunities to share Jesus at considerably lower
costs, Schoun said in an interview in his office.

“I think it was a very
successful experience, and it fits right into our goal and objective as a world
church to use technology to reach every person in the world for Jesus Christ,”
he said.

Contact news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected]. Twitter: @ARMcChesney

Related link

Adventist Review, Sept. 5, 2014: "Online Conference to Teach Adventists How to Manage Resources"