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Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage Pop Culture?
Tim Stevens makes an inspiring case for leveraging pop culture to reach out to people in the language of their lives, with compelling biblical backing for this approach. He offers a new perspective that give relevance and impact to the church by using popular culture – stories from movies and music – to point people to the gospel. He encourages us to get out of our comfort zones and look people in the eyes, meeting them wherever they are.
Although he writes in the context of using pop culture as an evangelistic starting point within local church ministry, his insights equally apply to using it for online evangelism, which is a huge and barely used opportunity. There are embedded ‘echoes of eternity’ in many movies, music lyrics, and other stories. An outreach site using Bollywood films as a starting point could be hugely strategic in India, for example.
Incidentally, you do not have to agree with the application of this approach in every example he cites of how different churches are using the pop-culture as a starting point. What one church may feel to be appropriate within its particular culture and demographic may not necessarily resonate with you. Each must use this approach as they are led.
The book is still widely available from Amazon and other outlets, with plenty of very cheap used copies too. In US, the new price is $4, with plenty secondhand at $0.01. Read a number of taster pages using Google Preview button ▶
Scott McClennan’s new book Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative is a valuable explanation of the significance of storytelling. Scott briefly describes his book here with a more detailed explanation from CMS. It’s widely available, eg from Amazon US, Amazon UK and other outlets. I’ll be reviewing the book shortly – but be assured, it is excellent.
New smartphone app for children: The Most Important Story Ever Told has just been released by MIS (Most Important Story), the international children’s ministry, based on their evangelistic book of the same name.
For the month of April, to mark Internet Evangelism Day, the team are generously offering this app FREE (normal price $1.99).
Currently available for iPhone/iPad; Android is coming soon.
English and Spanish versions are available now, Farsi and Arabic will be published shortly, with other languages to follow.
Buscar Iglesias (Church finder):uses GPS and Google Maps/Google Places technology
Siguenos en Twitter (Follow us on Twitter): only available on the Android version
Sobre Nosotros (About Us) – links the user to our ministry’s web page
Please help us and let the Internet Evangelism community know about this project!!! (You can copy this article and the graphics to use on your site, blog or newsletter.) For us, this is really like a dream come true.”
App to explain how to start a spiritual conversation (multi-language web app): God’s GPS.
Of course, any smartphone user can also keep their own choice of downloaded video clips on their phone – conversation-starters or presentations to use in the context of a one-to-one discussion. Sources of video clips include Damaris (relating to popular culture), Focus (apologetics), YesHeIs (in various languages) and Global Short Film Network (conversation-starting, often short parable-like stories). Many video shorts on YouTube also have a download option, enabling you to build your own library of video shorts, which of course can also be projected in meetings, youth groups, etc.
This new tool AppMachine sounds like it will boost the ability of non-profits and ministries to create mobile apps. “…perhaps the most powerful ‘create your own mobile app’ product we’ve seen,” says The Next Web team.
“It was a last-ditch effort. Nothing else had worked. No one had answers to my questions, or comfort for my pain.
The bullying was more than I could handle and I just wanted to be free of it. I recalled seeing something on the news about Amanda Todd and voices in my head told me I would end up like her, so why bother looking for help? I should just do it – end my miserable life.
I thought I was past the point of no return, so I Googled, ‘what happens after I commit suicide?’ It was a very dark curiosity that led me to the first link that came up. The website offered someone to talk with – someone who would pray for me.
Pray… for me? Someone would do that? The smallest flame of hope flickered inside me. I began typing, tentatively at first. I was hesitant to trust someone, but the anonymity of the Internet gave me some courage. It wasn’t long before I got a response and began a conversation that would completely change my life.”
The TruthMedia outreach websites receive stories like the one above on a regular basis. It’s their desire to reach those in need through volunteer mentors and innovative Mentor Center software. Full training is given to volunteers, who can choose when to take on inquirers to talk to by email, as their time permits. Learn more. Other large digital ministries are also need such mentors, in many languages.
Ministering to felt needs is an entirely biblical way to share the good news, if it is done appropriately. A valuable research study on How Adults Become Christians shows that for many lasting adult conversions, the trigger that started them on their spiritual journey was a life crisis.
It has long been a concern of mine that mission agencies and other ministries should escape a proprietorial mindset of 400 years of print-on-paper culture. They frequently publish advocacy or discipleship books, booklets and group study guides (or hold the copyright to out-of-print titles) which sell only a few hundred copies a year maximum – a distribution output which will therefore be read by a very limited number of people, usually within a single country, and may not even pay for inventory costs.
