The New York Times ran an article today called Missed Church? Download It to Your IPod [reg required] describing the adoption of podcasting by a number of religious organizations.
[...] the Rev. Mark Batterson, started podcasting, or "godcasting" as he prefers to call it, last month to spread the word about his congregation. The hourlong recordings of his weekly service, available on theaterchurch.com, have already brought new parishioners to his church, he said.
"I can't possibly have a conversation with everyone each Sunday. But this builds toward a digital discipleship," he said. "We're orthodox in belief but unorthodox in practice."
I have been regularly impressed by the religious groups who have exploited new technologies to get their messages out and heard, across the widest array of channels possible. I struggle on a daily basis to get "old school" marketers to understand that this is no longer a broadcast, one-to-many world; that conversations with customers are key. I LOVE that this guy gets it (and he is CUTE, to boot!).
New technology like podcasting updates the mission, although on a much smaller scale for now. But Pastor Batterson says he believes that podcasting will have an impact on the church as profound as that of the printing press when the first Bibles were printed in the 15th century.
"If you really believe in the message you're preaching, you want as many people as possible to listen," he said. He likes the idea of "spiritual multitasking" to keep people connected to their faith throughout the week. Before his podcasts, he also used his blog to connect with the 800 members of National Community Church, who gather for worship each Sunday in two movie theaters, one in Washington and the other in Alexandria, Va.
Good for him for reaching people where they choose to be and when they are ready to hear his message. When my grandmother isn't able to attend church service, someone from the church faithfully delivers a cassette tape of the service. It's a great service, but extraordinarily resource and labour intensive compared to the distribution reach. Now I don't know if my grandmother would subscribe to a podcast at this point, but the distribution potential vs effort required is incredible.
Most religious podcasts can be subscribed to using R.S.S. [...] For godcasters who record prayers or psalms, the function is especially appealing, because it offers their listeners easy access to daily devotional readings. Pastor Batterson, for instance, is aiming to attract 10,000 subscribers in the next two years who are looking for doses of spirituality on demand.
The mp3 player is a particularly intimate device; it is with us everywhere we go and provides a soundtrack to our lives. The co-opting of this technology and related behaviour is perfect for religious organizations.
Melissa Rogers, a visiting professor of religion and public policy at the Wake Forest University Divinity School, finds podcasting a good illustration of the entrepreneurial drive behind Christian evangelicals. Nevertheless, Ms. Rogers does not expect podcasts to replace going to church.
"Podcasts provide a way for people who are very busy these days to get their religion on the fly, but for most people this will be a supplement, not a substitute," she said.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. To me, one of the main draws of organized religion is the community. Can more intimate communication provided at our seducible moments substitute for that community?