Seventh-day Adventist communicators have an important voice and should not spare any effort to better reach both older and new generations. This is the gist of what is driving the 2019 Global Adventist Internet Network (GAiN) conference in Sweimeh, Jordan, which officially opened on February 25.
The event has gathered hundreds of communication directors, photographers, videographers, radio producers, and news writers who work for the Adventist Church for several days of training, networking, and administrative meetings.
The theme chosen for this year is “20 for 7: Finding Our Voice,” in a nod to the more than 20 million Adventist baptized members around the world and their missionary efforts to connect with the more than 7 billion people currently living on our planet.
“We have a voice, and we must use it,” said Adventist Church communication director Williams Costa Jr. in welcoming attendees to the state-of-the-art King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre by the Dead Sea. “Imagine what could happen if every member engaged in sharing the powerful message of hope and healing we have been given.”
Finding ways to better reach people in every corner of the world, however, demands more than wishful thinking, Adventist communication experts said. It calls for embracing the challenges of ever-changing contemporary technologies, specific demographic realities, and much more. It goes all the way from something as mundane as choosing the right equipment for a particular project to making the most of your budget, to adapting to new software programs and applications, they emphasized.
“For a photographer and videographer, choosing the right camera is an important decision, and one of the first you have to make when starting a project,” said Earley Simon, a video producer working for the Office of Adventist Mission at the church’s headquarters. Simon, who periodically travels the world to shoot mission stories that are later shared with church members around the world, said that in his case, equipment flexibility and portability are paramount. “Traveling light is key,” he said, as he explained that he often ends up shooting in remote and hard-to-reach locations. “And you must understand what you are using the camera for.”
Budget and practical considerations are also important, Simon emphasized. ARtv producer Andre Brink agreed. “You cannot be a brand-loyal person in this environment. Spend what is needed but do not overspend,” said Brink, who also advised that one should periodically sell equipment and obtain new items to keep up to date.
Conference participants also benefited from recorded messages sent by Kyle Portbury, who in 2016 directed the early-Adventist-history movie Tell the World, and Terry Benedict, a co-producer of the 2016 blockbuster film Hacksaw Ridge.
From the Simplest to the Latest Trends
Church communicators, however, do not necessarily need the latest gadgets to produce good video content, Communication Department digital producer Emily Mastrapa pointed out. Mastrapa discussed how to use a smartphone to make high-quality videos, something that can be a big asset for local church communicators or those working on a limited budget.
“Everyone has a phone,” she said. “Phones are lighter, cheaper, smaller, and they can post instantly.” Mastrapa advised communicators, however, to be mindful of the sound, lighting, and content issues involved in phone video recording. “There is portable and affordable equipment you can add to your phone to enhance your project,” she said.
On the other side of the spectrum, Adventist Review Media Lab director Daryl Gungadoo discussed the latest trends in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and how they can be used to connect with media-savvy generations.
“It’s all about learning to create contents for these new and evolving platforms,” said Gungadoo, who proceeded to demonstrate a sample of what can be accomplished. “You can even use the technology of gaming engines to turn them into production platforms for the creation of [biblical and spiritual] contents.”
Mission at the Center
But no matter how trendy or avant-garde the technology, Adventist communicators agreed, content production should never be an end in itself. “Companies that sell credit cards and blue jeans know how to sell stuff to people,” said Adventist World Radio (AWR) vice-president Kyle Allen in reacting to the possibilities of the latest marketing tools for connecting people. “How much more we should make an effort to use every technology to reach people.”
AWR is already trying to incorporate marketing and customer-service tools to better respond to people who contact the church after listening to some of the church’s radio programs.
Responding to interests is something that has proved to be a challenge, acknowledged Adventist Church Communication Department associate director Sam Neves. “People are connecting with us through multiple channels, and it is challenging to answer those inquiries,” Neves said. “We need technology that will take all these channels and create one channel to provide answers, something that will centralize the job,” he explained.
At the end of the afternoon presentations, Adventist Church treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán addressed communicators by acknowledging that so-called digital evangelism is a fascinating subject. “Finding ways to connect people with the church is the way to go,” he said.
In an interview on the sidelines of his presentation, Gungadoo agreed. “It’s all about reaching out and connecting people,” he said. “When looking at different generations, we find that the optimal method of communication differs greatly and that a platform that works for one generation isn’t necessarily optimized for the mindset of another.”
Gungadoo said that in the Adventist Church’s early years, pioneers brought significant innovations to evangelism by developing, for instance, papier maché figures to illustrate biblical prophecies vividly. Back in those days, such a method proved to be very successful. “Today, the leading edge in media platforms that creates a lot of vibe is indeed VR and AR. People get excited because of its novelty,” Gungadoo said. “So in our lab, we are exploring ways to tell Bible and Adventist stories in an innovative and appealing way.”
In the end, Simon emphasized, equipment and methods will always be second to the person behind a particular project. “Never forget that the professional is more important than the equipment,” he said.