Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Facebook for Christians. Not that Christians can’t go on Facebook too, mind you, but 29-year-old Will Landers, the Chief Media Officer of HeavenUp.com, says the social network he represents has a higher calling. Landers was recently recruited to the HeavenUp team by its Chief Operating Officer Andy Huddleston who introduced him to the site’s visionary founder and CEO Chris Burkhart. His mission: ensure that the current redesign of the site (expected to be completed in a month or so) really connects with a new generation of socially-aware Christians to whom faith is a lot more than church on Sundays.

I recently spoke with Landers about what he hopes to accomplish with HeavenUP.com. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

JWK: How did the HeavenUp concept come to be?

WILL LANDERS: There are just so many social platforms out there but this is a way to build a network of Christian people of faith to come together (and) create kind of a social media community…We just saw that there’s a lot of causes that people have a heart to do…Frankly, we can’t do all this stuff on our own.

JWK: You can be Christian and go on Facebook and do the same thing. How does this differ from that?

WL: Facebook is a social network and platform. HeavenUp.com will connect the causes with the people of faith. So, we’ll be very target specific…Facebook’s very broad and general.

JWK: Where do you see this going?

WL: I see it as a platform to do initiatives, to do outreach, to do mission trips, to (work for) the Body of Christ and have people know that it’s a safe…go-to spot for them to inspire other Christians, inspire other people to kinda get their message out thereThe word “preach” means to communicate. So, social networking kind of inspired me because it’s a way to communicate the Gospel but you can do it innovatively. You can do it with new technology and so, really, you think you have an audience or a church of 50 people or 500 people or 5000 people but on the web you can be reaching thousands, hundreds of thousands of people.  And so you want that message that’s out there (to be) something that’s giving, that’s positive, that’s going to help individual people and families. I got compelled and I just got a vision for it, (for) this platform being something that could reach the world in a new way…My (mission) has been to kinda capture a younger audience, a younger demographic, to build a team of young people…so that we can create features and concepts that you can’t get anywhere else.

JWK: Do you see original entertainment programming being distributed on the site?

WL: Yeah, I see this could be the platform because there’s so many filmmakers, so many people coming out with innovative ideas…I want for us to be a marketing arm within other media outlets that are out there. We can create…a lot of awareness out there for projects…I see HeavenUp being a platform that helps with creativity and innovation.

JWK: Do you see any political potential to mobilize HeavenUp users to act as a political voice?

WL:  I sure hope so. I mean I would love to create a culture of people that want to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.  I pray that we could really mobilize young people to have a voice and not be afraid to speak their heart and glorify God. I think if we do this properly, that this could be kind of the glue that (brings together) different ministries, different churches, different communities. That’s kind of what inspires me. When you do it over the web and globally, you just complement people’s projects.

JWK: Tell me about the current redesign of the site. What have you got planned?

WL: You’re just gonna see it a lot cleaner. It’ll look simpler. All the features and different concepts are gonna…add to the aesthetic look of it…I’ve got a really great designer…She’s really added a lot to the team. And we’re also getting volunteers and young people that want to come and help — that have a heart to do something that’s a little bit out of the box.

JWK: So, you think the young audience is still there for something like HeavenUp? It seems to me that the secular media that these kids have grown up with, shows like Glee, don’t always present a particularly positive view of Christianity.

WL: They want to be part of a humanitarian cause that…will compel them to do good. They’re Christians but they want to display it without (necessarily) saying it. They want to show the Heart of God then they can divulge that they’re Christians. But it’s not that blatant.

JWK: What’s that old saying “Preach the Gospel always and, if necessary, use words”?

(At this point of our conversation HeavenUp COO Andy Huddleston weighed in.)

ANDY HUDDLESTON: Right — use words if necessary — but live it! And I agree with that. I’m sure there is a strong demographic of young people that says “I’m a Christian, I’m a believer, I’m not ashamed. And I think there’s a group that has probably been influenced by secular influences. They’d probably be not that quick to say they’re Christian but the whole aspect of this movement (against) injustice is based upon a Judeo-Christian faith (ethic) and so, therefore, they might not even understand why they feel there is injustice and why they need to do something about it.  I think part of it is that it’s their heritage.  And I think that when they really boil down to “I’m standing for truth” and you ask “What is truth?” Well, truth goes back to…The Bible.

WL: The next wave of business, John, will be social commerce. It’s gonna be companies like TOMS Shoes — that, you know, you buy a pair of shoes and they give a pair of shoes to someone in need.

JWK: So, when you buy something you are also donating to a larger cause.

WL: Yeah, it’s gonna be social commerce. What I hope we can do is create that kind of community where you can see their buying, their spending, the products that they put their name on, if you will. It’s gonna be like — well, why do you purchase that? It’s because it’s a good cause or because…it takes care of local villages or communities.  When you look at the future of what Pinterest is doing…these social companies…what it’s doing is creating marketing and analytics where you see consumer spending. You see what they’re putting their time into and you see what your friends are interested in. And, so, if you create that community of believers, you see what they’re putting their time and effort into, it really creates analytics that you kinda go to and go “Here’s the pattern. This is what is current in the market.”

JWK: So, you kind of use the combined forces of capitalism and the media to help other people.

WL: We’ve kind of created the buying-selling-trading kind of world of finance…We should want to spend intentionally so we know where (our money) is going — we know the source, we know the companies, the transparency of our products and our spending. So, that’s what I kinda foresee for HeavenUp. If we do it properly, we can create a community of people that are very intentional with their purchases, their relationships and what they put their hands to.

JWK: So, you’re updating the Christian brand for the 21st century.

WL: Right…I would love (people to say) “Christians are the most loving, caring, thoughtful (and forgiving) people on the planet…and look at what they’re spending their time on, their finances on and the relationships that they’re developing. So, it’s something that I feel is definitely needed and I’m asking God to put his hands in this project.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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