Unintended Messages: Club 44 and the Great Wall

How aware are you about what you are communicating? I don’t mean about what you are saying, but how aware are you about everything you are communicating?

One of the reasons I dislike email so much is that you miss tone of voice and body language, which are both huge when it comes to completely understanding another person. There is a lot more to communication than just words. Sometimes people send out unintended messages.

I noticed something this week at the annual NRB convention in Nashville. It is held at the beautiful Opryland Hotel. We don’t use all of the convention space, but we do take up about 3 floors in the Delta area with a little spill over. The bottom floor is for the expo, where you can see displays that range from tech to show content to ministries (and some stuff that just doesn’t make sense… I’ll have to write about that later). The top floor holds all the break out education sessions, and the middle floor is where the general sessions and special events take place. The middle floor is where we all get together. Everyone passes through there, it is right in the heart of the convention.

For the past few years convention registration was in the foyer out there, with a little coffee shop and some places to sit. I always thought it made sense to have registration right there, smack dab in the middle of things. This year, I think a couple of things came into play: The Expo display space has been shrinking for the last few years. I’m sure part of the blame is the economy, but this year you can cover the whole floor in a couple of hours. A few years ago they introduced Club 44 which is a lounge area for casual meetings and refreshments for people who don’t need actual hospitality suites but want a nice place to meet. Oh, access to that lounge area costs over $150 on top of your registration. Personally, I didn’t care a lick about that. They can charge $1500 if someone would be dumb enough to pay it.

This year though, they set things up a bit differently. Registration was moved downstairs to the entrance to the Expo floor. And Club 44 was set up in the foyer right outside the main gathering room.

The new arrangement encompasses all the chairs on this level. If you want to sit outside the main hall, you either pay your money or you sit on the floor. There is a huge wall dividing those who have the means to gain access to Club 44 and the rest of us. The Club is by the edge of the landing so they get the benefit of the natural light in the great hotel, but the tall wall puts the rest of us in the shadow.

I know it wasn’t intentional, but I got the message that the NRB considers making a place for people who will pay quite a bit more to meet with others more important than making me feel welcome. If I want to kick back with other conference attendees, I’m going to have to hike to another part of the massive hotel or cough up the cash. I know that having the registration downstairs helps to fill a shrinking show, and that having the Club 44 out on the landing probably saves having to rent another room, but it sends a definite divisive message to an organization that already has some divergent demographics. And I think it’s one that wasn’t meant to be sent.

I know it was unintended, but every time I walk by the wall, I shake my head.

Then I wonder how many messages I send, or that my church sends that we really didn’t mean to send? And that is much more important that whether I get to snag a couch seat close to the ballroom.

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Lessons From Lifechurch.tv

Yesterday I sat in on a marathon session with Bobby Gruenewald from Lifechurch.tv during the Saturday sessions at NRB. He told some of the history of their church, what they do, and answered about a million questions. It was a great afternoon, and I took a huge amount of notes. One thing really stood out.

Life church never decided to do huge things in streaming or app development. They just fostered an environment where ideas could develop. They simply built on what they found to work. They didn’t decide to be a multisite church, but rather needed to be one because they could not build or buy a building fast enough to match growth.

Today they have about 32,000 people attending 13 campuses, and over 140 network churches and stream services around the world over 50 times a week to a combined audience of over 80,000 unique computers. Their huge media team started with 1 volunteer but now creates content that over 52,000 churches have accessed for free. (open.Lifechurch.tv)

The idea for Youversion came while waiting for a flight. They wanted to use tech to intersect scripture. They built a website around the Bible, where people could post their insights and associate images and media with scripture.

In July of 2008 Apple opened the app store for the iPhone, and they had a simple desire to have a version of the Bible available as one of the first couple hundred apps. They hoped that being in on the beginning they could reach several thousand people with a free mobile app of the Bible.

Over 80,000 people installed the app in the first 3 days. Now the Youversion app has been installed on over 15 million devices and has been used to read the Bible for over five billion minutes. They didn’t have any major strategy for mobile apps. They had an idea, and they just did it. They started with small steps. A local church has had a major impact on how people interact with the Word of God.

Why? Because they fostered an environment where ideas could be tried.

One of the ways they make this work is by setting up multiple opportunities for feedback. It’s a culture of feedback. They get feedback during the creative process, and after they try something. It’s not personal, it’s just a part of what they do. They have the highest expectations for their staff and their volunteers. And from that feedback loop they see when something is working, they resource it.

There is a lot more detail from the session, but one last thing I will share is about their staff hires. They didn’t go looking for the best of the best, the experts in multiple site campuses and mobile apps and web development and video production. They look for intelligent people who are lifelong learners.

