Where do I begin with this one?
I certainly don’t disagree with the motivations to try and reach young people and/or the Internet generation. Indeed, I would agree that using YouTube to do so is a very good idea and, done well, could generate a great deal of good.
However, that is the key – “done well”. I’m sorry to say that even if Rowan gives us his very best on YouTube (and I like his sermons and his thinking as much as anyone), there isn’t the slightest hope that it will come across well. It simply does not fit the medium.
As Gill describes it, posting the Archbishop’s sermons on YouTube is the cultural equivalent of:
“like building a large Victorian church in an Indian fishing village”
I can understand why Lambeth think it’s a good idea. The CofE never has much (any?) money to put into such projects and it looks like a gift – a free website, to which you can contribute easily, that people are using and is a current cultural phenomenon, and with a gifted leader ready on tap – you just need to put a digital camera in front of him and bob’s your uncle.
But it doesn’t work like that. YouTube doesn’t work like that. Culturally, this idea is so far away from culturally sensitive mission that I am incredulous that we can be so aware of cross-cultural issues in our efforts to reach out internationally and yet can’t see it when it’s on our own doorstep.
If the CofE want to get into YouTube, then please please CofE do it properly. First of all, you need your central office’s Mission department to be given staff and resources to dedicate purely to what one might call “national mission”… using the kind of tools (which is mainly media based) to scatter seeds of the gospel as widely across our country as possible. Secondly, with such dedicated resources and thinking in place, the stage would be set to provide video material that is going to work in contexts like YouTube.
I don’t think Rob Bell and the Nooma videos have it all absolutely spot on and obviously they are American and so we’d need to look for English cultural equivalents, but they are a lot closer to something that might work than this idea from Lambeth. It’s also fairly obvious from the Nooma example that to do something like this really well takes money and dedication to the task, not throwing it at YouTube as a by-product of something else.
The Lambeth spokesman said:
“It provides limitless access to what any minister has to say. You have to preach where people are listening.”
That statement sums up the wrong-ness of the thinking in this idea. People on YouTube are not listening to “preaching”. It’s a collaborative enterprise, it’s an interactive enterprise, it’s a “no barriers to entry” kind of enterprise. In short, everything that your average sermon is not… especially someone as learned as the Archbishop… and I say that as a very big fan of Rowan.
Still, the CofE isn’t getting everything wrong in the world of new media. Today, they announced that this year’s Love Life, Live Lent course from Church House Publishing is being supported by a website and, crucially, by a simple little SMS text message service by which you can get the daily Lenten tips straight to your mobile phone.
Again, the key as to why this will work is content and medium. The Love Life, Live Lent books are very simple and have a great secular crossover. It’s not about deep theological reflection, rather the adult and child versions simply ask those participating to think of doing one thing for every day of Lent. Things like “write a letter to say thankyou” or “give up your place in the queue to someone in a rush”. They’re dead easy ways to be “generous, think of others and make a difference” as its own website describes it. In short, they suit a simple SMS message really well. Especially when they’ve been reasonably priced at 10p a message or basically about Â£4.00 for the whole of Lent.
I’m signing up.
However, even with this Lent course, the CofE still have managed to make a few real faux pas’ in the world of new media. I cry to have to highlight this but get a load of these chronic mistakes on the Love Life, Live Lent website:
- They are using livelent.net as the published web address. They bought lovelifelivelent.net as well but aren’t using it and, worst of all, if you go there it doesn’t even zip you across to the real site. It leaves you on a domain host’s holding page. I can understand the thought that the latter might be too long a domain name, but at least link it through if you are going to buy it.
- The entire supporting website is built in Flash. If you don’t have Flash on your computer, or are if you disabled and using a text to speech reader or other similar device, you’ll get nothing. As Jakob Nielsen has said, Flash is 99% bad.
- The site uses pop-up new windows all over the place for PDFs (see below) and other sections. Again, our friend Jakob explains why this is so bad?
- Various things use PDF files when they don’t need to use PDFs and could have been done in the context of the site (for example, the terms and conditions for the SMS service). Again, Jakob talks about this faux pas in the above article.
- Relying on the navigation bar for linking and not using the text itself to provide links. Check this sentence out “If you’d like your church or school to get involved take a look at the support material available by clicking on either ‘Churches’ or ‘Schools’ in the above header.” Why not just use the words ‘church’ and ‘school’ as links and re-word much more simply to suit.
Apologies if some of these criticisms are a bit geeky for most… I had to get my frustrations off my chest! But even if they are geeky, they’re important. They all prevent the CofE from using new media as well as it could to promote the gospel and reach out to our nation. They are equivalent in the “offline” world to not having disabled access to our churches, advertising service times and then starting an hour earlier for those “in the know” or talking a language people don’t understand.
Once again, for the CofE and the world of new media it feels like one step forward and two steps back.
To explain the cultural reference for those reading from overseas, the headline and image are taken from the comedian Harry Enfield’s character Frank Doberman. Examples of Doberman’s work can be seen in these Madasafish adverts.
** update **
I tried to sign up to the text messaging service today. What do you know? It doesn’t work. My text won’t send to the advertised number at all.
** further update **
It turns out the service isn’t live yet – which is a real shame given the press coverage it has garnered. As Ben Wilson makes clear in his comment, the service is underway but it does seem some (including me) are having problems signing up.