Changing demographics of evangelicals in Ecuador

Photo credit to ReachBeyond

(Photo credit: ReachBeyond)

Ecuador (Reach Beyond) — Upbeat music and thought-provoking comments by youthful voices in Spanish are some of the attention-catching sounds you’ll hear on ControlZ.fm, a digital outreach of Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global) in Quito, Ecuador, also home of the world’s pioneer missionary radio station, dating back to 1931.

New energy, new enthusiasm, new communication tools, new expressions, and labels in a new culture are some of the realities facing the next generation of Christ-following media specialists at Control Z, a media platform launched nearly three years ago that has embraced a new era of broadcasting amid a fast-changing culture.

Using the word new implies change, and that’s exactly what’s happening at Control Z. Using the slogan, “Undo your boredom,” the Web site is named after the popular computer keyboard function known as CTRL+Z. It’s a feature that will “undo” what has been created on the computer, allowing operators to take a step back and rethink what they’re doing.

Bryan Rubio, a member of the Control Z design team, said the Webpage features an online radio link which is a 24/7 music format. “The music we play on this radio link is both Christian and non-Christian,” he said, clarifying that any secular music on the site is carefully screened, not containing any foul language or blatantly sexual or anti-Christian themes.

“Video is just one of the methods we use to try to reach the Latin-American youth,” he added. “Our Internet page also has articles that cover everything from interesting and curious news, to life-application devotionals.”

The Control Z team also maintains both a Facebook page and a Twitter account to promote content on the site.

“Something that cannot be tracked online are our community outreaches,” Rubio continued. “We try to promote our brand at events such as concerts at schools or other venues where we gather young people and present a topic relevant to their lives. This serves as a direct ministry and as a hook to attract more users to our page.”

Although the numbers were off to a slow start, efforts to promote content on Control Z have seen steady growth. “At each of our events, we reach between 200 and 500 young people,” Rubio recounted. “Our Webpage reaches about 3,000 users per month. The number of those who watch our videos varies–from a few hundred to more than 1,200 views.”

Two months ago, ControlZ.fm reworked its Web page, placing the content more strategically to boost viewership. The changes worked. Google Analytics for November 2014 showed that visitors spent an average of 1½ minutes on the site, up from just 36 seconds per visit to the site two months earlier.

“Also, the majority of visitors are there for the first time. One major goal is now to increase repeat visits to build community and trust,” explained Curt Cole, vice president of Global Ministries.

Team member Jimmy Sarango said the digital outreach has sparked numerous comments from young listeners, many looking for advice or to express gratefulness for the programs.

One listener who described himself as a “revolutionary for peace, crazy for Jesus” thanked the programmers for “proclaiming Christ in a super cool way. Keep moving forward.”

Another listener expressed concern for a friend who faces many family issues and tries to cope with the stress by cutting her wrists and arms. “How can I help my friend to stop doing that?” he asked.

A young listener in Barranquilla, Colombia, described the conference that staff members held in his city recently as a “great blessing…. I will keep praying without ceasing for your ministry.”

Glen Volkhardt, a former missionary with HCJB Global (now Reach Beyond) who led the mission’s Broadcasting Division in the early 1990s, said the contemporary sound at Control Z reflects the changing demographics in the fast-growing evangelical church in Ecuador.

“I remember the discussions about the ‘young, urban, secular’ masses of Latin America,” he explained. “This came out of research [at the time]. We were not surprised by the ‘young’ part. It would have been hard to live in Latin America and miss that. But we were surprised to find research saying that the region was 73% urbanized, and we were surprised that ‘secular’ characterized Latin America more than ‘Catholic.’”

Research conducted in the late 1980s showing the rapid growth of the evangelical church in Ecuador led to changes in the broadcasting content.

“When we found ‘young, urban, secular’ to be a handy shorthand for describing Latin American demographics of the early 1990s, it became the target profile of the ALAS satellite network that we carried on HCJB-FM,” said Volkhardt, now serving as CEO of Paraclete Mission Group.

Surveys taken at the time showed that typical listeners to the station were from an older generation, explained Anabella Cabezas, the ministry’s media director in Ecuador. “The average listener was a woman in her 60s. In response, our leadership decided to make changes to attract a younger audience.”

From the frontier, pioneering efforts of international shortwave radio, format changes began to attract a much younger audience. HCJB-FM was reprogrammed, moving from a classical music format aimed at the upper class to one that included more contemporary Christian music [with a broader listenership]. As a result, the average age of listeners dropped to 35.

Then, in an effort to reach an even younger audience more effectively, the mission launched ControlZ.fm in 2012. The ministry began recruiting younger, dynamic, Latin America staff such as Rubio, Sarango, Fernando Arroyo, and Fernanda Quezada, along with missionary Matt Parker.

Volkhardt concluded that he has “every confidence that the Lord is directing current leadership in the changes they are making, and that they will reach the new audiences they are trying to influence for our Lord.”