An Introduction To a Technology that is Taking The Worship Community By Storm
Podcasting is one of the most powerful and cost-effective communications technologies to be invented since the Internet itself. And even as this technology takes the worship community by storm, there are a great number of pastors and church administrators asking themselves: “What is a podcast and how will it help us grow our congregation?”
This article aims to clearly answer both of these questions while offering some additional insights into the younger generations – specifically people in their 20’s and 30’s who attend local congregations but, more often than not, resist becoming members.
So, What’s A Podcast?
“A podcast is a series of audio or video digital media files which are distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers.”
At first, this definition may still be a bit confusing for some, so here it is broken down into specific parts.
“series”: Podcasts are most commonly produced to deliver consecutive episodes and not just a one-time occurrence of uploading audio or video to the web. For example, the Coke and Mentos video was not a podcast but rather a video posted to YouTube. A sermon given each Sunday, recorded and then uploaded to a publishing platform or hosting company would be a “series” of podcasts.
“audio or video”: Podcasts make use of multiple types of media, and can even mix media in the same feed, what is known as an “enhanced” podcast, which combines both audio and visual files.
“digital media files”: Podcasts do not support analog formats such as audio from a cassette tape or video on a VHS tape. Before an analog audio and/or video can be used in a podcast, it must be converted from analog to digital. Luckily, there are several converters on the market to choose from.
“syndicated download”: Podcasts are downloadable media, meaning you can enjoy all content (audio, video, textual) offline, on the go via iPod, CD or other portable media player.
“web feeds”: A web feed, typically what is called an RSS feed, is the essential technology that makes a podcast a podcast. It is a data (delivery) format used for providing people with frequently updated, episodic content. Think of an RSS feed like an envelope that carries a letter in the mail. It’s only a delivery mechanism and its content is of no significance, as it can be an audio, video, picture or text file.
When a congregant or potential new member subscribes to a particular podcast, they receive the new programs whenever they are uploaded to a publishing platform or hosting company such as PodcastPeople or GoDaddy.
Now that we’ve broken down the first part of the definition, let’s look at the second part.
“The syndication aspect of the delivery is what differentiates podcasts from other files accessible by direct download or streaming; it means that special software applications, generically known as podcatchers (such as Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace), can automatically identify and retrieve new files associated with the podcast when they are made available, and that these files can be stored locally on the user’s computer or other device for offline use.”
The extended part of the definition simply reinforces the mechanics of what makes a podcast a podcast— specifically the ability for the audio or video file to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically whenever new content is added.
Where is the new content added, you ask? The word “added” is meant to describe the process of uploading the audio or video file to a web host or publishing platform such as podcastpeople.com or GoDaddy. Services like these charge a monthly fee, but they make it very easy to host content on their servers in addition to making it available through iTunes, Zune Marketplace and other podcast destinations/directories.
How Can Podcasting Help Grow Our Congregations?
Digital technology has altered just about every aspect of our lives. From how we live and work, to how we spend our leisure time, there is a constant onslaught of new technologies, products and services vying for our attention and our dollars. Accordingly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to target segments with traditional means as nearly every market has become too fragmented.
According to the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are more than 300,000 churches (excluding Catholic/Orthodox) in the US alone, preaching to more than 56 million people. +Hartford Institute For Religion Research
However, of the 25 largest Denominations/Communions, 32% reported declines, 44% were flat with only 24% reporting an increase in memberships. By any standard, this is clearly a trend that church administrators would like to reverse. +Hartford Institute For Religion Research
Let’s look at what this means from a financial perspective. Of the 66 churches that reported figures to the 2009 Yearbook, an estimated 46 million members contributed over $36 billion to their churches, an increase of $1.7 billion over the income reported by the 65 churches in 2008. The $786 contributed per person is an increase of $44.00 over the previous year.
It is possible that through the use of social media technologies such as podcasting, churches could achieve a modest 3% increase in memberships by targeting “Gen X’ers” and “Millennials,” (those in their 30’s and 20’s) where they “live” – iPods, iPhones, PC’s and cell phones. Clergymen, senior pastors and church administrators are well aware of the consequences of not connecting with this group as they represent the future of the congregation.
“The older generation hasn’t been using it quite as much because they’re not as tech savvy as the younger people, but the youth are definitely using it and they’re really enjoying it.” says pastor Nathan Kucks of Highway Christian Church at Ormeau.
In dollars and cents, the 3% increase in new members would approximately translate into 65% in added income, for a total $2.8 billion instead of $1.7 billion year-over-year.
Is the future really moving online?
Consider that today there are more than one billion PCs in active use worldwide, growing by almost 12 percent annually. By 2014 that number is expected to double to two billion active PCs worldwide.
Source – Gartner
In 1998, there were only 57,200 broadband subscribers globally. Only a year later, this number had increased by nearly six times to 280,890 subscribers worldwide. The past ten years has seen a 600,000 percent increase in the number of subscribers – 300 percent in the last 5 years alone – which now tops the 400 million mark. +Source – Point Topic 2008
The proliferation of iPods, iPhones and other portable media players are driving enormous demand for downloadable media. More than 10 billion audio and video episodes were downloaded in 2008, an increase of 67% over 2007. +Source – Association for Downloadable Media
1972 vs. 2009
My seven year-old-daughter is well-versed in nine different technology platforms including the iPod, iPhone, iTouch, Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, Windows Vista and Apple’s OSX.
To put this in perspective, when I was seven, I was barely proficient at PONG.
From my point of view, this illustrates just how far technology has come and what the future holds. Word to the wise, now is the time to start podcasting.