‘Godcasts’ Booming Across the Internet
Posted on Sun, May. 22, 2005
by Ellen Lee
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Behold the Godcaster, spreading religion and spirituality, one iPod at a time.
Godcasts, religious and spiritually themed podcasts, have been fruitful and multiplied, becoming the most popular use of the new online technology since it debuted less than a year ago. Searches for “Godcast” and “pod preachers” increased 355 percent in the past month, according to the Internet search engine Lycos, on par with searches for the super model Naomi Campbell and the television show “ER.”
In a podcast, radio-style broadcasts are posted on the Internet and can be downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player so that the listener can tune in anywhere, anytime. What makes podcasting so novel is that fans can also subscribe to their favorite podcasts, programming their digital music player to download the latest show automatically.
The most ardent supporters believe that podcasting could dramatically change the future of radio: podcasting, unlike traditional radio, lets the audience listen to select programs whenever they want. In addition, any person with the right equipment can become a podcaster, just as the Web lets anyone become a publisher.
Godcasts range from a daily dose of Scripture to a weekly dose of the Bible translated into Klingon, the language spoken by certain characters in “Star Trek.” The vast majority are Christian-based, but they also include New Age, Jewish and Buddhist podcasts.
“It’s one of those things that is really bubbling and really close to exploding,” said Dean Tsouvalas, who tracks popular searches for Lycos. “Right now, we’re on the cusp of finding the Billy Graham of podcasts. He or she is right there ready to go and it’s going to bring it to the next level.”
Tim Hohm, a senior pastor at Central Assembly in El Sobrante, has seen his Godcast, a 15-minute twice-weekly segment called “RevTim, ” jump from about 100 hits a day to nearly 2,000 since he launched it on Christmas Day. It currently ranks among the top 50 podcasts tracked by Podcast Alley, a resource and directory of podcasts. Many of Hohm’s listeners are not members of his congregation; they’re strangers from as far as England, Australia, Vietnam, Japan and China.
“I’m amazed at it,” Hohm said. “It’s not just my mom out there listening. I feel like people are out there benefiting, hopefully. That’s why I keep doing it.”
Hohm stumbled onto podcasting just before Christmas time and decided to broadcast a brief message on Christmas Day. Hooked, he asked his son’s friend to mix an introduction for his show, a trendy, urban sounding track that now begins and closes each podcast.
“I didn’t want people to think they’re tuning into a traditional church service with organs and choirs,” Hohm said. “I wanted it to be more cutting-edge, to appeal to the general public.”
Hohm squeezes podcasting in between his daily duties with the church, spending about an hour and a half to produce each 15-minute segment.
The RevTim show addresses such issues as “six characteristics of a satisfying marriage,” “team leadership tips” and the “cycles of life.” He follows the same format for each show: introducing the topic, discussing it, taking a break and playing a Christian pop or rock song — a few of them have been recordings by his son’s now-defunct band — and finally closing with his conclusions.
In designing his podcast, Hohm made the decision not to preach to the choir. “I’m throwing a broader net out there,” he said. “Hopefully they would be curious about exploring the faith in the Lord Jesus. That would be wonderful. That is the ultimate goal.”
That religion and spirituality have found a niche in this new technology should not be a surprise. Nearly two thirds of the nation’s 128 million Internet users have used the Internet for faith-related matters, according to study last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Churches have historically taken advantage of new technology, from radio evangelism to televised sermons to cable television channels such as God TV. Most recently, they have embraced the Internet, forming the Internet Evangelism Coalition.
“A lot of churches have always embraced new technology to get out their message,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C. “It’s not surprising that they’re the quickest to the starting gate with podcasting.”
Craig Patchett, a 43-year-old software designer in San Diego, coined the term “Godcast” one night and immediately scooped up the domain name. The Godcast Network includes more than a dozen Christian Godcasts, including RevTim, the Klingon Word and three shows produced by Patchett, a born-again Christian who dabbled in radio in college. His eight-year-old daughter Rachel also contributes a weekly show called “Rachel’s Choice,” featuring a Christian pop song and Bible verse of her choosing. In March, the Web site surpassed 1 million hits with an audience spanning more than 120 countries.
Not all Godcasts follow a traditional Christian path. Ryan King, a computer science graduate student at the University of San Francisco, and Dan Tripp, a quality engineer for a San Francisco software company, took a decidedly different angle when they created their podcast “Outchurched” a few months ago.
Both originally were devout Christians: King, a Southern Baptist from Kansas City, Mo., double majored in computer science and ministry in college, and Tripp attended a Bible college in Southern California, then led youth groups at a church in San Francisco. Both in recent years became disillusioned with their churches.
The duo met for the first time at a podcasting meeting in San Francisco in late January and decided to create a show around their mixed feelings for the church. Their podcast consists of the two holding a 40-minute, sometimes rambling conversation.
“Our only motive is to … be open and discuss things,” King said. “We’re not trying to convert people.”
Added Tripp: “We’d like to convert them to the gospel of thinking critically.”
The podcasts have become a therapeutic tool for them, as they explore how they became involved with their church and why they ultimately left it.
“I still believe in God, but I’m in a phase of deconstruction,” King said. “I need to take it apart before I can put it back together. I believe in God and I still want to model my life after Jesus, but what that means and how I don’t know.”
Michael McAlister, a psychology teacher at his alma matter Acalanes High School, grew up Presbyterian, but found himself pulled to Buddhism as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.
Prodded by his technology-minded brothers, McAlister now produces two podcasts on his approach to spirituality, “Commuter Zen,” a short question-and-answer based on questions he receives, and “Dharma Talks,” recordings of the meetings he holds with the “sangha,” or group, that he leads in Walnut Creek and Lafayette.
He examines finding peace through meditation, influenced by Buddhism, Christianity and other religions. His podcasts are “about spreading this nondogmatic approach to apprehending the spirit,” McAlister said. “I don’t see this work as I’m trying to convert anybody. It’s not to save anybody. It’s to offer insights that have been discussed for thousands of years.”
With little promotion, his podcast has grown from about 10 hits a day to 700 to 1,000 from listeners as far away as Nigeria, Brazil and Malaysia.
“I think we’ve very hungry for meaning in today’s world,” he said. “Part of that meaning is peace, so the natural question is ‘how can we find peace?’ … It’s so difficult to find peace, but it’s right here.”
Ellen Lee covers technology and telecommunications. She can be reached at 925-952-2614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Podcasting News www.podcastingnews.com
Podcast Alley www.podcastalley.com
Commuter Zen www.infinitesmile.org
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