The ‘Open Media’ Revolution

... will change everything you know about reaching this generation

The digital media revolution is far more than just meeting new friends on social networks, watching comedy clips on mobile phones or text messaging multiple people. The fundamental transformation that will impact everything in the future revolves around the word open, and will have massive implications for culture, politics, education, business and religion. It will cause a massive shift in the way we find, process and relate to information, and its impact will spill over into relationships, faith, family structures and more.

And if church and ministry leaders don't understand and respond to this change, our impact will eventually disappear.

Think that's being a little melodramatic? Let me explain it by showing the difference between the closed media world of the past and the open media world of the future:

Closed: TV was the hub of marketing and advertising campaigns

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Open: TV is now TIVO-we skip commercials

Closed: Programmers controlled the message

Open: The audience influences the message

Closed: Consumers bought what marketers promoted

Open: Consumers buy what their friends endorse

Closed: YouTube and Facebook were considered passing fads

Open: This generation loves and embraces YouTube because its content is as good as traditional advertising

Closed: Mobile phones were for making calls

Open: Mobile phones are now the single most important gadget in people's lives

Closed: Bloggers were a little nutty

Open: Bloggers are the new influencers and truth-tellers (they even cost a national network news anchor his job)

Closed: A church controlled its membership

Open: "Church membership" means something completely different

Closed: A ministry or nonprofit decided how to talk to its donors

Open: Donors decide how to talk to organizations

Closed: The audience watched or listened to what you wanted them to see or hear

Open: The audience is in charge

Closed: Political power was the method of choice for impacting culture

Open: Cultural engagement is the way to impact the culture

Closed: Famous pastors and evangelists were celebrities

Open: Personality-driven ministry will decrease

Closed: Christian leaders could control information

Open: In the digital age, information can't be controlled

Closed: Every programmer wants to be on a major Christian radio or TV network

Open: With IPTV (Internet Protocol Television), social networking, podcasting, mobile programming and more, the traditional networks will continue to exist but won't be the nexus of power and influence-or the only key to reaching your audience

Are you getting the picture? The "open media" or "open source" world is one that involves a two-way conversation instead of the traditional one-way model. The next generation wants to communicate, and because of that they opt to use media that's "always on." After all, they're the ones who grew up picking the next American Idol by texting into a cell phone. They want a voice and they want it now. That mindset impacts everything they do, from engaging with various media to how they view worship.

Clearly, this is a different generation that has ushered in a different media culture. Given the present digital-driven world we live in, here are some questions you need to be asking:

  • How much do I know about how my congregation/donors/partners/audience interacts with our organization? Who likes what? How well are you segmented? This isn't about computerized mailing lists that simply divide people. It's about having a more intimate relationship with your audience so you know how they prefer to communicate.
  • Does your media mix reflect that audience? Honestly ask the tough question regarding your ministry: Are we relevant to those we're trying to serve? If not, which needs to change: your target audience or your "content"?
  • How do influencers view your ministry or organization? The impact of other leaders "talking you up" can be significant. In a digital world, networks matter because people are social beings. What have you done to foster relationships with other like-minded churches, organizations or leaders? Whenever other bloggers discuss the things I've written at, it drives up my site's traffic. What are you doing that gets people talking?
  • Are you considered a truth-teller? Is your ministry reliable, and does it provide real answers to the real questions people are facing? Are you even addressing the questions people are asking?
  • Have you changed the culture at your organization to reflect a new paradigm? Are you embracing a team approach and allowing for competing voices in your organization? Are you more interested in squeezing the most out of people or inspiring them to take flight?
  • Are you marketing or influencing? Are you allowing your audience to influence your message?
  • Are you acting on the feedback you're hearing from your audience? Whether you're getting criticized or acclaimed, it's important to have an outlet for honest feedback from trustworthy sources.


Receiving the Message

Generation after generation pastors and Christian leaders got it wrong. They believed our only responsibility was sharing the message. But we also have a responsibility to make sure that message is received.

In the open world of the future, those who simply preach or teach without regard to the way the audience understands and responds will be left in the dustbin of history. You need to understand the technological changes that are happening today and the way those changes are transforming the way we communicate.

The first step is to stop thinking about "mass" and start thinking "niche." In my book Branding Faith, I describe how to find the story that surrounds your life and ministry. What do people think of when they think of you? If you can pinpoint your own brand story-why you do what you do, who you really are, what your gifts and talents are, and what makes you different-then you can start to find the potential audience that connects with your message.

The Bible tells us that people walked away from Jesus. Some felt His message was too hard, others felt it was too great a change and more than a few probably thought it was simply crazy. Christ even described towns in which the unbelief was so great it was impossible to break through.

Remember, if Jesus couldn't reach everybody, neither can you.

That means your focus must be on those you know are accessible. So the real question becomes: What do your specific gifts, your passion and your brand story say about the potential audience you can reach?


Rethinking Your Connection

Having a plan to reach your audience with the right message is critical. Whatever challenge you're facing, you can be assured of one thing: The strategy-or lack thereof-that got you into this sorry situation won't be the same strategy that gets you out. As Will Rogers once said, "When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging."

When it comes to churches and ministries, simply upgrading your graphics, music and lighting and dumping the tacky onstage furniture isn't a strategy. That's just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. You need a fundamental "rethink" of what story your station, church or ministry is trying to tell, what that means to your audience, how to connect with that audience and why it's absolutely urgent they respond right now.

The 21st century is changing everything about how to communicate with an audience. Yesterday it was about dumping the same message on a mass audience because they didn't have much choice. Today it's about making a connection-the kind that not only makes them want to hear what you have to say, but also makes them respond.

Understanding that connection is a critical step in finding your audience and reaching the next generation.

Phil Cooke is a media producer and consultant in Los Angeles whose latest book, The Last TV Evangelist: Why the Next Generation Couldn't Care Less About Religious Media and Why It Matters, is changing the way media professionals communicate with the culture. For more information, go to

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