Churches must move with the times or risk being left behind
Leaving home for university or moving away from home usually means finding a new church, which for some people can be daunting. Christian online platform Connektin.com aids young church seekers in looking for a new place to worship by providing videos, images and reviews highlighting local churches within their area.
Jacob Akinyinka, of Connektin.com, shares insights on why building the site is significant and how essential it is for churches to engage in the World Wide Web and embrace technology.
CT: How did the idea for Connektin.com come about?
JA: I've got a number of reasons why I decided to embark on this mammoth project. My major inspiration came from when I went to university and couldn't find a suitable church to connect with other young people. I was looking for a specific type of church and didn't know how or where to find it. Furthermore, I discovered it was a problem shared by many of my friends and fellow students. The second reason was that I noticed a lot of people at university were making excuses not to go to church. For example, people would wake up on Sunday morning and say 'I'll just watch church on TV' or 'I'll just go next week'. Church and fellowship are important for growth. I knew I had to do something about it.
CT: What did you find was the most common reason students were not going to church?
JA: At that point many students were going to church because they were brought up in the church environment, not because they knew or acknowledged the true benefits associated with attending church. When you are pushed away from your tradition or your parents, you now have to go out there and develop your faith yourself. As a lot of us were not as grounded in our faith and did not know the reason why we were going to church in the first place, there was no impetus for us to say 'Ok, I'm going to get up on Sunday and go to church'.
CT: The website is an online directory for young adults to find churches within their area. The number of young people in church has dwindled in recent years. Would you say that Connektin.com can act as a stepping stone in resolving this?
JA: I definitely believe it is a project that can do that and has begun to do so. Connektin.com has come about at the right time. We are seeing young people spending hours on their computers or iPads, spending hours on Facebook and Twitter yet not going to church. My main question to churches is that if you know that this is where these young people are, why won't you try and connect with them where they are? Our job as a church is to go to where the people are. Young people are living on technology and in order to be effective in our communities we actually have to tap into that in order to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. Connektin.com can play a part as a company aiming to re-introduce people to the church and see churches and its leaders in a different light.
CT: What attracts you to a church?
JA: I get the chance to go visit so many different churches across the UK and I've realised I'm not a very big fan of massive churches. I like a place where you can ask questions. After the worship I want to hear the word of God and if I don't understand something I want to be able to put my hand up and say 'hi Pastor, but I need to ask a question', as opposed to going home, and searching for my answers on a forum.
CT: So you're not too keen on emailing the pastor your questions? You prefer face to face contact?
JA: I love face-to-face contact, but more importantly I love visual or audio communication. I believe a lot of questions can be answered by sitting in front of someone or talking to them through a computer screen. Words and burning questions do not always flow by email or text. One thing that we want our site to be is a connecting point for people to be able to see that the church is not boring and old, but rather fun and approachable. This is the reason why we encourage people to have a video on the site. Viewers can get a good impression of who you are as a pastor by watching a video about the type of service you provide, the way you speak and the way you engage your audience. That gives people a sense of the type of church it is.
CT: Did your inspiration for the website stem from any social networking sites?
JA: Yes, absolutely! LinkedIn was my greatest inspiration. It allows job seekers to connect with professionals and companies. We allow church seekers to find and connect with church leaders and their churches. One aspect of the site is a platform just for community leaders and pastors. The whole idea behind Connektin.com was to make pastors and leaders more accessible. I want people to know who plays a part in the community and who is able to help them with whatever issues they have.
CT: How do you intend to raise awareness of the site?
JA: One thing we plan to do is to partner with Christian unions and Christian groups. That would be our main aim in order to target young adults. Churches should also encourage people moving away from home or going to university to familiarise themselves with the website.
CT: What setbacks did you face in getting the site up and running?
JA: The web developer was not Christian and so did not understand the vision in its entirety. The site was supposed to be ready in July but was completed in September. Another setback was communicating and getting in contact with pastors. Seriously, getting in touch with pastors is very difficult. My job with this website is to source information so that church seekers can find that information on Connektin.com. But if I am finding it difficult to reach pastors and leaders and I know the information is there, do you think someone else is going to search as much as I did just to ask you a question about your church? Not at all. They would just give up and move on. If you are a community leader or a pastor you are already in the limelight so you might as well get on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, make sure you can be found the internet. Or just join Connektin.com because we will help you do that.
CT: How did you conduct your market research?
JA: A lot of it was through interacting with people who are not going to church and asking why. Many had previously attended a church, but found it incrediblly traditional and stuffy. My belief is that many churches are not keeping up with the times. For example, my family church only invested in a website two years ago and they have been established for 10 years.
CT: Would you say the future of the church is in jeopardy unless they yield to social media?
JA: I believe so. Look at Holy Trinity Brompton and Hillsong, their social media presence is strong and they are aware of how to utilise it. An aspect of Christianity is to create a following of people who believe in Christ and will go forward and tell other people all about Him. I believe worldly principles can be used to get people through the door and spiritual principles should be used to retain people and edify them. Building a website that helps people connect to churches can be perceived as a worldly principle because it was founded on the concept of Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. I don't think God is going to be angry that we are utilising gifts that he has given other people who don't know Christ to help build and develop the church.