What would happen to your church or ministry if you lost access to the platforms you use to reach your audience?
Twenty-five plus years ago, when I started in the TV industry, it wasn’t possible to have your own platform, you were totally reliant on others to get your message to the world. Things have changed and, put simply, we no longer need to just rely on 3rd parties to get our messages out. However, we still often seem to put ourselves at the mercy of these platforms. I believe that as the Church, we must be developing our own platforms, websites, apps etc so that we are the gatekeepers of our own content, allowing us to get our message out in a way that doesn’t depend on the whims of others.
If you are a Church and you are broadcasting your services (or creating content for people to access), part of your strategy should be to ensure you are available on a platform where YOU are the gatekeeper. For most that will be your website or an app. I would encourage you to prioritise this above anything else. I am not saying we shouldn’t be on other platforms however I do see people who stream to YouTube or Facebook but have no online presence themselves. If that is you, please relook at your strategy and implement a way to have your services on a platform that is yours. There are some platforms out there to explore that are set up specifically for churches to use - Church Online for example is a great platform - but even if you do use these platforms, I would still encourage you to have one way your content is available that isn’t dependent on any third party, Christian or not.
Over the past few days my personal Facebook feed has been awash with people talking about censorship and freedom of speech after what has happened in the US. I have also seen discussions on some of the Christian media groups I am part of, exploring if there is a danger that our Christian “voice” will be censored or de-platformed from some of these social media outlets. I have my own thoughts on this, but whatever you believe, certainly, some people are concerned. This is one of the reasons why I believe you must be your OWN gatekeeper.
I am not at all suggesting here that we should only be in “spaces” that our people are and that we control. In fact, I personally am very averse to echo chambers in every sphere of life. I love diversity, conversation, healthy debate and dialogue. I believe that this is sadly lacking in our society currently and there is a great need for us as believers to lead the way in civil conversation that allows for people with different viewpoints to still feel loved and valued whether they agree with our beliefs or not. I think it is important that we as the Body of Christ must seek influence on every platform possible. As an aside, I personally believe that the way we gain that influence is not by being aggressive, divisive or refusing to listen to others perspectives. Instead, as Kris Vallotton says “he who gives the most hope has the most influence”. What a challenge that is – are we offering hope on the platforms we are on? Surely the church must be able to do that more than any other sphere of society? In conclusion, we MUST continue having a presence on every platform that makes strategic sense to our vision (that’s a whole other article) EVEN unfriendly platforms, where possible, so we can preach the Good News to those who need to hear it.
We also need to understand why we should be our own Gatekeepers. By putting all our eggs into the baskets of Facebook or YouTube or others, we put in potential jeopardy our longevity. I have worked in the TV industry for over 25 years and in that time have been involved in the compliance requirements for more than one TV station. I understand (and agree) with the need for broadcasting codes for television platforms and can also see why some Social Media platforms and other tech companies see the need to bring in their own compliance policies (again, not saying if they are right or wrong, just that I understand the need). However. in the time I have been involved in compliance, I have seen channels closed down for breaching the guidelines and I have seen others fined or warned as well. Frankly in most cases, these could have been avoided by self-regulation, but the consequences for the organisation were of course devastating. Whilst in the old days this outcome meant they had no access to their audience, if they had existed now, they could have had their own platform as well, and that would have resulted in a different outcome.
As a second thing, having your own platform will make sure you have a way to gather the details of your audience in a tool or several tools you can use to communicate with them directly. What I mean by that is that many churches (again) are over reliant on tools like “Messenger” or even Facebook groups/posts for communicating. These are great and we should absolutely be using them. However, I would advise you to also build your own database through emails, phone numbers, addresses etc that you can use if and when you need to communicate directly to your audience and NOT through a platform that is owned by a third party.
What I am suggesting here are things I have always worked towards and are not a “reaction” to recent events. I personally don’t see any imminent threats to Religious Freedom, instead these are areas I think all ministries and churches should prioritise in each and every circumstance. If however the current situation motivates you to do this then good, whatever your immediate motive, it is a strategy worth working towards.
Slightly off topic, but a good story to end on and one I remember being fascinated by is of an underground church in a nation known for its persecution of Christians. They thought they had been infiltrated by a government “mole”, so to expose this, they instructed all their members that they would meet in a secret undisclosed location and told them to ask God to show them the location and the time, knowing that whoever didn’t show up would be the “mole”. Now that’s faith!!
We don’t (thankfully) at this stage need to do anything that radical. All I’m suggesting is we broadcast on at least one platform where we are the gatekeepers and we make sure we have a way to communicate directly to our consumers.