Though we live in a connected world, it may surprise some to hear that there are large numbers of people around the globe who lack access to communications tools and the wealth of information they provide. As the strategic communications and marketing agency for the global United Methodist Church, United Methodist Communications has committed dedicated efforts to make resources available to share the gospel and support church ministry around the world.
Their Global Communications Technology team is vigilant in its efforts to close the gap between the needs of the people and the equipment and training needed to sustain communication. Their goal is to build an innovative infrastructure that equips United Methodists to share life-saving and life-changing messages throughout the world.
They are committed to improving access to information, global mapping of churches and programmatic partnerships that allow United Methodist churches to apply skills and know-how to create positive change.
This initiative empowers leaders to impact ministry with the poor, improves global health, provides education and training for leaders and creates renewed and new congregations through the power of communication.
Not willing to allow a global pandemic to stand in its way, the team has been abuzz with activity safely helping to keep United Methodist churches relevant and impactful as the need to connect grows.
A tool that was birthed during the 2014 Ebola crisis has proven to be an essential resource for many communications efforts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UMConnect mass messaging platform was established by United Methodist Communications to enable central conference communicators to send members messages from church leaders and bishops. Today, its work continues.
“We equipped and funded communicators to send critical health, pastoral, and/or emergency response messages as a direct response to COVID-19,” said Ashley Gish, Director of Strategy for Global Communications Technology.
Early estimates show UMConnect has been used to collectively deliver 222,320 messages to 14,564 people this year throughout the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The number continues to grow. A number of annual conferences will soon begin a phase two process as countries re-open and communication about health/sanitation measures will be critical to preventing a resurgence of COVID-19.
2020 also saw the services expand into domestic coverage within the United States. The Global Technologies team worked in conjunction with United Methodist Communications’ Local Church Services team, to set up 28 U.S. local churches with UMConnect. Each location was equipped with and trained so that they could stay in touch with their members and community via text messages. Informational videos on determining if UMConnect is right for a particular church and how to connect for ministry through texting were shared through website placement, YouTube and social media.
“UMConnect is a powerful tool for reaching United Methodists where they are and connects the church in a unique and unprecedented way,” says Gish. “We consistently evaluate how to best utilize the platform effectively to garner the greatest impact possible. Our partnerships with communicators, church leadership, local churches and our fellow United Methodist Communications teams have been key to that process.”
Feedback received has shown that the tool offers encouragement and connection with the local bishops. However, it’s comments like that of Mrs. Safiya Amos, a member in North East Nigeria, that really drives home the impact of this work: “I sincerely thank [our bishop] and UMConnect for spending their time and resources to reach out to people around the globe with sound messages; my family rekindle its love for UMC.”
The team will continue to look into additional roll-out opportunities.
When the pandemic hit, the web conferencing company Zoom became a household name and a staple tool.
The Global Technology team ensured that United Methodist churches didn’t fall behind as in-person worship services and studies transitioned to in home venues.
“For each episcopal area who wanted them, we supplied them with one license per annual conference plus one for the main episcopal office. In total, we’ve supplied 42 licenses across nine episcopal areas,” says Gish.
United Methodist Radio Network (UMRN) stations provide vital information that is accessible to most rural and urban people due to far reaching airwaves and ease of availability to equipment. United Methodist Communications has helped the network find partners and provided training resources and networking opportunities since its launch. In keeping with this partnership, two of the stations were equipped with a Zoom license to help them to keep this service going despite coronavirus concerns.
“The Zoom connectivity has helped in making it easy for the church to hold its meetings and conferences at this time of the pandemic,” said Bishop John Wesley Yohanna of the Nigeria Episcopal Area
United Methodists in Nigeria has broken ground on their Grace Radio AM radio station with the assistance of the Global Communications Technology team. Once completed, it will be the first faith-based station in the Northeast region to provide information, education and entertainment for communities in Taraba State and beyond.
Additionally they’re working with the UMRN to help Central Congo revise and complete their proposal to get their long-defunct radio station Radio Lokole back on the air.
Probably the most significant activity that transpired was in the area of internet connectivity. The Global Communications team has worked tirelessly toward ensuring that every Episcopal office is equipped with internet access which has increased exponentially in its importance to ministry work.
Installation was completed in four offices to cover Central Congo East Congo, North Katanga and South Congo. Nine more are currently slated to have installations occur in the fall of 2020.
Joseph Tunda Muses, budget coordinator for the Central Congo Episcopal Area affirms the importance of connectivity. “Before we could take hours to download or upload financial documents, but now with this higher speed internet, we do it correctly and on time,” he shares.
Although this work was initially stalled due to COVID-19 concerns, set up was able to safely resume and is on trend to be completed by the end of 2020
Power of Communication Technology
Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel, administrative assistant to the bishop in the Nigeria Episcopal Area says the impact of this work is huge. Today their area has an ICT Centre where information and communications are easily accessible and more than 50 people were trained to be computer literate. “With the internet connectivity… program and administrative staff of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria can do their work at ease,” said Emmanuel. “Zoom meetings have offered the best alternative at this time of COVID-19. Our work is now easier because of the technologies and training offered to us.”
Global communications technology is an ever present and continually evolving need for churches and the communities they affect. “Our goal is to ensure that the important work that is being done in The United Methodist Church around the world can have the greatest impact possible,” said Gish.
For 80 years, United Methodist Communications has been leading the church in telling inspirational stories of God’s work in the world through The United Methodist Church, reaching new people, supporting local churches in vibrant communications ministry, equipping leaders and delivering messages of hope and healing. This essential work requires financial support. If you believe in our mission, consider a tax-deductible donation of $8-$80-$800 to the work of United Methodist Communications through its Foundation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.