“Anyone who thinks they are an expert today won’t be tomorrow, unless they are a learner.” – Bobby Gruenewald

The only way Lifechurch.tv could have done what they have done is to allow God to lead them and teach them, to be open to new ideas and new ventures. Not everything works out, but successes cannot happen unless you try. So take small steps, create and try.

Then see what God does.

Spreading the Word

In just a couple of days I am off to the annual NRB convention, where I will learn about communication techniques using modern technology to reach the masses.

But the other day our staff talked with people from Wycliffe Bible Institute. They are located near us, and we are going to partner with them to finish a Bible translation for one of the 2100+ languages in the world that do not have the Word of God in their language.

I can access multiple Bible translations and study helps on my phone while thousands of people in the world that do not even have the possibility to read it in their language. Imagine living your whole life and suddenly being able to read about Jesus for the first time? Suddenly life-changing word are available for you to read. The guys from Wycliffe told us about one village that had seven days of dancing after the Bible in their language was delivered.

We take access to scripture for granted. When was the last time we actually celebrated the Bible? This is God breathed communication with us. I love the fact that we can use print to impact one people, and modern technology to impact another.

What If TV Were Crowdsourced?

If TV were to be interactive, and you could influence it on a whim, what would you do? Try to influence major plot decisions only? Or would you delve into the mundane?

The thing to overcome is the length of the production schedule. Live TV could do this so easily. Send a text, post on Facebook or twitter to affect the show, live. We’ve seen something similar with the various talent shows, but this wouldn’t be overnight voting, but could be instant polls during the show, a whole new level of interactivity. There have been a couple of shows and movies that tried to use apps on mobile devices. They would push data from the show to the people, but there wasn’t a lot of information going to the show producers from the people.

Do people want this level of interaction?

I’m Looking for TV Show Ideas

So, the other day I posted about a different distribution model for TV programming. You can read about it in detail there, but generally I am convinced that the shift going on in video distribution holds a major opportunity for Christians to present shows with characters that interact with the world from a biblical perspective. The post is long and full of data, but the conclusion is the same: The key part of this is finding a show that people want to watch more than once.

The model is geared for social media users age 18-34. Those are the people most likely to watch internet TV. That statistic is growing, so it will change over time but for now that is the target.

So where do you find show ideas? It cannot be cheesy. It cannot cost an arm and a leg to produce. So no sci fi epics. Looking at programming directed at this age range, there are a lot of reality shows. I could see a show about Christians that are actually impacting the world, living out 1 John 4. You could follow them around, but there is a lot of framework that would need to be developed. Or maybe it should be a different premise? Or it could be a sitcom? Or a drama?

One thing is clear, without a good show this idea goes nowhere.

[Photo Credit]

The Future of Christian TV: A TV Distribution Idea

For over a year now I’ve had this idea. I’ve been thinking about it, and watching the world shift, waiting for technology to catch up with the idea.

I go to conferences and hear presenters talk about how we need to change the culture from within, how we can use the system to influence entertainment and our world. And I love that we have more and more Christians in the entertainment business. Christian writers, producers and actors and the rest. These people are making a mark in the industry, but what if we saw a trend in the consumption of media, and could actually lead the industry and distribute quality Christian content to a huge audience?

I have seen Christians do amazing things with movies. Ever since the Passion of The Christ showed studios that a religious movie can make money, the doors have been open. The new funding, production and distribution model that people like Sherwood Baptist and Possibility Pictures has developed over the last few years has caused ripples across the entire movie industry.

I want to talk about TV.

The current pay TV/educational license model in Christian TV is limited in reach, and the donor base is drying up. Younger audiences are not responding to this type of TV.

Quality Christian TV is still shut out of the major networks. We may see the occasional show like Seventh Heaven or Touched by an Angel, but generally there are no TV shows that routinely show characters dealing with real world issues from a biblical perspective.

What if we could change that? What if we could use emerging technology to reach millions?

In 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that the median age for TV viewers climbed to 50 for the first time in history. (source: The Last TV Evangelist by Phil Cooke, pg 19). More and more people are not choosing network TV as their first screen. Younger people are still consuming media, but they are not limited to TV networks to find it.

Netflix boasts over 20 million subscribers, with huge increases as more and more methods of viewing their content come available.

Well over 40 million people view content on Hulu, and that number keeps growing.

YouTube has over 120 million viewers, watching everything from funny home movie to full length feature films.

Set top Internet TV boxes are becoming more and more popular. The new Apple TV sold 1 million units in less than 4 months.

Roku hit a million boxes sold in 2010 as well, with over $50 million in revenue. Forecasts are that they will reach $100 million in revenue in 2011.

Google TV has hit some roadblocks with content, but I think their issues have to do with how they approach content acquisition. But you can still view Netflix, and the company is reportedly working on a deal with Hulu Plus.

