Healthy Church Growth – Episode 6 – Stephen Brewster

Ministry is not closed.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way every church is operating across the country. Losing the ability to gather is something that no one would have anticipated two months ago, and now we’re all struggling to comprehend empty buildings on Easter Sunday. Creative thought leader, Stephen Brewster, gives practical advice about the unique opportunities at this moment to challenge your creativity, grow your church, and share the Gospel.

>> Episode 7: Eric Williams


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:                

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(music)

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. My name is Mike Mage. I’m one of the hosts here where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. I just want to take a second before we get going here and say thank you. Thank you so much for being so engaged with our first few podcast episodes so far. Make sure to continue to subscribe, continue to share, continue to write. Continue to share this even with your creative teams at your church or your leadership teams and just get some conversations going with them, but also with us. We would love to hear how you are interacting, how you are engaging with this material. It’s just me today, here on the podcast and the team here at Healthy Church Growth, me, Justin, Jason, the rest of the Vers crew, we obviously have been super affected by what’s happening. Coronavirus, COVID-19, whatever you know, you want to call it. And most of the time when we record these podcasts, we record them, you know, months in advance, weeks in advance, and we just we kind of wanted to do something that is relevant to what we are all experiencing, what we’re all going through, because now is the time for us to be creative. Now is the time for us as the church to embrace this disruption. Now is the time for us to see how healthy our churches are, how healthy our culture is and how much we can grow in the midst of this uncertain time and figure out the best way that we possibly can to connect people to Jesus because that is our ultimate goal. That’s our ultimate mission. And the way that we have been doing that for as long as we can remember is now changed as the doors at our churches are now closed and we are having to live out our ministry online. So a couple of nights ago, Jason, our executive producer, texted me this post from a guy named Stephen Brewster and said, ‘Hey, I think I can get Stephen Brewster on the podcast to talk about our current situation with the global pandemic and everything. Is that something that you would be interested in?’ And of course I said yes. Stephen Brewster is an incredible church consultant and church creative coach and so many churches that you know of, that you’ve heard of that are doing incredibly impactful things, Stephen has had a hand in helping them out. So obviously, would love to have him on the podcast and talk about this craziness, this weird existence that we’re living in right now. So wherever you are, whoever you are, if you’re feeling like you don’t know what your church is supposed to be doing, if you’re a worship leader or your church communicator, if you are on the creative teams in some way, shape or form and you’re feeling like at your wits end, this is a podcast for you. This is a conversation for you. And I really hope that you enjoy this conversation I had with Stephen Brewster.

(music and guest quote)

Stephen Brewster:                 

“We have to have authenticity in what we do. We have to know our values. We have to know the voice and the purpose of our church, and we have to be more authentic than we’ve ever been.”

Mike Mage:               

Well, welcome again to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We’re so glad that you’ve joined us. We have an incredibly special guest with us today to really, sort of talk about our current situation and how incredibly crazy everything is. And, you know, as church workers we’re just really trying to find something that’s normal, we’re trying to find some normalcy. We’re trying to find some sort of common ground with what do we do and, you know, going through the list of people that we know, Jason, one of our executive producers just sort of threw it out, threw it out to me, ‘Hey, what if we invite Stephen Brewster onto the podcast.’ And I was so super happy about that. So, Stephen, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so, so glad that you’re here.

Stephen Brewster:                 

Oh, man, I’m so honored to be with you guys and to get to chat today a little bit and hopefully maybe help some people navigate through this season of life that we’re in.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah, well, real quick. I’d just love for, if there’s some people on the podcast who don’t know who you are, just maybe give us some quick background as to who you are and what you do for a living.

Stephen Brewster:                

Yeah, there’s probably a lot of people on the podcast who don’t know who I am or what I do for a living. So let’s be just real honest for a second. So my name is Stephen Brewster. I get to help churches navigate creativity and the music business and leadership. So I was in the music business. I dropped out of college my senior year, moved to Nashville, Tennessee, senior year of college. My parents thought that was a beautiful idea, by the way. (laughter) Like you’re one semester, you’re one semester away from getting your degree and you drop out to go, move to Nashville, go in the music business, like there’s not a safer bet in the world. So, yeah, I moved to Nashville, jumped in the music business, and God was really kind and allowed me to have, like, a really fun career, a really full career, working in a couple different labels and in management. And then, left the music business to go work as an executive creative director at the church and, got to do that for several years. Our church exploded while we were on staff, not because of us, but just while we were there. And, we got to take, like, the rocket ride of all rocket rides to learn so much about leadership and creativity and multi-site and broadcasting and just everything that, it’s funny how God always uses the processes of your life to prepare you for what’s next, right. And so, we did that for several years. Then about two years ago, we actually started our own business where we help churches navigate overcoming being overwhelmed. And we really specialize in helping churches navigate the music business, helping worship teams in that space, then simultaneously helping you know, with leadership, development, growth, volunteer development. And then I just have such a heart for creatives and creative artists and creativity and just I think that, you know, I’m a firm believer that God, the first inkling of God’s character that he showed us was his creativity in Genesis. And before he showed us about love, before he showed us about grace or mercy, or provision, he showed us about being creative. And so I am, I’m on this mission to help spread creativity everywhere I can. And so, so, yeah, that’s kind of what we do. My wife’s a certified Enneagram coach and a certified experiential therapist. So she helps, we tag team as much as we can, but then she has her own thing going on. So yeah, we live a really crazy life.

