Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture


HeavenUp founder Chris Burkhart talks about launching his Christian alternative to Facebook

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

The Un-Facebook? What 7 Up (aka the Un-cola) is to Coke, HeavenUp is to Facebook.  That is an alternative with a unique flavor all its own.  Whereas Facebook is aimed at the amorphous masses and quite literally seeks to be all things to all people, HeavenUp is positioned to be the choice of the more discerning user who wants his or her social networking experience to reflect, serve and promote a specific set of ideals — in this case the Christian ideals of serving the larger community via social action and positive communication.  The site is set up to help churches, artists (particularly musicians) and individual Christians all over the world to share their stories, causes and reflections.

In a previous post, I spoke with HeavenUp Chief Media Officer Will Landers and Chief Operating Officer Andy Huddleston. Now, here are some highlights from my recent conversation with Chris Burkhart, the visionary creator of HeavenUp.

JWK: You’re the son of minister, correct?

CHRIS BURKHART: I am.

JWK: Did that lead you on the path to starting HeavenUp.com?

CB: My father was a United Methodist minister. Thankfully, both my parents are still living which is a blessing. Because I was around ministry my whole life…I’ve always had the heart for ministry but my life didn’t go in that direction. I ended up going to business school and graduating with a B.S. in business administration. But I’ve always had this nagging or this call on my heart to be in ministry.

JWK: Putting the two together could be a great thing.

CB: Yeah…I’m a financial adviser. I was able to get in the place financially where I could pull something like this off. So, I didn’t know what I was doing at first but after about a year I was able to put it all together and figure it all out and get the right people on the team.

JWK: I’ve done some research. Am I right that your original name for this was MyBLAB.com?

CB: It was until about a little over a year ago when we changed the name.

JWK: HeavenUp is a better name, I think. What did MyBLAB mean and how did the name change come about?

CB: The BLAB part was for Be Linked As Believers. Because, basically, it’s a social network we used the term BLAB and it was a domain name that was available…but, you know, it just had too much of a negative (association) so we decided to change the name…I looked at literally thousands and thousands of different names and HeavenUp came up and I actually paid a premium for it.

JWK: Was it used already?

CB: It was for sale.

JWK: How did the idea of a Christian social network gel in your mind?

CB: My idea was that Christianity and Christian ministry have been around for thousands of years but…there have never been the tools…to unite the Body of Christ worldwide before. That’s what the internet has allowed us to have the potential to do — is to unite the Christian community worldwide as one Body of Christ without any regional barriers. So, you know, everyone’s on the web around the world.

JWK: I think this web thing’s gonna catch on.

CB: (laughs) Exactly! Yeah, I think so too!…It’s a platform and it allows ministries and organizations and individual Christians to join and literally become one Body of Christ on this platform.

JWK: In my previous conversation with Andy and Will, they were talking about the site as being a means to almost rebrand Christianity for new generation.

CB:  Well, yeah, because most of the younger Christians don’t go to church and it’s just becoming more and more of a trend where they don’t see the actual physical church building as a place where…they go to worship. They go and meet at friends’ houses and in smaller groups and that’s kind of more the trend.  And so obviously, especially youth, but everyone now is going online and becoming part of a community online. Well, why not be part of a positive community instead of just a community that just has all kind of world influences on it?

JWK: Do you see this site being used to impact the culture in terms of promoting content, or even creating content, that runs counter to some of the messages being put out by the secular media via movies, TV, music and videos?

CB: Absolutely! We have all of those things you mentioned in the pipeline. We’re actually developing numerous strategic partnerships night now. And that’s one thing that’s something about the Christian community. Everyone’s willing to help each other! We see a lot of real win-win situations with some of the big ministries that are out there…HeavenUp is kind of a content aggregator as well as a content promoter and individuals can put their own content on it — like YouTube. We have a full video section, a full music section where bands can join and put music on and, you know, record labels can join and put their artists on…We want people to have fun on the site. There’s not a lot of things out there for Christian youth that are fun and exciting.

JWK: The site’s been undergoing something of a redesign. Can you tell me about that?

CB: Yeah, we are. We actually redesigned it a year ago when we changed the name and we’re doing another facelift now…We’re using gold because Heaven’s paved with gold (and more kind of  cloud type thing to represent Heaven and…our new logo…is actually sort of diamond shape that points up…toward heaven and then there’s still a little gap in the (diamond) to show that people can get inside Heaven. It’s not closed…So, there’s a lot of representational (design) in our facelift.

JWK: Where do you see the site being, say, five years from now?

CB: Well, we have pretty high expectations because things are happening really fast right now. You know, the Christian community is a huge, huge demographic. I mean it’s a huge niche market. I think there’s something like from sixty to seventy percent of that people in the United States…that consider themselves to be Christians.