A recent survey by JP Morgan reports that 28% of cable subscribers would consider canceling cable and going with web video. If they already use Netflix to stream video, the number rises to 47%

Who watches TV online?

Lab 42 surveyed 400 people of varying ages and backgrounds who use social media. -slide- Over 72% of those under 34 said they already watch TV shows online. The younger they were the more likely they were to watch TV online. The top 3 services they used to watch TV online: 1. YouTube. 2. Hulu. 3. Netflix. The kind of show they watched most? 45% said episodic TV. Only 3% said they watched religious programs online.

How many social media users are there? Consider Facebook. In 2010 the number of Facebook users grew from 337 million to 585 million. That’s more than 7 new users every second. Of the 585 million, over 428 million are age 34 and younger. 147 million of those are in the US, and over 50% are age 18-34.

Remember 72% of social media users 34 and under watch TV online? If that number holds true worldwide, there 308 million people in the world who already watch TV online, and over 53 million 18-34 year olds in the US who already watch TV online. Even if you discount all of these numbers, it is obvious that there is a huge trend among younger audiences to watch TV online. Millions and millions of people make up a huge potential audience.

Television broadcasting is in the middle of the largest shift in content delivery since cable was invented. In the next few year we will see the Internet become the primary source for video consumption. Networks are scrambling to figure out how to stay profitable.

With the shift in how people get content, there will no longer be network locks at every door.

Now is the time to use new methods of delivery for quality episodic Christian content. We can bypass the network gatekeepers, and create a new funding model for TV. (Not just Christian TV, but all TV) We can bypass the networks, and make content available to millions and millions of people. We can create shows and distribute them directly on services like Netflix and Hulu, or through YouTube, or any other web video outlet.

For this to work you need three things-

Show– Above all the show has to be good. Period. The model only works if people want to watch it more than once. If you don’t have the right show, stop and go home. This is the first and most important factor in success.

Tech– We have to use every method possible, every avenue available to deliver content. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo, or whatever. This model of Christian TV production is only possible because of the shift in tech. The cost of production keeps falling, and we can use advances in technology to produce great looking shows for a fraction of the cost of traditional network shows.

Marketing– We have to cut through the noise. Without the networks to filter content, and serve as a point of consumption, show producers must figure out how to stand out in the crowd, how to get watched. And because the new media revolution is interactive, social media will be a huge part of that. We must use every means to get people to watch the show, and empower them to share the show with others, recommending it within their own spheres of influence. Video diaries, highlights, contests, online chats with actors, fan pages, all disseminated through social media. This approach, combined with a traditional media campaign, can create a growing ground swell of viewers. The more viewers, the easier it is to get sponsors. The more sponsors, the more shows we can produce.

So, that’s the model: distribute an episodic show through online video channels with significant interaction with audience. I’m positive I’m not the only person thinking along these lines. This isn’t rocket science, the future of TV is coming our way and it will be hard to miss. I’m sure things will have to be tweaked, and there’s definitely stuff I’ve missed. This is not a perfect plan. And as the world keeps shifting, things will have to be adjusted. But this can work. And we have to try it. We cannot let this chance pass us by.

So what’s the next step? I need to find a show idea. Something that appeals to 18-34 year olds. It needs to be Christian, but not sappy. Fiction or reality show, it needs to appeal to non religious people. Something that shows real people in real situations reacting to life from a biblical perspective. From a budget perspective, reality TV may be more feasible, and those shows seem popular with young adults.

I am still going to be a church media pastor. I will still be working at my job for the knowable future, and this is a spare time project. And then it takes a lot of work… It will only work if God is in it, because I know I don’t have the knowledge, or the capability to do it on my own. It probably won’t happen fast, but it can happen.

Watching vs. Attending: The Dilemma of TV Ministry

daytona turn 2Last year I was able to go to the Daytona 500. This year I will be at home watching the race on the TV.

Arguably, I will see the race better at home. I can see close ups, and angles that I could never get from one seat. I can clearly hear the announcers. There won’t be any weather, parking, or crowds to negotiate. I will be comfortable in my home.

But I will not feel the rumble of the cars as they go by. I won’t hear the roar of the engines, or experience the excitement of being in a crowd. For all of the hassles that go along with attending an event, there is something about being there that makes it worthwhile.

I generally prefer to listen to a CD (Or album download) rather than go to a concert. I like to watch the Blu Ray over the theater. But when I do venture out to a concert, I remember why people pay lots of money to see their favorite band perform. When my friends and I go see the midnight show of a major blockbuster at the iMAX theater in 3D I don’t seem to mind the crowd or the cost. The experience makes it worthwhile.

