In the words of Inception’s Dom Cobb: “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” And so it took hold in late summer of 2010—a daily devotional video blog. 30God.com launched its first video on the first day of 2011, and the first blog comments began appearing.
During its first six months, Suzy, from the countryside of England, would share with viewers in Georgia her struggles with cancer. Her testimony of the power of God to overcome all adversities encouraged viewers in Cleveland. The encouragement she received from Raleigh brought a brilliant joy into the darkness of pain.
“God has taken this past year of having a cancerous brain tumor and made it a year where I have felt more loved and cared for by God and everyone I know than ever before,” Suzy shared. “I love how God has taken devastating news and turned it into a time of incredible joy. Who would have thought God could do such a miracle?”
Each day one of seven different video contributors popped up on the home page of 30God.com to express how a passage in the Bible had spoken to them. Milton Campbell, a gold medalist long distance runner, acknowledged in one of his videos that he was, ironically, a closet “shortcut taker.” Milton then reminded us that God does not take shortcuts with us in a passage from Philippians where Paul wrote, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (http://30god.com/?p=467)
A manager of a failing architectural firm in Michigan commented in response to Milton’s video, “great reminder—I haven’t reached the destination yet.” But it was through the manager’s encouragement that his whole management team began following the daily devotional videos. As the firm struggled with bids that were not accepted, the videos began emboldening the team. Day after day the videos seemed to dislocate every roadblock of discouragement. “Did you see today’s 30God?” was often heard around the office.
Reading a daily devotional has most times been a very private experience, even when the words are so inspiring that we feel we must share our thoughts with others. The “blogosphere” allowed us to break this mold—to do devotionals in a way where we connected with people we had never met before. The experience was entirely new and yet a struggle as it caught on. The increasing number of comments did not contribute to connection, but discouraged it. A blog was determined a success by how many responses it solicited, but with success the reader could not possibly read all the comments, much less respond to them.
Connectedness to an author is enhanced in blogging as the writer shares her or his thoughts often in a stream of consciousness spread over several days. But with the evolving technology of the Internet, could connectedness be further enhanced with video? The answer was our pursuit.
Beth Seversen, a video contributor from Kansas City, spoke one day about a new acquaintance who told her that they might not be close friends. Recognizing that Beth was a committed Christian, Becky said she invested most of her time with people who did not know Jesus. Over five days, a manageable seventeen comments were left. (http://30god.com/?p=307)
Nate wrote, “Maybe we need to re-think spending so much time in church with other Christians.” Mary added, “Great reminder, it is so easy to stick with ‘comfortable friends.’” And Judy commented, “A friend I invested in 25 years ago called today to tell me “she got it.” She was filled with the Holy Spirit and can’t stop smiling and laughing with joy. What a privilege to have been a part of that.”
They all felt connected to Beth not only with her thoughts, but also with her calming manner in delivering such a challenging message. This connectedness was so enhanced by being able to see her as she spoke of her time with Becky.
While the blog responses reflected a connection with the video contributor, none of the responders were interacting with each other. Wanting to understand how to generate more of this, in August 2011 we called a halt to the videos on 30God.com, after it had created almost 200 videos. We began an effort to determine how best to create more of a connected interactive community on the Internet.
We recognized that we were giving people a devotional answer to perceived daily problems. While many were connecting with the devotionals by the video contributors, they were not being asked to do anything other than affirm and encourage. This did not create opportunities for connection between responders.
We needed to ask a question rather than give an answer. The question that we were forced to grapple with was, “If we simply ask a question, could we call this a devotional? And if not, what was more important, creating an interactive community or providing a daily devotional?”
For the time being we have chosen to follow the challenge of creating the interactive community. We began with changing the name of the website from 30God.com, a catchy but non-descriptive name, to whatisfaith.co (not .com). The new name both asks a question and sets a topical parameter. What is faith?—a subject that has challenged every generation of humankind.
Next we challenged the idea of a daily video. If we were giving answers, daily works. But if we are asking a question, we must give people more time to answer the question. We landed on a weekly question. Each Monday we would create a quick 30 second situational video ending in a question concerning some aspect of faith.
A man is sitting in a cubical and receives a call from his boss. He feels condemnation and guilt. Breaking from the scene he turns to the camera and asks, “How does faith help with this situation?” The video ends by asking the viewer to help Steve answer the question. (http://whatisfaith.co/?p=2140)
Our next challenge was to ask ourselves about the nature of community, its size and affinity. We knew that the cell or small group movement in churches today had shown that groups beyond about 12 people were not conducive to interaction. But was that because of time constraints? Was it the gravitational anonymity for introverted people in larger group settings? And if so, does the Internet community redefine those communication boundaries?
The second question concerned affinity. Is it more conducive for people who already know each other and have some interaction with each other outside the whatisfaith.co environment? Or does anonymity help in creating a safer environment for exchanging ideas and experiences?
We learned from facebook.com that the Internet is anything but private. We also knew that small group encounters were by nature places where confidentiality was essential. So how would these interactive groups function in an open Internet environment? Could we provide private blogs?
These are the cutting edge questions that we are struggling to answer today. If you are interested, contact us at whatisfaith.co.
Coleman Moore is founder of thinkGod, LLC, the owner of 30God.com and whatisfaith.co.