Mike Mage:               

That’s awesome. What? What number are you in the Enneagram?

Stephen Brewster:                

Bro. I’m a hardcore 3. And yeah, hard, hardcore 3. What about yourself?

Mike Mage:               

I am a 9 wing 8.

Stepher Brewster:

Oh that’s great!

Mike Mage:

Yeah, it just, it really leads to some very conflicting places in my life. (laughter)

Stephen Brewster:                

Well, all of our numbers do, like the 3 and 4. The 3 and 4 cocktail is conflicted. And the 9 and 8 is definitely conflicted. Yeah, you know, So, yeah, there’s that Enneagram is a beautiful, is a beautiful tool, yeah, for self discovery. So I love, my wife’s absolutely amazing at it. And I don’t say that because I’m married to her, but, so, yeah.

Mike Mage:               

That’s incredible. Well, it’s super cool that you, the, you know, God talking about, or you talking about God, you know, he showed us his creativity first. And I, my pastor, he just, he just spoke to our song writers group at our church and he gave this, like, you know, short little message, sort of encouragement about how, you know, in the beginning, God created. And really what he was doing was putting order to chaos. Yeah, and so it’s really cool, like, you know, your whole ministry of what you’re doing, helping churches, not feel so overwhelmed and that’s super easy to be overwhelmed. And, you know, like it says on your website, like when you’re overwhelmed, you know, you either don’t know what you’re doing, or you just don’t do anything, you know. And I think that that’s a huge, huge problem with churches. So speaking of overwhelming, obviously, this current situation with Coronavirus, COVID-19 and this global pandemic is obviously very overwhelming. Very chaotic. And you actually posted something that I thought was super interesting and has definitely made me think about some things. So what, you posted on Instagram, and you basically said that churches need to be thinking about becoming TV stations. What made you think of that?

Stephen Brewster:               

Yeah, well, you know. So I’m right now I’m in a  season where, like I’m on the phone or on a zoom call every single day, talking about what is happening in our world. And how can a church navigate and how can they maximize this moment. And then the reality is, so when crisis happens, typically, there’s three places that people go in crisis. And if you think about overtime just even in our own lifespan, if you think about the places people go, when there’s a crisis, people run to faith, people run to, creativity and they run to knowledge. Those are like the three places people go. We run to faith because we need the hope of faith. We run to knowledge because we’re trying to learn anything that we can learn. And then we look to innovation and creativity to help solve the problem. Well, in most of our past disastrous moments, if you think, let’s just talk about America, okay. And let’s talk about like, let’s pick the last two major like national disasters. 9/11 and the recession. Our churches filled up during those seasons. Right? When you think about, when you think about a mass shooting or something like that happens, like that is so tragic. The first thing that we all do is we start praying for each other. And people who don’t even know if they believe in prayer start praying in those moments, right. We run to faith. Well, in this season, we run to faith, but where do we run because there’s no churches to go to, right. So, yeah, every bit of attention is on the Internet right now. It’s on social media and it’s on your platforms. And so for years we fell into this trap that if you didn’t come to the box, you weren’t part of the ministry. Right. Well, the box is broken. Now it’s you can’t even get into the box right now, right? What if we took the box and made it ministry and put it everywhere? And that’s what I, you know, we have the tools. We have the resources. We definitely have the content. As many times I’ve read the Scriptures, I have never been able to get the address of Jesus’ Church. And so, like, ministries can thrive right now. So as you think about, if I was a pastor and I still consider myself a pastor, even though I don’t have a flock, but my flock is digital now to actually, and so as a pastor, like, the two things that you want to do is, you want to convert new believers and connect people into community. Right. Well, there’s no better way to do it than through the Internet right now. And so let’s take what we’ve done in the box and figure out how to put it online and then build some consistency of how we’re programming online so that we can share it with more and more people. It will help the people that go to your church because they’re gonna get ministry done for them and and to them, it helps them connect with other people in your church that are going through the exact same thing. But the volume of new followers that you can collect right now, especially when you have a product like we do, Jesus is the best thing ever. And if we can just take that and share that hope and that love and that reality that Jesus cares and he’s with you and you don’t have to be afraid today. And you know what, you’re gonna be afraid today but he’s still there to comfort you. Like what a great message that we have. And we have the megaphone. Now, we don’t have to wait till people come into our church to use the megaphone. We can use it every single day. So yeah, I was, I was talking to my friend who, ironically, works for an install company that installs big production into churches. And I was like, ‘Churches have to be TV stations right now.’ Like you have to start broadcasting out your ministry. So kids ministry, student ministry, small groups, you know, setting up virtual counseling, like I have a friend who’s a counselor, a therapist. He’s busier than he’s ever been, and it’s all online. It’s all virtual. He said he’s booked from eight in the morning till six at night doing counseling because people are so scared. So what if we took all of the ministry that we do and we just programmed it? And we said, ‘Hey, every Monday, I know that in my house, I live in Nashville, Tennessee, if I turn on Channel whatever at four o’clock, I can watch the Ellen Show every single day.’ Right? So what if at four o’clock everyday I could tune into the prayer meeting that our church is having online, and join that. What if, like my kids, they’re, the church that we attend they’re doing a kid’s small group zoom call at five o’clock tonight for the elementary kids. Awesome. Great. Phenomenal. So we just need to maximize those moments.