If only missions and ministries could just let them out ‘into the wild’ in the form of free PDFs, Kindle and iTunes ebooks, and phone apps. Readership will likely go up by a factor of 10, 50 or even 100 times or more, and literature can be used in countries and by demographics who would not previously have had the opportunity to do so.
Of course, writing which is culturally very western and dated, or out-of-print missionary biographies from the 70s or earlier (which always tended to be hagiographies) are unlikely to be helpful to a wider audience, and can be cringeworthy. But there is much good stuff around which is culturally relevant, but imprisoned by being only distributed in print form. Meanwhile, Christian groups around the world may struggle to reinvent the wheel, or more likely, just do without. (Or, perhaps, fall prey to literature from extremists or cults.)
An extension of this tragic situation is copyright and the need to allow translations into other languages. Distant Shores Media strongly argues for a new ‘Christian Commons’ approach to our vast stores of usable written materials, in their new free ebook The Christian Commons by Tim Jore. This deserves a very wide readership.
There is also a big need, I feel, for someone to create a curated listing of various free online discipleship study booklets and ebooks, which are appropriate for a non-western audience. Without such a single one-stop source of reviewed resources, it is very hard for Majority World leaders, for example, to find good teaching or group discussion materials. Someone creating such a site would be doing an immense service for the gospel on a worldwide basis.
In this spirit, please feel free to republish or adapt this blog post in any way you wish.
Keith at Mobile Advance has also blogged about this situation – what he calls A Goliath of a Problem, which includes video of Tim Jore speaking at the recent Mobile Ministry Forum. Please share your thoughts on this issue on our comment section.
Thanks to Disney for releasing their 6-minute short animation Paperman completely free to watch below, embed or download. (And it won an Oscar for best animation.) Unfortunately, since it won an Oscar, they seem to have withdrawn some of the free ones, or allow them to be embedded. Check this one, or search YouTube.
Paperman is enchanting, and if you have ever seen French film The Red Balloon, you’ll notice a clear homage to that magical story (widely available on DVD).
Note how Paperman demonstrates the special power of animation to tell a clear visual story, even without dialogue. Free of the constraints of audible language, silent animation instantly gains a worldwide cross-cultural potential. The audience can create their own mental narrative and backstory, identify with one or other character, and formulate some lesson or question to take away.
Animations can be used in multiple ways. They can carry a direct evangelistic message, or else be used as conversation-starters based on a parable-like spiritual truth. And many apparently secular animations also have embedded spiritual parallels and can be used in a group setting (youth groups, other meetings), one-to-one using a downloaded animation on mobile phone, iPad or laptop, or be embedded in Facebook and Twitter posts as an informal conversation starter.
Alma, for instance, is a chillingly compelling animation with a clear message of inadvertently selling your soul, and therefore an ideal conversation gateway. Paperman itself can point to elements of our search for God, and His search for us.
Susan Cain argues that introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated. Our world often prizes extroverts – but Susan makes a case for the quiet and contemplative.
Often, introverts are excellent strategics, planners, leaders – and evangelists- because they may be good at listening.
They are often great graphic designers and artists, website creators or tech people, film-makers, writers and bloggers. Recognize the introverts in your team or church, and use their gifts!
Two journalism professors from Christian universities have teamed up to make a short iPad-only book that uses interactive content to help new writers snag a byline.
“A One-Step Guide to a Byline is designed for new writers who want to know the bare minimum for writing an article for the popular press and it uses roll-over features, an interactive quiz and eight videos to help writers succeed,” says Michael Ray Smith, project director and professor from Campbell University in Buies Creek.
Smith joined Wally Metts, director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University, to make a fun, user-friendly book with enhanced content about the basics of writing. The “one-step” is finding the essential conflict that drives a good story.
“We wanted to get a guide for our friends in ministry who want an at-a-glance approach to telling a story for publication,” Smith said, adding that the guide has lots of content available at the touch. A One-Step Guide to a Byline is a free iBook availabale from Apple’s iBook store – just search for it by that name.
The book features:
Eight how-to videos from successful writers including best-selling author Cecil Murphey (125 books) and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Manny Garcia
The guide includes The Theology of Journalism by Arne H. Fjeldstad, internationally known for his work with journalism and ministry
It includes pop-up boxes that give more detail when you touch them
It provides an example of writing from the Wall Street Journal and another from the community press
It gives relevant web links and a one-click glossary lookup
This guide is designed for new writers and journalists working in ministry. Everything in it works with the iPad touch screen. It is underwritten by a grant from Campbell University.
Smith will send a non-interactive PDF free on request to anyone who does not have an iPad. Send your request to smithm [at] campbell.edu.
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