Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series by news editor Andrew McChesney about how Seventh-day Adventists in South America are using technology to spread the gospel.
Marco Antonio Guerreiro, an advertising manager with 20 years of experience in the industry, understands more than most the difficulty of catching people’s attention in a media-saturated world.
So it was with great resolve that he embarked on a study to determine which media would be the most effective in sharing the gospel in his homeland, Brazil.
Guerreiro quickly ruled out traditional forms of media: television, radio, and newspapers. Social media looked more promising, but Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube also had limitations, he said.
His final choice? WhatsApp, a mobile app that allows anyone with a smartphone and Wi-Fi to make phone calls and send text messages and files for free.
Every morning for the past year Guerreiro has been using WhatsApp to send a four-minute audio commentary of the day’s Sabbath School lesson to thousands of non-Adventist subscribers across Brazil.
“Pastors use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but none is more effective than WhatApp in reaching people,” said Guerreiro, who owns an advertising and marketing company called WhatsDay. “We are living in an age of sharing. People want to receive information, not search for it.”
Adventist believers in South America are known within the world church for their innovative use of technology to share Jesus. But Guerreiro has hit upon a solution that offers unusually direct access to individuals in a country where a significant portion of the population uses WhatsApp.
Other Adventists have incorporated WhatsApp into their church activities — for example, several congregations use the app to distribute their weekly church bulletin — but Guerreiro is the first to share Bible studies this way. Dozens of people have accepted Jesus after listening to the lessons daily. Several people have contacted Guerreiro to say the lessons prevented them from committing suicide. Former Adventists have returned to the church.
The Adventist Church in Brazil has taken notice of Guerreiro’s inititive, and several church unions and conferences are holding discussions with him on how they might replicate his work in their territories.
Guerreiro’s WhatApp project is simple and cost-free to both him and recipients. Guerreiro downloads audio files containing the day’s four-minute “Lessons From the Bible” by host and pastor Leandro Quadros from the website of Novo Tempo, Brazil’s affiliate of the church’s Hope Channel network. With Novo Tempo’s blessing, he reformats the files into a smaller size that can be sent over WhatsApp. Every morning, he attaches the file to his WhatApp message and hits the “send” button to distribute the lesson to 17,000 people.
To subscribe to the daily lesson, people send a text message to Guerreiro’s phone number — +55 (47) 9229-9577 — via WhatsApp with the single word “Lições” (Lessons) in the body.
Guerreiro publicizes the lessons by visiting religious discussion groups on Facebook and posting invitations with the phone number.
“I visit various groups on Facebook: Catholics, evangelicals, all kinds of denominations,” he said. “Each one receives an invitation. My intention is not to address Adventists. I want to talk with people who don’t know anything about the Adventist Church.”
Guerreiro started the project after signing up 100 initial subscribers in early 2015. Within six months, 5,000 people had subscribed. While 17,000 people are currently signed up, Guerreiro estimates that the actual number of listeners is five times larger, with subscribers sharing the short lessons with relatives and friends.
“Sometimes I send the audio file a little later than usual, and people start send me messages, asking, ‘Why? What’s happening?’” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent GAiN conference of Adventist communications specialists from across South America that was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Guerreiro is now putting the final touches on an evening Bible study, also from Novo Tempo, based on the book of Revelation. The studies are longer than four minutes each, so he is dividing each into a series of short audio files of four minutes each. So if a study lasts a total of 24 minutes, he is dividing it into six parts that he will send every evening for six days.
Guerreiro hopes that Adventists across Brazil and perhaps elsewhere will follow his lead in using WhatsApp to share Bible studies and other materials with their neighbors in greater communities. WhatsApp allows up to 50,000 subscribers per phone number.
“I want people to receive the gospel message in their homes, at work, and other places,” Guerreiro said. “Imagine how we could use this throughout the Adventist Church in Brazil.”