Mike Mage:                

Well, it almost feels like, I mean, there’s so many different roads and avenues we could go down with this, but like establishing some sort of consistency. You know, the church has established consistency for centuries now, that, like Sunday is like our Super Bowl. Like every, you know, if you go basically walk into any church at around, you know, between nine and 11 o’clock on a Sunday, church is going to be happening at some sort of level, and you’re like, it doesn’t, it does seem like kind of a paradigm shift to establish some consistency, but, like, that’s how the church has operated for hundreds of years. Yeah. Okay. So you, you said too, sort of with this post, that church is the center of presence in programming. I’d love for you just to talk a little bit more about that.

Stephen Brewster:                 

Well. So all of my programming friends, they jumped on the broadcast train early because they knew that they could just take the communicator and put him into multiple venues around the city on video. Right. Super easy. All my presence driven friends and presence driven churches were like, ‘Oh, that’ll never work. You’ll never be able to like, you can’t capture what we do on video.’ And I understood that. I really did, like it made sense. But the reality is we don’t, God’s presence is still gonna show up in everything that we’re doing right now, right. That’s, that’s non negotiable. What the reality, though, is while God’s presence is showing up, we don’t have a room to go into, right? So we’re standing dead in the middle of the intersection of presence and programming. And so we’ve got like, this is God’s moment to dispel all of the myths that both of those sides have believed for the past 20 years. Right? The like; I remember, I have one friend, he’s a dear friend, but he used to tell me all the time, ‘I’ll never go to a church, that I have to watch the pastor on the screen.’ And he was, like, dogmatic about it. Guess what? You’re watching your Pastor on the screen right now. If he wants his Pastor, it’s gonna be on the screen or any other Pastor for that matter, right. And so, because we’re sitting in the middle of that moment, authenticity is more important than ever before. We have to have authenticity in what we do. We have to know our values. We have to know the voice and the purpose of our church, and we have to be more authentic than we’ve ever been. And I think this is probably the scariest part for me, as I watched friends who are doing ministry online right now, they’re learning how to do it for the first time. And they’re trying to copy models that they see rather than just looking in the mirror and being authentically who they are.

Mike Mage:                

Man, that is, that is true. I hadn’t even thought about that because it almost, it seems counterintuitive that because you put a camera in front of somebody’s face and then you shoot it, you know, to all these different networks and everything, that, you know, like the presence people, for example, would argue that that is not authentic. So the reason that they want to be in the room, you know, is because it’s that authentic experience. But you could argue just the total opposite, like you actually have to become more authentic for it to become, like, actually, impactful for people. That’s really great. Yeah.

Stephen Brewster:                

100%.

Mike Mage:               

What are some of the most important things for churches to understand about, sort of what this looks like. And you know, obviously, you know there’s churches on a lot of different levels and, you know, there’s a lot of churches especially, you know, the majority of churches are smaller than the megachurch. 

Stephen Brewster:

Yeah, I mean, 80% of all churches are 200 or less, so.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah, exactly. So you know what can this look like for a smaller church?

Stephen Brewster:              

Well, that’s where I think that creativity thrives right now, because, like, you don’t, the threshold of excellence has dropped, because right now, Justin Bieber is on Instagram Live the same way that your pastor can be, right. And so, like, the playing field just now just just leveled off. Yeah. Now it comes down to: Do you know who you are? And do you have something to say? And if you know who you are and you have something to say, then you get to maximize this moment. And God’s called every single church and every single pastor. And here’s the reality, just like every church shouldn’t be 10,000 people. Every livestream shouldn’t be 10,000 viewers, right. God, the Earth, when God created the Earth, he created it with the intentionality of diversity. He knew how different every single person would be. And so he was so wise that he created churches to reach all of those different kinds of people, right. And so in this moment, we have to maximize who we are and who are the people that God called you to reach. Go reach them. Don’t worry about, don’t worry about the quality. I mean, don’t let it be terrible, please. Like we all know, like there’s some basics, like make sure the lighting is OK. Make sure that the camera’s not shooting right up your nostrils, like silly things like that, but represent yourself to the standard that you’ve set for your church. Lean into your values and your beliefs and your purpose, and then do that like crazy online. And watch. Watch how God uses it and how the engagement just goes through the roof. And the other thing that I want to say about engagement too is in this season, the share button is so important. One of my friends last night made the comment, when you hit the share button, you’re not sharing content, you’re sharing Jesus. And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s huge!’ And so every pastor should be asking people to share at the end of what they’re talking about. 

