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Churches evangelize through podcasting

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Apple Computer offers an iPod which plays video or audio podcasts.
Nov. 17, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

United Methodist churches are using 21st century technology to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission of making disciples.

Churches of all sizes are using Internet technology to reach their members as well as to evangelize new audiences. And borrowing a page from pop culture, churches are finding that one of the hottest resources available is podcasting.

Podcasting allows people to listen to sermons and other material online at their convenience and to share that content with others. In common use, podcasting refers to delivering media programs over the Internet. These programs are often similar in style and content to radio and television shows and are typically provided in a digital audio and video format.

Instead of being broadcast as a traditional program over the airwaves once, podcasts are meant to be downloaded to a computer or mobile device and played later. Some podcasts are free but require a subscription, while others have a subscription-delivery price and are available at such online sites as Apple Computer’s iTunes music store.

Podcasting “represents yet another form of citizen journalism,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. “It enables an individual to produce a program and distribute it directly to an audience. It’s a form of ?one to many’ journalism,” he said.

Anyone with a microphone, computer and an Internet connection can use podcasting to provide audio and video programming that can be consumed by people anywhere in the world, according to Podcasting News.

One church using podcasting and a variety of other Internet tools for outreach is the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

“As we look at the landscape of society these days and the way things are evolving in terms of technology, you look down the road, and things become very interesting and very bright, and we are constantly looking for ways to take advantage of the technology that is out there,” said Peter Metz, the church’s director of communications.

Bozeman (Mont.) United Methodist Church offers weekly sermons by podcast. This form of media helps people keep connected, said the Rev. Dave McConnell, pastor. “It allows members to hear the sermons when they are traveling or ill, and to re-listen if they wish.

“People asked for my sermons to be available, and this is the easy way to do it,” he said. “We used to tape the sermons on audio tapes, but this is easier, cheaper, quicker.” The church is considering making services and other activities available as podcasts.

The church is trying to reach members through its podcasts, but also family members who visit and then want to hear the sermons at home, McConnell said.

For the Resurrection church, podcasts are viewed as “another way of reaching new and different people,” Metz said. “What is neat about podcasting is that it is going to reach younger people ... who are the toughest folk to reach.”

Although young people are watching less television and not reading newspapers, they are into technology, he said. “This is an opportunity to catch some of these folk in ways that we have not been able to in the past.”

Metz said it is not as important for churches to use emerging technology, but what is important is that “we are constantly looking for new ways to reach out to people. Our mission is to create a church where nonreligious and not-only religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians,” he said. “Those people are tough to reach and tough to attract to a church. So we are simply looking for ways to reach out to those folks” in nontraditional ways.

“Resurrection tries to ride the wave instead of being behind the wave,” he added.

Generation-X United Methodists don’t simply rely on print, telephones and e-mail to communicate, but they also use text messaging and blogging and are “now creating their own grass-roots movements through podcasting technology,” said Matt Carlisle, director of Web ministry at United Methodist Communications.

“Technology will never replace our very real need for human nurturing or face-to-face ministry,” he said. “Evangelism and ministry with our youth and future generations of this denomination will look much different — technology will most certainly play a factor in the delivery.”

Metz sees podcasting as a way of making sermons available through secular means to provide an experience for a variety of people — and possibly lead them to conclude that if they are not attending a church, perhaps they should. “The focus is on reaching people who are not attending church,” he said.

Video streaming is another popular Internet tool that was once the domain of businesses. Churches are using it to enable people to watch their pastors give sermons online.

Church of the Resurrection is streaming the Rev. Adam Hamilton’s sermons on its Web site each Tuesday, and the service “has been greatly received,” Metz said. “Depending on the topic of the sermon, as many as 4,000 people will view a sermon.”

Who those people are is not known. “We don’t know if they are our members who happen to be out of town and want to stay current with the sermon series, if these are people who don’t go to church or can’t get to church, or if they are people from out of town who are just curious about what Adam is preaching about,” Metz said. “I am sure it is a broad range of people.”

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The Rev. Larry Hollon
Churchwide agencies like United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Board of Discipleship are using podcasts to inform the church and to provide words of healing, comfort and inspiration — tools of evangelism.

UMCom is already producing podcasts of the monthly audio Profiles published at The monthly features are being sent by podcast at, and stories from UMTV are available as video podcasts on the video stories section of With the recent introduction of Apple’s video iPod, people can carry UMTV video stories with them and view them any time.

Podcasting “is another important innovation that can be helpful to people seeking information about faith and spiritual growth, and we believe it offers the church the opportunity to provide excellent content at a very reasonable cost,” Hollon said.

The recent hurricanes compelled two staff members of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship to provide words of comfort through podcasting. The Revs. Kwasi Kena and Safiyah Fosua are offering An Unshakable Hope For Your Journey — readings of the psalms and other comforting verses after a national disaster — by podcast at The product is designed in particular for survivors of natural disasters and tragedies.

“As I specifically imagined the people in New Orleans, especially those clergy and laity who had everything wiped out, we wanted to record Scriptures of hope and provide a real live look at the psalmists who were in hopeless situations and overcame through faith in God,” Kena said.

“We wanted to at least offer something that they could download or have downloaded onto an MP3 or other device and have words of comfort that are portable even in temporary housing.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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