(Note: 73% of Americans reportedly self-identify as Christians.)

JWK: That’s hardly a niche market. It’s more like a mainstream market. It’s just that the powers that be don’t seem to realize it.

CB: Exactly! Look at the films…Courageous, Facing the Giants, Soul Surfer. Those movies have all done extremely well and they have a Christian message.  We want to do that but we want also to promote (and) further God’s Kingdom…We are called to help the Christian community to further the Kingdom as a team. We want to unite together as a team with all the ministries and Christian organizations that are out there and that’s what this platform allows the Christian community to do — is to truly unite and work together as one big Body of Christ.

JWK: And, as Andy and Will said, the site can help organize Christians involved in charitable works of compassion around the world.

CB: Yeah, absolutely. We have, like I said, a lot of things in the pipeline. One of them is to do a weekly support of a ministry or a monthly support of a ministry…to help the starving and the hungry and the orphan and all the people that are really suffering. I think we’re gonna call up it the HeavenUp Cause of the Week or Cause of the Month. That’s in the pipeline and we’re still developing that but that’s gonna be one of our next big projects.

JWK: You mean to share your profits with organizations that help the poor?

CB: Absolutely. I mean we’re not profitable right now. As a matter of fact we haven’t really started monetizing the site at all. We just want to get users on there using it and seeing that we do have a cause and a mission and we want everyone to be a part of that. We want the community to catch our vision for HeavenUp and understand that we are truly Kingdom minded, not worldly minded.

JWK: I understand you’re developing a radio program in conjunction with the site.

CB: Yeah, we have a thing called The HeavenUp Countdown and what we’re going to do is we’re gonna promote upcoming Christian musicians and bands.

JWK: Kinda like a Christian version of American Top 40.

CB: Exactly…So, what it will do is it’ll give exposure a lot of upcoming bands that don’t normally have that kind of exposure — not only on HeavenUp but also on radio play….I think HeavenUp Countdown is gonna be great for new musicians and also it’ll be great for the radio stations and even TV stations…It’s gonna be really relevant and current to today’s market, the younger Christian generation.

JWK: How do you feel Christianity is doing in the overall media culture — particularly with regard to connecting with the younger generation? A lot of people look around and see it losing ground.

CB: I think that’s why HeavenUp is so important because we’re in the world but not of the world. With other networking sites, there’s a lot of stuff on there that’s just not healthy. The corporate culture for HeavenUp is a healthy, exciting, relevant and clean culture. So, that’s what we want to promote with the youth. There’s a huge spiritual warfare going on for the youth…The young are gonna be the next generation that is gonna lead our nation and our world. And I think we’re seeing God get taken out of everything.

JWK:  So HeavenUp is maybe kind of an end run around the mainstream media?

CB: You know, it’s definitely a place that promotes the Kingdom of God, Christ, all of the principles that Christ taught us. We’re in a battle for the souls (of our youth). We have a heart for the youth, and not just for the youth, for all people. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea — that this is just a site for youth. It’s not. It’s a site for all Christians…I think that we all can join together for the cause of saving the souls of everyone but also we can all contribute to helping save the youth of the nation. And, it’s so important because the youth are getting fed so much garbage right now. We have our work cut out for us. We have a big task and we’re taking it on. I think that we can counter balance all of the negativity and all the lies that are being told to our youth.

JWK: Do you have any plans to develop original HeavenUp content, such as films and TV series?

CB: We do. That’s the great thing is we have so many contacts in so many areas. We have contacts within…Christian radio, Christian TV and Christian films. So, we have plans to start creating content in all of the entertainment industry or entertainment segments, I should say. So, we have all that in the pipeline. It’s just a matter of getting the funds together to do everything we want to do to have all of our plans come into fruition. We have a lot of great plans (and) a lot of our stuff already is implemented on the site, tons of features. I mean the site is very feature rich already. But we do want to start adding our own original content. And the first original content that we’re gonna focus on is The HeavenUp Countdown. From there, we’re gonna get more and more into radio and TV and film making. So, we have big plans, big goals and with God’s help there will be a way. It will happen. We have no doubts.

JWK: How can people best utilize HeavenUp for their own causes?

CB: There’s numerous user types. You can join as a church, you can join as an individual, a radio station, TV station, speaker, author. I mean there’s lots of different ways to label your profile that will allow people to search for those user types. Bands kind of have their own (protocol) because it’s a little bit different. They’re able to add music. But I would just encourage everyone to start joining and adding their content because that helps (build) the ministry.

Note: To join the HeavenUp community, go to HeavenUp.com.

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



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