Mike Mage:               

Totally. Well, that was; So I run the worship team and obviously, at Bay Hope Church and obviously the method in which we were connecting with people and connecting people to Jesus is very, very different now because that’s not possible for us to get in a big room and play full band and do the same things that we were doing. And so I sent them out an email yesterday, and I just said, if, like, we need to be married to the mission which is connecting people to Jesus, and our methods have changed, so, like, literally share everything that you possibly can with people because you never, you have no idea who this is reaching, you know.

Stephen Brewster:                

Yeah, you have no clue. And you have no clue who it could reach.

Mike Mage:               

Well, just another question based, just sort of going off of that, are there any sort of next steps in engagement for people to take outside of just sharing? Have you come across anything that may be…

Stephen Brewster:                 

Yeah, so as you start to create your content strategy and you’re, you know, like, here’s the thing, most churches aren’t gonna roll out 24 hours of programming like NBC, right. Like that’s just, I mean, even the biggest of churches can’t handle that right now. But let’s say you have one piece of content that you’re going to start to share every day. Like you’re gonna go live and have your pastor talk to your congregation, or you’re going to do a zoom group every day or whatever your one piece of content is. Drive everyone to that content. And then in the first 10 seconds, 10 minutes, explain to them what the most important part of why they’re there. And in the last 2% of the content, ask them to help you share it if it’s been valuable to them. Because everyone is going more, Instagrams engagement rate right now is up 76% over last week. I just read this yesterday. First off, that’s mind boggling. (laughter)

Mike Mage:              

Yeah, I know. Crazy.

Stephen Brewster:               

Like I can’t even comprehend the millions of users that that is.

Mike Mage:              

Well, and considering how many people, how much time people spend on Instagram already.

Stephen Brewster:                 

Right! That’s what I’m saying. Like we use it way too much as it is. And now we’ve just upped the game 76%. It’s like, that’s bananas, okay. And, not only bananas, it’s probably unhealthy. (laughter) Like a little bit somewhere in there, it’s probably a little bit unhealthy.

Mike Mage:               

We’ll deal with that later. (laughter)

Stephen Brewster:                

We have counseling for that. We can address it, we can address that another season. But in this season, what I would encourage us to do is make sure we’re driving people to and towards that content.

Mike Mage:                

I was listening to a podcast by John Mark Comer. I don’t know if you know who he is. 

Stephen Brewster:             

Oh my gosh, I adore John Mark Comer. Like we’ve gotten to hang in a couple Green Rooms. Oh, man. The realist of real dudes.

Mike Mage:                

I just read his book, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” and it has wrecked me. And I think God has a sense of humor because in him telling me I need to slow down, he actually gives us, like, a lot of time to slow down now. 

Stephen Brewster:               

Well, and as a 3, I don’t do that well anyway 

Mike Mage:                

Right, right. And so you know him and Mark Sayers have this podcast called “This Cultural Moment” and it’s incredible at putting definition to, you know, our cultural existence and what’s happening, the post Christian society and all that kind of stuff. And so Mark Sayers in one of the most recent ones said, how, you know, the next revival that needs to happen is through our network, talking about, you know, social media and all that kind of stuff. And this might be like an incredible example of that. 

Stephen Brewster:

He was prophetic. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah, no kidding. And so maybe on, so, and while I think that that’s possible and that’s happening and more churches than ever have had to sort of, like, take up the mantle of social interaction through the Internet, are you, can you foresee any sort of downside of, sort of flooding our networks with this sort of content right now?

Stephen Brewster:               

Well, so I mean, obviously there’s two things to be afraid of. Fatigue and just overwhelming with content. But the reality is, that’s not the concern. Every good thing has a bad piece included in it. And right now, us overwhelming people or having too much content isn’t the problem. Like we’ve got people who feel alone, feel scared, who feel, who have no hope they’re losing their jobs, they may be losing loved ones. Like we have way bigger issues to solve right now than if we have too much content on the Internet. So what I would say is let’s lean super hard into ministry and figuring out how to get ministry into the lives of people. And then we can regulate that later when we get back into a building, right. But the reality is, there’s probably some things we’re gonna learn right now that we should continue to do even when we’re back in the building. Let’s not waste this crisis. Let’s learn from this crisis and learn new ways to engage people so that we can just do ministry better and more effectively for the next 50 years. So to answer your question, it’s a long answer to answer a very simple question. Sorry. I’m on a soap box if you can’t tell. (laughter) But I would say there, I would say we’re not, we shouldn’t be worried about content volume. We should be worried about ministry effectiveness. And we can adjust content volume later.

Mike Mage:           

Yeah. Well, I want to put a pin in that for a second, cause that’s the question I want to get back to you in a second. But just one more, so as this TV station thing that we’re talking about again, thinking about the 80% of churches that are 200 below, is there, like, a logical flow as to maybe what they can roll out from the beginning, and then maybe what’s the number two thing that they should do?

