More than 2,000 years ago, when Jesus directed His followers to “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature'” (Mark 16:15, NKJV), it meant pounding a dirt trail, mounting a camel, or sailing a ship to destinations unknown. Today it means something else—getting up to speed on technology so that you can take advantage of a field ripe for harvest on the Internet.
As laptops, iPhones and MP3 players become as commonplace as Starbucks, Americans are downloading podcasts in record numbers, according to a survey released late last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The study of 2,251 adults—which included 1,553 Internet users—revealed that 19 percent of those traversing the Information Superhighway have downloaded a podcast to listen to or view later. This number is up from the 2006 figure of 7 percent.
With the amount of available podcasts increasing exponentially—estimates of individual episodes running in the 3 million-plus range and growing constantly—there is no lack of niche marketing opportunities to reach millions of untapped listeners. Although the largest podcast genre is technology, close behind are those related to comedy, religion, spirituality and business, as noted in the report from information published by PodcastAlley.com.
The website eMarketer.com, in an article released last year, reported that 18.5 million people in the U.S. are listening to podcasts, and that this number will increase to 65 million by 2012. Advertisers, they projected, by 2012 will spend $435 million on podcast-based advertising.
What do these numbers mean for pastors and church leaders? It’s time to reach people where they are living—and today, that’s online. As the Pew Internet study noted, many colleges and universities now provide lecture series via podcasts, and some professors are even experimenting with having students respond to lessons using podcasts as opposed to writing papers. Churches are also posting their sermons online in an easy-to-download podcast format.
This new form of interactive media is a growing—and likely lasting-trend. It may also be an effective, low-cost way of getting a church’s message out to a world still in need of hearing the Good News.