AWR: Harnessing Technology for Ministry!
By Shelly Nolan Freesland and Daryl Gungadoo
We are aware that stewardship involves the wise use of not only our treasure, but also our time and talents. So if asked to address stewardship in relation to technology, many of us might first focus on issues such as: “How much time should I spend on social media? How can I teach my teens that it would be more useful for them to learn a bit of car maintenance this weekend instead of staying glued to their Xbox console? Is it possible to persuade my spouse that it’s not necessary to replace our GoPro camera just because a new model came out?”
"How much time should I spend on social media? How can I teach my teens that it would be more useful for them to learn a bit of car maintenance this weekend instead of staying glued to their Xbox console? Is it possible to persuade my spouse that it’s not necessary to replace our GoPro camera just because a new model came out?”
Such questions, and more, are all valid and do need to be considered in relation to our personal lives. Technology leader, Daryl Gungadoo, has a broader view, however, with valuable insights into the relationship between technology and ministry. Gungadoo is the global resource engineer for Adventist World Radio. A large part of his role involves looking into the future of technology and finding ways to use new tools to fulfill the organization’s mission which is to carry the gospel to the hard-to-reach people groups of the world. He says, “What’s unique about AWR is that we’re one of the few church organizations that invests in research and development (R&D). We’re often the first on a particular digital platform, which puts AWR at the forefront of bringing the message of salvation to people in a very creative way.”
For example, Gungadoo’s research in media asset management (MAM) led AWR to become the first religious entity—in fact, the first nonprofit—to use an enterprise-class MAM system for massively publishing all of its radio content online as podcasts. With podcasts in more than 100 languages, AWR is the most prolific provider of multilingual content on iTunes. It has received official recognition from Apple. Daily podcast downloads have topped 11 million, and are climbing rapidly. Other Adventist media ministries, such as Hope TV and Stimme der Hoffnung, have since adopted the same MAM platform.
“It took vision for AWR’s leadership to finance this initiative, but it has really paid off,” Gungadoo says. “Using the assembly-line analogy, we could still be hand manufacturing one car at a time, but instead we have built a system for automating our entire daily output worldwide. At the same time, technology is enabling AWR to do more with fewer people; we’re fortunate that our staff is extremely talented.”
Capitalizing on such talents is often best done through cross pollination—that is, fostering collaboration between different people, roles, and even organizations. The results benefit everyone. Rather than just adopting available technologies, Gungadoo prefers working with the corporate developers of tools and applications, saying that such early input leads to products that are better for both the company and AWR’s own needs. “Sometimes the results of R&D may only show up five to 10 years down the road, but making that initial investment of time, talent, and money is crucial for positioning a ministry—or any organization—optimally for the future,” he says. “If we built our whole operation on just one medium, we would be planning our own obsolescence.”
"If we built our whole operation on just one medium, we would be planning our own obsolescence.”
In the final analysis, technology should be viewed as a facilitator, not an end in itself. Here’s an example: When AWR wanted to find a new way of telling stories at the 2015 General Conference Session, staff and volunteers pooled their creativity to produce groundbreaking 360° videos. The objective was to give viewers a memorably immersive experience, not just showcase “cool toys.” In a coincidental demonstration of prudent stewardship, the filmmakers repurposed an array of seven existing GoPro cameras, as dedicated 360-cameras were not yet available on the market. Since then, some national news agencies have also embarked on telling stories this way, such as http://abcnews.go.com/US/fullpage?id=33768357.
Gungadoo challenges all ministries to consider technology as something central to their operation. “Nowadays, technology is not a bolt-on function,” he says. “Investing in a strategy and tools that are adapted to each organization is well worth thinking about. As a church, our objective is to convey a message. The medium may be variable, but our message is everlasting.”