Stephen Brewster:                 

That’s a great question. So I think there’s three pillars of content. Okay. So our most important the top of the shelf content is your weekend messages. Any live streams that you can do with your pastor or your leadership team. And, like all worship and then any ministry that could be done. Like those four things make up the top shelf. Then the second shelf would be like ministries, right. So, like kid’s ministry, student ministry, zoom meet ups for groups. I love, I’m loving watching different groups meet up in Zoom and then people posting pictures of it. Zoom has never been a more popular thing in the world. 

Mike Mage:

I know. No kidding. (laughter)

Stephen Brewster:               

Like Zoom is gonna own the Dow Jones when this is over. They’re gonna just call it Zoom Jones because it’s the only thing that’s (laughter) that and toilet paper are the only things that are real profitable right now. And so, like, that’s that second tier of content. Right, then the third tier content is just like, recycled content from the past. Taking an old message and breaking it up into clips or, you know, something fun, like, I’ve seen several churches where they’re doing, like, guided workouts during the day. And, one of the churches that I get the privilege of working with, the pastor’s wife is an amazing cook, and she loves to cook. So they’re gonna go in and, like, do like a weekly cooking show with her. Like, taking like, basic ingredients and making a good meal for your family right now. You know. So just, like we get to be creative right now, and so. But I would say, like the live content is really, really important. And don’t just go live on Instagram. Go live on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Your message on the weekends. That’s still the pillar content, right. Then as soon as that message is over have a strategy for how you’re going to drive people back to that throughout the week. And I know all of my video friends love Vimeo because it’s so sexy. But put it on YouTube and put tags with it so that it can reach more people.

Mike Mage:                

Sure, well and how many people are on YouTube? It’s like in the billions, right? 

Stephen Brewster:                

I mean, it’s the second largest search engine in the world, right? And so, and then in this moment, let’s dominate those tags, you can grow your church because here’s the thing, we’ve always put an asterisk next to the online number until about two weeks ago. (laughter) Now we’ve never put an asterisk next to online giving, like those dollars, those dollars counted exactly the same, but we always, we never valued the attention and the person online to the same level we value the dollar in the bank account. And now we’ve changed because there is, currently we have the worst attendance in our buildings in the history of every church.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah, across the world.

Stephen Brewster:              

It should be 10 people if you’re recording live, which most of you are breaking the law and it’s like probably 20 or 30, or zero.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah, well, or just the team in the room. Like that’s what we’ve been doing. Whoever is the team in the room, like that’s who’s there for it. 

Stephen Brewster:

It’s gonna hurt your growth. Like the Outreach Magazine’s “fastest Growing Churches” list is gonna be really skewed this year.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah, no kidding. I hadn’t even thought about that. What are some strategies as to, do you think it’s even worth people trying to count numbers as opposed to, like, trends? Does that make sense?

Stephen Brewster:               

What I would count is engagement. So let’s look, because it’s hard to count numbers. You got people who are tuning in for 15 seconds, very hard to determine who’s watched the entire message all the way through. You don’t know. Like my family, we watched, because we get to work with, like, some awesome churches around the country, we probably watched, like 4, 5, 6 different services every weekend right now, including your own home church. And so when you see my IP address come up, you don’t realize that there’s six of us watching that. So, counting that number is probably chasing the wrong data, right. The right data is number of hands that are raised to accept Christ. The right data is number of people who text in or email in because it’s their first time and they want more information on how to get connected. The right data is number of shares, number of likes, number of comments. Those are all, those are all practical data points that we can chase that our assimilation team, who has no notes to write or phone calls to make, now has emails to send and text messages to send to all of these people who are identifying themselves in our chats, online through shares, through likes and raising their hand to accept Christ. I heard, I’m gonna probably get the number wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is right, that Craig Rochelle said that 10,000 new churches downloaded church online in the last two weeks. Okay, that number I know is right. They also identified that 28 million people accepted Christ in the last two weeks through just church online. So if we want to talk about presence and programming intersecting, it intersected for 28 million people. 

Mike Mage:

Man, that’s crazy. 

Stephen Brewster:

That’s a revival. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah, that’s the revival of the network Mark Sayers was talking about. You know, it starts like that. 

Stephen Brewster:

Yeah. 

Mike Mage:

Man. That’s super cool. I, OK, so moving forward and coming back to sort of that question that, the topic we were talking about a little bit. Obviously, you know, like you were saying, there’s a lot of things that we can learn from this. And you know, like a lot of us are, a lot of us are probably asking the wrong question in, like, ‘When is this going to end?’ Or, ‘How long do we have to do this?’ Which I think that leads us down like a very, a non-growth path, you know, because then it just sets us back, we’re just gonna go back and do the same thing that we’ve always been doing, which I don’t think it’s gonna work anymore.

Stephen Brewster:

Nope.

Mike Mage:

So I think the way more important question is, what kind of effect does this have on the church moving forward? And how should we embrace this all moving forward?

