We interviewed the team behind the award-winning ‘Free Bible Images‘ website.
Can you give us a bit of background into the project? When was it established, what’s its purpose?
The project arose with a group of six Christian men from three churches in Farnham, Surrey, meeting informally as they were all in a situation of being forced into taking early retirement, having been made redundant or facing health issues that prevented them from working. All had experience in teaching/training/communication in the church and expressed how difficult it was to find suitable images via web searches for teaching passages of Scripture. So we did some research to confirm this was the case then decided the Lord had put us together to address the problem and we could use the unexpected time we had to kick-start the project.
What’s the good news story (aka feedback received) that’s made you feel that it’s all worthwhile?
FreeBibleimages is just a space on a server and a set of values. Those values are that the images should be free and that we will not make this site commercial in any way. Furthermore we will rely on unpaid volunteers to get involved in the project and all money raised will go into creating or sourcing new images rather than creating a traditional infrastructure organisation model. The best bit of feedback we have had this week is from someone using the site and experiencing these values then commenting, ‘This is a web site as just as Jesus would have wanted it.’ We were most thrilled to find a group using in India using a generator to power a computer to project images on a large screen made of bedsheets. After a week of teaching in Hindu rural villages they put a P.S. in their email stating, ‘Twenty four people became Christians and we are now helping them to build a church.’
We’d love to know a bit about the people behind the site, how has your journey put you where you are now?
God put together a great team. John, our chairman, has a top management background with IBM. Raphe, our accountant, has a background in city finance. Alan is a database expert from the oil industry. Paul is an experienced I.T. trainer working with designers in magazine and newspaper workflows. Tony, who died a year into this project from terminal cancer, was a former bank manager. Gary is a marketing expert now working for Sales Brain. David runs a web design company. Tim and his wife Ally have joined us as photographers who specialise in digital retouching. Gill, a lecturer in English, is an experienced Editor.
Our journey has been through adversity with some of the team facing major health problems or financial challenges but this has increased our dependence on God.
What is radical about this project is the way that people with good business experience have completely cut away from a commercial model to attempt a unique new online ministry model.
It’s free with no catches to ensure a simple one-click download for immediate use.
We do not intend to carry advertising or sell any products to ensure Christians around the world can link to the site without compromising their own.
We do not make it mandatory for anyone to leave their personal details to download files.
We deliver images and a Bible reference (to ensure we do not introduce a theological or denominational bias).
It adds up to a poor business model. We therefore work on what we call a goodwill and God-will model, as much dependent on faith as anything else. It is this goodwill that resulted in FreeBibleimages being voted as the People’s Choice. Our story is that of a bunch of losers creating a network of winners.
Do you think it’s important for Christians to be online, and why so?
We have made so many ‘invisible friends’ around the world we have implemented an online prayer team. We are in the process of thinking through how to communicate online with so many users using our Bible story images in so many different contexts. Many of these feel quite isolated as Christians in the regions of the world in which they live.
What digital media tools do you use to tell your (project) story?
We use Adobe Photoshop and InDesign software. We need to understand Facebook and other key social media so we have a strategy that will work over the long-term. We have called in the help of young people to help us get a better understanding of this. I am researching social media so we get a better better insight on how to use it for our purposes. We have a lot to learn. Help!
How did you feel to be nominated for one of the Christian New Media Awards?
To win the award was absolutely great in the sense it recognised the work of a team who have had to overcome some severe personal adversity to give to this project. The big bonus however, for a team who refuse to have a marketing budget, was the additional traffic driven to the site with a 31% increase in Bible story image downloads since the nominations. Thank you!
We’re working on the @bigbible project: How do you think the (stories in the) Bible can inform what we do online, in whatever sense?
I think stories in the Bible contribute to understanding set of Christian values that we should try and implement in all we do.
And finally, where do you see things going over the next few years – either for your project, or attempt some digital futurecasting!
A difficult one for a team with little funding but a big vision. We have set an objective to get sequential sets of images that step people visually through all key passages of the Bible over the next ten years. We will need to do this using an open source model where illustrators, artists and digital artworkers can contribute from around the world to this aim. They will do so to a Creative Commons licence of their choosing to ensure delivery of the images is free. This will raise some ethical issues around doing this without compromising those delivering images or publications through a commercial model.
We see an explosion of multi-channel publishing opportunities for individual Christians and groups particularly to tablet devices and our images playing a vital part in aiding that creativity.
There are lots of issues we are facing that we need to address on a philosophical and ethical level to ensure we progress this in a way that is honoring to God. We would be very happy to discuss some of these with the Big Bible project team as we really do want to get the right foundations in place. Such issues should be part of a wider discussion in the Christian community.
Free delivery does not necessarily mean that creators are denied a means of income but maybe other forms of funding are needed to enable them to share their talents with a much larger worldwide audience.
What we do know is that there is a huge demand out there for images that try to recreate a Bible scene as if someone had been there at the time with a paintbrush or camera. The commercial model of Christian resource distribution unfairly focuses on the first world and particularly on those who speak English. We want to give immediate access to our resources to those in poorer regions of the world and those areas where Christians are persecuted.
However, the more we find out about working online the more we discover how much we need to learn – help!