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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

'Godcasts' growing in popularity

By Jeannine F. Hunter

The power of broadband Internet service is expanding the reach of Christian faithful who want to spread the word.

Increasingly, houses of worship and individuals are using Internet broadcasting to reach adherents and others, in what has been called "Godcasting."

People listen to audio recordings that are converted to a digital format, then distributed and downloaded to portable music players or Web-connected personal computers.

"We want to try to make worship opportunities and learning from the word of God available to as many people as we can," says the Rev. Marion Arbuckle, pastor of Stonebrook Church in Smyrna, Tenn.

"It is a way people are getting information, and we feel we need to use the same technology for the glory of God."

Internet-based broadcasts are commonly known as "podcasts," a name derived from the Apple iPods that many use to listen to them. Churches see them as a way to connect with home-bound church members, missionaries in foreign lands and travelers away from their congregations. They also offer people not affiliated with a congregation a peek inside.

In short, every evangelist, church or religious leader, including Pope Benedict XVI, could have the equivalent of his or her own radio show. Some of the pontiff's homilies have been recorded for podcasts.

The podcasting landscape is expected to reach 60 million people nationwide by 2010, according to The Diffusion Group, a consumer technology research firm.

Lycos.com reported last year that religious programs and sermons are podcasting's most popular genre. Christian podcasts dominate the religion genre, though such programs also exist for Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and others.

Most churches don't seek offerings to pay for podcasting. Some churches find the additional costs minimal, says Nathan Moore, a former member of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who established its podcast last year.

Many churches have Web sites. It's a small step to place audio files on the sites, and another small step to schedule podcasts, which can be received and heard on mobile devices, he says.

"Truthfully, I am always looking for new ways to use media and technology to further God's kingdom," says Moore, now a media and tech director at a church in New York City.

"I feel that many churches lack the innovation to stay on the cutting edge of progressing technology," he adds. "This usually leaves churches and ministries playing catch-up with mainstream media."

The cost and ease of creating and maintaining a podcast make it an appealing delivery medium, particularly for congregations that cannot afford television time, says Jason Taylor, who oversees Belle Aire's media ministry.

One in five Americans owns an iPod or MP3 player. Born-again Christians make up 40 percent of the consumer technology market, which includes digital cameras, laptop computers and high-speed Internet access at home, according to David Kinnaman, vice president of Barna, a marketing research company in Ventura, Calif.

Kinnaman notes that podcasting joins a media universe in which Christian television, radio and magazines reach more people than attend church. He adds that a study he led on household technology reliance found that about 3 percent of all born-again Christians listen to a podcast regularly, compared with 6 percent of non-Christians. Still, he says, "Christian media has a broad and deep penetration in society."

Kinnaman says about 5 percent of all adults listen to a podcast regularly, and "we expect that to grow in years to come as the purchase of the necessary equipment increases and availability of highly customized content such as religion rises."

Now in New York, Moore has created PodPoint, a service designed to allow ministries to easily own, manage and update their podcasts.

PodPoint.net has a select few churches using and testing the system before its official launch in a few weeks.

"The only step required is uploading an audio or MP3 file," he says. "PodPoint does the rest, automatically creating the files and feeds necessary for a podcast."

The system supports audio files, but Moore plans to offer support for video podcasts, viewable online or on video iPods.

Growing and strengthening Christianity through the latest technology is the mission of Atlanta-based Streaming Faith, the largest provider of Internet broadcast services to faith-based organizations worldwide.

More than 2 million people each month access its streaming video and audio broadcasts of programs and worship services from churches and ministries nationwide.

Streaming Faith allows ministries to deliver their message through live events each month on the Internet. It also provides video and audio on-demand and interactive satellite rebroadcasts. The company is working on launching subscription podcasts for religious organizations.