Stephen Brewster:                

Yeah. So I don’t know that we have the clear path out yet, but I do agree with you that there’s two types of people in the middle of this crisis right now. There’s the people that are just holding on until it ends and they’re gonna try to revert back to the ways that worked before, and they’re not gonna work. And then there’s the people that are looking at it and saying, ‘Man, this may not be ideal, but there’s an opportunity here. So how do I take advantage of this moment.’ And I don’t mean take advantage in a manipulative way. I mean, ‘How do I learn? What new method is going to come out of this? What new norm could come out of this?’ What, we’ve been married to a method for the last 50 years, 60 years, right. The method disappeared in two weeks. And now I mean, like you, I don’t know a more disruptive moment for American Christianity than when all of the churches got shut. Like, that’s something that you would hear about in the Bible, right. And so you can look at it as in the negative sense of that, it is, it’s negative. We all wish we could gather together. There always will be room together, together. And I don’t think that, like, I don’t think that the switch is flipped and like, no one’s gonna go back to church. I actually think there’s gonna be more people going back to church coming out of this. But six months after they start going back to church, we’re gonna start to drift back into our routines right. And soccer and swimming and lacrosse practice and staying at work late, and all these things are gonna start to bombard our lives again. But more, more people are going to know the result and the answer is ‘let me log online.’ And so I think the biggest win for every church right now is: What are you learning about online ministry that you’re going to apply? If it’s one thing, if it’s five things that you’re going to apply to your toolbox of doing ministry when we all go back to church.

Mike Mage:                

Yeah, well, that’s great. Yeah, what, It’s been, I don’t know, it’s been cool to see, like, I’ve been super proud of the church that I’m a part of. You know, last week we basically just threw everything out like, we knew everything was gonna be like, ‘Okay, what can we do?’ Just to see people’s brains start to work and flow. And, you know, like you were saying earlier, like, just get creative, like, almost try, do and try anything. Like you’re saying there’s never been a more disruptive moment and maybe, you know, 9/11 like you were talking about. So just a couple more real quick questions here, and then we’ll be done. What are some churches or some things that have been inspiring you lately? Obviously, I don’t want, I don’t want this question when people hear it to be like, ‘I’m just gonna emulate what these other churches they’re doing.’ But what have been some churches or some people that have really been inspiring you in this time to sort of get some ideas from?

Stephen Brewster:            

Yeah. So one thing I want  to piggyback on what you just said a second ago. I think that, I think that it is; We’re talking about Easter in three weeks, right. I don’t know when this podcast is gonna air, but from when we’re recording, from when we’re recording we’re three weeks from Easter. And last night I did a zoom call with, like, seven friends talking about what they’re going to do with Easter. Now, one of my friends is a guy named Drew Bodine. He is one of the leader, executive leaders at Central Christian in Las Vegas. There’s not a church that is more attraction really focused than, like they had Santa Claus fly in on a fabricated sled at Christmas time. Okay, you cannot get more, it’s Vegas baby. It’s Vegas! You gotta go big in Vegas. And he’s like, ‘Man, we don’t get any of the tools that we’ve used in the past.’ And so it’s why creativity is, creativity runs to crisis every moment it can, because at its core, creativity problem solving. And so, in this moment, we are like, we have to figure out, what’s our best method. And so a few things, I’ve seen churches; I saw one church, they hired a DJ to Instagram Live from his house. And he threw a DJ party for an hour and half. Totally, totally awesome. I know another church they had, like, they have two guys in their church that are like, I don’t know that they’re professional comedians, but maybe semi professional comedians, and they’re having them go online once a week and do a bit online through their church. Virtual counseling for people that need to speak to a pastor or need prayer. Eight hours a day, virtual online you DM  the church, they set you up with a zoom call and a pastor and ministry happens. One of things that I really wanna highlight is Central Christian that I was just talking about, they started, they have done, Vegas is hurting desperately because of this crisis. Most of the income in Vegas happens through casinos. All the casinos are closed right now, right. So they started giving away food. They’ve given away literal tons of food in the last week. And then they set up a special line for first responders and policemen and their families. And it was like off the grounds, the line was. And so, like, there is so much ministry to be had. There’s so much hope to share. There’s so much creativity to engage. You just have to, again, and I know if sounding like a broken record; What is the thing that makes your church unique? What is your purpose? What are the things that you value that people talk about when they talk about your church? Lean into those right now and do them like you’ve never done them before, whether it’s digital or physical. They had their guys standing in a line and each car would pull up. And after they handed them their food, their supplies bag, whatever it is, they would drive up to the next spot and a pastor would just lay hands on their car and pray for them. Like what a special moment. The ministry is not closed. Just our buildings are.

Mike Mage:                

No, that’s awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Steve, thank you so much for hanging out with us and talking about this. I obviously want to respect your time and everything. 

Stephen Brewster:               

I mean, I’m shut up in the house, so I’m, this is the most social interaction I get. So, like, honestly, I’m feeling the conversation right now. (laughter)

Mike Mage:               

Aright. I mean, we could keep going if you wanna keep going. 