I never watch college basketball or football on TV. I just don’t. My school was not a nationally known school, and I don’t have a team that I root for. Unless it is just an amazing game, college sports bore me. But when I was in college I went to most of the home football and basketball games. I loved going. For basketball games we sat in the same section every time, even named it. There was something special about being a part of the crowd. I don’t watch pro baseball or basketball on TV, but I have enjoyed every game I have ever gone to. Offer free tickets to the game to any fan, and see if they don’t choose to go as opposed to watch on TV.

I work in a field that specifically takes live events and extends them outside the walls. I make our weekly services available online and on TV. There are literally tens of thousands of people who experience the worship of my church by viewing it. They watch on a screen, from the comfort of their home. They do not have to negotiate any of the hassles of going to church. They will see the services, they will hear the Gospel. They can even call in and talk to a person about a decision or prayer need. In many ways, it is just like going to the services.

But it’s just not really like going to the services at all. Our TV program is edited to be a TV program. It’s not a corporate worship experience. You can worship an an individual or family, but it’s not an example of the body of Christ coming together. Watching the video stream gives you the live content, but it does not give you corporate worship. And that’s not it’s purpose. We do not want people to simply be satisfied with watching the services. We want people to go be a part of the local body of Christ, if they possibly can.

So we will broadcast the services, and make the message available. And we will have counselors available to pray over the phone. We will take worship and the message of the Gospel into people’s homes. We will reach over 10 times the number people who attend our services in person with our broadcasts every week. In many ways, those things are exactly why we do broadcast ministry. But the broadcast ministry will never be an end, it will always be a means.

Our goal will always be to get as many people possible tied to a local church, whether it’s our church or another one. I know that some people either cannot or will not come to the church, and the only way we an reach them in through our broadcasts. I’ll take that, but I won’t consider that the ideal.

That leaves me with several conclusions; What happens in the room is more important than what happens on TV. If my broadcast is service based, it is incumbent on us to take what happens in the room and make it into a good TV program. Then we must encourage those who watch, and those who call in, to be a part of a local church.

Finally, we need to make sure that our worship services and events are experiences people think are worthwhile.

Xbox Kinect Review

I know, I’m a little late to the party here, but we didn’t get one until after Christmas, and I wanted to talk about it after the newness has worn off. Last year Microsoft came out the the Kinect and sold millions and millions of them. This ingenious device allows your body to be the controller. unlike the Wii and PS3 Move which use handheld controllers to track movement, the Kinect scans a space in your living room and senses your movement without need of a one.

My kids loved it immediately. The sensor, which costs a whopping $150 by itself, or can be purchased bundled with a console, comes with one game: Kinect Adventures. The day we unboxed it, we played for hours. Even my dad got involved. Three generations were jumping around the living room in front o the TV. I wont review the game, other than to say it is fun and allows you to experience the Kinect right away. I will say that once we got Kinect Sports, the kids don’t play Kinect Adventures much anymore.

Like any piece of software driven hardware, the real test is in the software. The Kinect could be the most accurate sensor out there (it’s not) and have the highest quality camera (It doesn’t- VGA resolution) and still be a boat anchor if the games are not fun. We own three Kinect games, and have played with some demos. I can tell you, it’s fun.

It’s not Forza 3, or Halo Reach, or Gears of War. These games are pretty much for casual gamers. People who are looking to have a nice fun evening will love the Kinect. My kids love to play with it, and that’s after having it 2 months. There are quite a few toys we have that they have stopped playing with in less time.

The hardware is what you would expect from a first generation of device. It does sport a VGA resolution camera, and you can use it to video chat with your Xbox Live friends. I tried it, and was annoyed at the slow frame rate. But it does a passable job of showing you to the them and them to you while you talk. The camera will automatically zoom to where it thinks you are, so if the dog walks by, the image may shift suddenly.

The one thing you have to know is that you ned a lot of room for the Kinect to work properly. I mean, a lot. You need an eight foot by eight foot space to play most games with two people. I know people who have had to rearrange their apartment just to get close. We move our couch back when we play, and then drag it back up after we are done.

The biggest life-changing thing about the Kinect for me is the other game we own. A month ago I got a fitness game: Your Shape, Fitness Evolved. Suddenly, I am working out 3-4 times a week. I’ve been doing it for a month now and I can feel the results. I feel better. I’ve even started to drop some weight (not a huge amount, but I have not changed my eating habits.). Something about taking the act of exercising and tying it to a video game with achievements causes something to click in my head, and I want to work out now. I don’t want to go to the gym. I want to stand in front of my TV and look foolish as I move around during the virtual classes. I don’t know way, but there it is.

The Kinect gets video game players off the couch and moving, and in my case it even gets me exercising.