Seventh-day Adventist communicators closed the 2019 Global Adventist Internet Network (GAiN) Conference in Sweimeh, Jordan, with a pledge to step up and go bold with initiatives to support the mission of the church.
The February 28, 2019 wrap-up session for the event, which drew more than 600 information technology (IT) experts, communication directors, television producers, photographers, videographers, radio producers, and news writers working for the Adventist Church, showed an increasing willingness to be outwardly focused.
“Church communication is not an end in itself,” said Adventist Church communication director Williams Costa Jr. on the sidelines of the conference. “We are here to serve, to use our voice to support the church’s outreach and mission initiatives.”
Based on this developing philosophy, GAiN chose to partner with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which held two weeks of annual meetings in Jordan. ADRA inspired GAiN attendees with its unique mission to serve the world’s populations, and GAiN participants discussed how to contribute communication expertise to that mission.
Importance of GAiN Conferences
GAiN conferences began in 2003 when a group of the church’s IT experts met with members of the General Conference Council on Evangelism and Witness, looking for better ways of networking, streamlining processes, and sharing resources, organizers explained. Since then, the annual event has grown to include Adventists working for the church organization in media and communication as well.
While these related communication entities have met either immediately before or after GAiN to discuss strategy, this year all parties agreed to try a new approach. Morning and evening plenary sessions brought everyone together, while the afternoon allowed GAiN, Hope Channel, Adventist World Radio (AWR), ITS, and the Global News Summit to hold separate meetings.
GAiN morning plenary sessions included presentations from a variety of communication areas, including humanitarian aid, education, and women’s and children’s church ministries. “It’s all about increasingly looking outside ourselves, reaching out to find spots where we can provide support to the mission of sharing hope and healing with an ailing world,” Costa Jr. told Adventist Review.
During the 2019 conference, plenary sessions alternated with more specialized talks, panels, and discussions in the afternoons. The 45-minute concluding session on February 28 attempted to connect the dots between ministries and show a unifying purpose behind this new strategy. “No matter our field of expertise, we are here to serve the church,” Costa Jr. said.
Intentional About Our Message
For AWR, it boils down to intentionality, according to AWR administrative vice-president Kent Sharpe. “The more intentional we are with our message, the better our results are,” he said. AWR leaders are discussing ways to better incorporate the radio message into the evangelistic plans of local fields, he added.
By way of example, Sharpe shared how, in at least two locations, AWR has aired prophecy sermons on church radio stations, broadcasting them 90 days in advance of a major evangelistic drive. “The results have blown us away,” he said.
In the case of Hope Channel, the official television network of the Adventist Church, the organization’s focus is taking viewers on a journey to become followers of Jesus, according to its president, Derek Morris. “We want to be laser-focused on mission, helping our viewers to find a spiritual community,” he said.
A Network of Support
Ministry leaders agree that very little could be accomplished but for the extensive and well-oiled support by Adventist IT experts. “We provide the foundations for other church ministries to build their projects,” explained General Conference ITS director Stephen Filkoski. “This week we discussed how IT could build structure, limit chaos, and prioritize projects so we can serve the mission needs of the church more effectively.”
The church’s network of support includes SunPlus, a financial management and accounting software package that is designed for Adventist administrative and institutional organizations. Director Brent Burdick shared that currently, SunPlus employs 19 people based in nine countries, a team that supports the church’s work in 127 countries, for 852 church organizations, and 3,600 users. “During our discussions, we were reminded of our role as financial communicators using technology, and how that fits into the big picture of our beloved church,” he said.
Telling the Story
On February 26, the second annual Global News Summit for the church’s news editors, reporters, photographers, and videographers discussed best practices, and how to better communicate with external audiences, reported Communication Department assistant director and Adventist News Network (ANN) news director Jennifer Stymiest. The news summit is an event jointly organized by ANN and Adventist Review Ministries.
According to Adventist Review communication director and news editor Costin Jordache, discussions included how to increase the speed of an accurate news flow and make the most of social media for news sharing. “We also addressed how to tell sensitive stories and work in a news environment that favors an increasing level of transparency,” he said.
Jordache also unveiled what he called “an exciting project” — a global news repository. Still in development, the initiative, presently called Adventist News Exchange, would become a channel for every official Adventist entity to contribute to and benefit from a global news database. News placed into that repository would then be translated to various languages and widely shared around the world by any official Adventist (yearbook) entity.
A Network of Collaboration
In stressing the collaborative nature of the 2019 GAiN conference, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) president Jonathan Duffy was invited to share his assessment of the 2019 conference. “It’s been such a blessing [to be part of GAiN],” he said. “We have too many silos among the church’s various departments. We need to find one voice; we need to find one action.”
Duffy explained that union in mission is only a first step. “We are already united in mission,” he said. “Now we must work together and blend our ministries to work more effectively. We can do so much more in working together.”
It’s all about effecting change and being the agents of hope and healing that the world needs, Duffy said. “[I pray] that as a church we stand together united, pointing people towards the One who has the true healing.”
Adventist Church vice-president Billy Biaggi agreed as he appealed to communicators to keep discussing “how to convey a message that is meaningful for the people of this world.” In reference to Romans 10:9, in closing remarks, Biaggi invited Adventist communicators to “believe in their hearts but confess with their mouths.” “We need to put our lights on a stand,” he said.
Echoing other communication leaders, Biaggi also called everyone to work toward an increasing synchronization of the various ministries of the church. “[We must] integrate all ministries, including institutions, agencies, and church administration,” he said.
Morris agreed. “We are stronger when we work together in the name of Jesus.”
The 2020 GAiN Conference will be an online-only event, due to the General Conference Session. Dates are awaiting confirmation.