Stephen Brewster:

It’s a two part episode. It’s a two part series on Steve being bored at home. (laughter)

Mike Mage:                

I mean, for real, though. Yeah, you send all the kids out of the room, and this is like the one hour.

Stephen Brewster:                 

I know it’s quiet in my house right now. I’m like, I’m gonna pretend I’m on this call even after we hang up, because it is so worth it, right now. (laughter) No, but thank you. Thank you for having me on today. And thank you for the ministry that you guys are doing and how you’re trying to just help equip churches, help prepare churches. It means a lot that you guys are doing what you do, and it’s special, it’s important, and it’s extremely valuable. And I’m honored to just get to be a small part of what you’re doing.

Mike Mage:              

We appreciate it. Hey, if there is a way that people can, you know, connect with you, stay up to date with you. How can people sort of follow you on social media and your website, and all that kind of stuff?

Stephen Brewster:               

Absolutely. That’d be awesome. If you would like to do that, I would love it. My Instagram is B_rewster. You can go to stephenbrewster.me is my web page. And you can get to me there as well. New podcast launches in about a week and yeah, lots of, lots of fun stuff is; I’m trying to personally lean into creativity right now. Just because we have the time and the space to do it, so.

Mike Mage:                

Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, hey, if this insane period just continues on, maybe in a couple of weeks, we’ll meet back and do that part two. (laughter)

Stephen Brewster:

Let’s do it. I’m here.

Mike Mage:              

Yeah, it’d be awesome. Well, thank you again so much. It was incredible. 

Stephen Brewster:

Awesome. Thank you. 

(closing)

Mike Mage:

Well, wow! I absolutely loved that conversation with Stephen Brewster. So many great things in there. So many little takeaways for us. One of my favorite things, he said, was towards the beginning and he just said “people run to faith, knowledge and creativity in times of crisis.” And we as a church, we, as a creative ministry have an opportunity to do all three of those. So continue to be creative and how you’re reaching people. Just like Stephen said, our boxes are totally broken in how we’re doing things and now, you know, is not necessarily the time for us to really be second guessing a lot of our content. Obviously make sure that it’s right. Make sure that it’s true. Make sure that it is a level of quality that is not, you know, terrible. But this disruption has leveled the playing field for us and so really lean into that. There is a ton of things that you can do to reach a ton of people. So, just like Stephen said, if you want to follow him, obviously follow him on Instagram and check out his website. But also, that podcast that he was talking about is coming out very soon, and it’s called “Blue Collar Creative,” and you can actually find this conversation that him and I had on that podcast is well. But make sure to check all your podcasts apps for that as that will be dropping here very, very soon. So once again, thank you so much for joining us on the Healthy Church Growth podcast. If you liked what you have heard or you have found that there’s value in what we’re doing, please share this. That is the biggest thing that you could do for us or rate or subscribe to this podcast. There’s nothing better that you could do for us. But if there was going to be a second best thing that you would do for us, it’s engage with us on our Instagram on our Facebook page or through the review section wherever you get your podcast. Let us know what you’re dealing with as a church creative. And maybe that’s something that we can add to our conversations that we’re having on this podcast. So as we wrap up here, I hope that you have been encouraged. I hope that you’re staying safe. I hope that you’re staying healthy. I hope that this virus is not coming anywhere close to your doorstep. And whatever your church situation is, I hope that you will embrace this time and lean into this disruption that we’re all experiencing together because you’re not alone. Not only is the rest of the world with you, the God is always with you, so thank you so much. Once again, my name’s Mike. And here on the Healthy Church Growth podcast, we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 7 – Eric Williams

 Bringing clarity to your creativity.

Creativity is a beautiful, energizing, potentially confusing thing. In the church context, we are using creativity to share a message. The most important message ever shared. We know that standing on a street corner with a bullhorn is not necessarily the most effective way to share, so how do we make sure that the message is clear while maintaining our creative integrity? Eric Williams, StoryBrand Certified Guide, shares practical tips on how to make sure your creative endeavors are clearly communicating your intended message.

>> Episode 8: Nick Benoit


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:               

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast.

(music)

Well, welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. My name’s Mike Mage and I’m one of your hosts here and here at the Healthy Church Growth podcast we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. As always I am joined by my two amazing hosts that host this with me, Jason. Jason, say hello.

Jason Smithers:               

Hey, guys.

Mike Mage:                

And then the amazing Justin Price. 

Justin Price:

What’s up, everybody? 

Mike Mage:

So real quick before we get into anything else, I just want to take a couple seconds and say thank you to you the listener for joining us on this journey of podcasting. And this is something that we have felt that, you know, we can have these incredible conversations together and ask you to be a part of it as well. You, the listener, and we really just want to create a community moving forward of what does it look like to grow, and to see things grow means to see things come to life. And you, the listener, are such a huge part of that. And so thank you so much for being a part of this. So today on the podcast a really really exciting interview. Really, really exciting conversation with Eric Williams, who at the time when we recorded this interview, he was one of the creative directors at Cedar Creek Church. But since then, he has moved to New Mexico and is now working at Sagebrush Church. And Jason, actually, you happen to know Eric, like, pretty well, right? Didn’t you actually work with him at Cedar Creek?

