Business development director, Forbidden Technologies

Church groups are starting to use the latest video technology to connect with their communities of faith over the Internet.

Bob Adams, president of Christian Growth Solutions, a Toronto-based system integrator, says he is helping churches use the technology to reach their flocks – and enter the 21st century.

We are probably the first to offer software-as-service (SAS) for video post-production.Greg Hirst>Text

Adams was inspired to start up the company about a year ago when he read a study showing the Web has surpassed newspapers as a source of local information. Another compelling statistic is that about 38 per cent of younger people have sought spiritual advice on the Web. If mainstream churches want to communicate in a modern society, he says, they must use the Web effectively.

“Church folks are worried about losing membership. Their populations are aging, but they’re not telling younger folks what they’re doing.”

“We’re helping them with their outreach programs,” says Adams, who has been working mostly with Christian denominations in the Greater Toronto Area, but plans to expand Canada-wide in 2006. Church leaders are enthusiastic about the vision he’s presented, he says. “The demand has been extraordinary.”

The fundamental requirement is the same as in the business world, he says.

“Businesses have been setting up intranets for years to communicate with their people.” Using the Web is a way for churches to create communities that can be larger than any individual part and to extend their reach. Many of his clients are looking to help sister churches in impoverished countries, he says. “A lot of new things are now possible.”

Fax machines are about the most complicated technology most of his clients have used, but this is actually a positive, he says – it allows them to leapfrog in-between technology and go directly to the latest.

Adams provides everything they need to approach the Web and ensure a quality broadcast is created: cameras, computers, high-speed lines, Web casting software and training. “We’re taking churches that are mostly zero at this point in terms of technology and bringing them into the 21st century.”

This allows churches to extend their reach in a multitude of ways. In one instance, says Adams, he helped set up a facilitated distance learning seminar with a popular speaker based in New York.

Congregations in both Toronto and St. Johns were able to participate interactively in the session, complete with a question and answer period at the end. In another instance, a church that offered Bible study sessions had trouble attracting attendees. “But once we put that on the Web and made it available via e-mail, twenty new people joined the group,” says Adams.

Creating a weekly Web cast of a minister’s sermons is also helpful in reaching people who may not be physically able to attend services, for example, seniors, invalids or people who are out of town.

Adams uses Web casting technology provided by London, U.K.-based Forbidden Technologies plc, which provides a range of video compression, streaming and Web editing products. “Forbidden’s technology is very intuitive and easy,” he says.

Churches can take a Web cast and break it down into chapters or component parts and post them separately, so casual viewers can select the elements they want, for example, the sermon, choir, children’s corner and so on. And doing this type of video editing and manipulation doesn’t require an IT degree, says Adams.

On the contrary, training only requires a few hours even though church folk tend not to be technically adept. Forbidden’s products are revolutionary, says Adams, because they are Linux-based. Such products typically appeal to tech-savvy users, he says, whereas Microsoft products tend to be more “touchy-feely.” “But Forbidden’s done a good job of hiding the complexity underneath its products,” he says. “I don’t like to get religious about technology – what is best for the client is important.”

Forbidden offers another unique feature that will appeal to customers who dislike complexity.

“We are probably the first to offer software-as-service (SAS) for video post-production,” says Greg Hirst, business development director at Forbidden. Users don’t need to install Forbidden’s software on their own computers, he says, or even have the video material they want to edit on the same computer.

Instead, the software is provided through a central serving location via the Internet, where customers’ video material is also stored. “This allows several people to work on a project at the same time, and allows users to access material from another computer, for example, from an Internet caf