Are American Missionaries A Thing of the Past?

This week I had the remarkable opportunity to speak at a global conference of pastors and marketplace leaders in the amazing United Arab Emirates city of Dubai. In the conference were pastors who individually oversee hundreds of churches and collectively oversee thousands of churches in some of the most difficult and challenging places Christians can operate.

One thing I discovered was that they were hungry for information about using the media to share the gospel. They understand – even in remote places in Siberia, rural Africa, or the Pacific Islands, that we all live in a media-driven culture now, and using the media to engage with their communities is more important than ever.

The truth is, if I could find the funding, I would focus more of my time on teaching media internationally. These leaders are making a remarkable impact in the most difficult places, and were energized when I shared simple, basic techniques and principles for social media, websites, and video. As I told the attendees, it’s time we stopped thinking about “missions” only in terms of geographical boundaries, and started thinking about missions in terms of digital boundaries as well.

If you feel a burden to help us reach these global leaders with information and resources in communication and media, you can contribute to our Influence Lab initiative.

But something else I learned is that for the most part, the age of the Western missionary is over. The truth is, we really don’t need more Americans moving to Asia, Africa, Russia, or other places because right now local leaders are raising up a generation of young pastors that are planting churches in remarkable numbers. Historically, past missionaries from the West did their job, and now the baton has been handed to these local leaders.

However, they still need our financial support, expertise in select areas, and strategy. In some countries it may be to help finance a church building, in others, build a school or medical clinic, in still others it may be a motorcycle to help a church planter make his rounds. They also need strategies as I mentioned in communications, media, and other specialized areas. They have picked up the challenge and are making a difference, but they need our prayers, professional expertise, and financial support more than ever.

I can tell you that after a week with these global leaders, the world is changing, and in spite of all the negative stories you hear in the news media, the gospel is moving forward.

Globalizing Your Media Means Localizing Your Media

Whenever I travel internationally, I’m always surprised to find that when watching American produced religious programming, the vast majority of programs do nothing related to local audiences.  In other words, the program open and close, structure, and even commercial spots were the exact same as the program that had been broadcast in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Tulsa.  It goes without saying that creating a commercial spot with an American phone number and a price in dollars is going to fail when its broadcast in Russia, South Africa, or Bolivia.  And yet, major media ministries do it everyday – wondering all the while why they don’t seem to get a response.

First Rule – Make sure international viewers can contact your organization easily and buy your products or donate to your organization in their local currency.  I carry dollars in my pocket, not Rubles or Pesos.  Likewise, a viewer in Bangalore carries Rupees, not dollars.

And it goes deeper:  “Cultural sensitivity” is critical is getting your message across in other cultures and countries.  In the Christian world for instance, too many American believers think Indian Christians worship in choir robes, and sing classic hymns with an organ playing in the background.  But Christians in other countries adapt their worship to the styles, customs, and methods that are meaningful to them.  As a result, we need to understand that and respond with our programming.

Second Rule – Do more than just have your program sub-titled or translated.  Think about customizing the program itself.  Certainly it will take time and money, but the meaning and connection will be far more powerful.  Perhaps better yet, instead of simply broadcasting your weekly or daily program into multiple countries with no changes made, think instead about periodic TV specials, that are completely customized to people groups around the world.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to be a producer on a series of TV specials produced by the Billy Graham Association.  Not only was Billy’s sermon translated into multiple languages, but we divided up the world into people/language/culture groups, and completely re-structured each version with local interviews, music, and features shot in regional languages and featuring locally known personalities.  In the end, it created a far greater response than simply broadcasting a typical American version of Billy’s program.

Major secular networks realize that having localized programming matters.  It’s time Christian program producers got the memo.

2020 Proves It – COVID-19 No Match for the Digital Tools Available to the Church

2020 Proves It – COVID-19 No Match for the Digital Tools Available to the Church

The COVID-19 crisis in 2020 forced the Church to go online or go out of business, while accelerating the digital revolution on a global scale, ushering in a new digital age. There has never been a time in the history of the world when so many tools have been available to share the gospel with so many people.

While a number of international trips on mine and Kathleen’s schedule were canceled because of the pandemic, we’ve never been busier sharing the gospel with global pastors, leaders and their media teams. Through Zoom meetings and webinars, we’ve been able to inspire and train communicators in Russia, Portugal, Nepal, India, Australia and other countries around the world to navigate the new and expanding digital media platforms with confidence and success.

The year 2020 proved that a modern-day plague like COVID-19 was no match for thedigital tools available to the Church today. Those tools not only overcame a global shutdown, but they continue to allow us to speak to a worldwide audience. Online, previously little-known churches, ministries, and their leaders can now influence millions, and the ministry of The Influence Lab is helping them accomplish what just a few years ago seemed unimaginable.

The need to share our message never changes, but how we share it does, and that is the thrust behind the vision of The Influence Lab. This is the moment to embrace the digital world and strategically help our global brothers and sisters maneuver it to effectively share the gospel. – Phil Cooke