Jason Smithers:               

Yeah. Yeah. So I’m on staff right now with a branding agency. But before that, it was on staff at Cedar Creek with Eric, and Eric was actually the communications director. So I know he’s got a lot of certifications when it comes to that area as far as story brand certified specialists and all the, all the bells and whistles that come with the badges of honor that, so, yeah, it was, it was an awesome talk just to kind of unpack what communications can look like within the church, and not necessarily just the tools that we’re using, but how we’re using them. And I was kind of as we were talking about this podcast, that kind of occurred to me that, you know, there’s already social media platforms that are dead or dying. But I was wondering for you guys what is the one social media platform you miss the most that is no longer with us. Rest in peace. 

Justin Price:

I’ll go ahead and say the one that I miss the most is my version of Twitter. I think everybody has had their own version of Twitter. And, man, I’ll tell you what, In 2000 I don’t know. 2008. It seemed like most of my friends were on Twitter and we just had a blast with it. It felt really, really fun. And then, as we all slowly got distracted with other platforms, the, most of us just kind of went our separate ways and we know, we know. We know Twitter is still a very special animal right now, and we don’t know how long it’s gonna continue to live, but yeah, I miss, I miss that group of friends that was on Twitter at that point in time. 

Jason Smithers:                 

It’s funny when you say that too because I can remember like the eight people that I talked to all the time on Twitter back in like 09 and 10. 

Justin Price:

Yeah.

Jason Smithers:

Huh. Maybe that was because I only had eight followers.

Justin Price:                

Now you have eight million followers. 

Mike Mage:

Jason Smithers. Rockin it! (laughter)

Jason Smithers:               

Yeah, they’re all bots. (laughter) Mike, how about you. What’s your, what the one you miss?

Mike Mage:             

This is super embarrassing. And for those who, like, know how to use the internet well,  you could probably drag this up because there was a time in high school, and so high school from, I graduated in 2005, so I mean, we’re talking before I graduated. So maybe, like, 15 years ago, you know, the MySpace days kind of thing, but there was; Do you guys remember Live Journal? 

Jason Smithers:

Yup.

Justin Price:

Oh, yeah. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah. And so I remember I used to write on Live Journal a lot and think that the world needed to hear the deepest, darkest secrets of, like, a from a dark Mike Mage. There was a dark Mike Mage for, like, a relatively happy person. I don’t know why.

Jason Smithers:                

Did you write poetry? Did you write poetry on Live Journal?

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I mean, it was close to poetry. I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna dignify it as poetry. But it was, it was very close to what could have been poetry. And so, like, I remember I just, you know, you do one of those things, we just fall off and you just forget about it. And like, I was probably like, three or four years ago, I was up late. I was in my bed with my computer in my lap and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I had a Live Journal.’ And I was like just for fun I’m gonna look this up and good gracious, like the world was not ready for Mike Mage’s Live Journal because I was not ready for Mike Mage’s Live Journal. And so I immediately, I immediately canceled it. I was like, no one needs to read this. No one needs this. (laughter) So I’m sure that if you know, you know how to use archives and all, you can find it. I’m not going to give you the tag name I had because that was also incredibly embarrassing. It was bad. Real real bad. So glad it’s gone. 

Justin Price:

It’s so funny, cause I had, I was already typing it in. (laughter) When you said you took it down. I was like, “Oh.” I don’t know if I wanna waste the time looking through the archives. But it would be worth it if I could find it.

Mike Mage:

Maybe in the show notes like (laughter)

Jason Smithers:             

In the show notes you can put your Live Journal. (laughter)

Mike Mage:               

If we find it, and like, it’s humbling, It’s humbling for sure.

Jason Smithers:               

If you do that, it’s mine was actually, do you guys remember Zenga?

Mike Mage:             

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Eprops bro.

Jason Smithers:               

Dead silence. Yeah, that was like, I don’t know. It was, it was like, Live Journal. Actually, they’re all the same back then. But I was actually just looking for it cause I thought that was still live, and I was not smart enough like you to actually delete mine. So it’s out there somewhere if anybody can find me a link. I would love to see it. (laughter)

Mike Mage:                 

It’s gonna give you nightmares. Just searching the internet frantically to try and find your Zenga. What’s interesting about what Eric was talking about to me too is the new things for Christians. You know, the new technology that comes out, this stuff that’s changing, like literally every minute, you know, it scares us, and we don’t want to, we don’t want to do anything wrong with it. We don’t want to hurt anybody with it. And so it takes us so long to adapt and adopt and to become experts in those fields it feels like, and really like what Eric was talking about was, like running full force into, like this new age of communication and online services and like using it to the church’s advantages. 

Justin Price:

Mike, I would pose the question as to whether or not most church creatives are afraid to use technology in the wrong way or if they are not encouraged and they are afraid of the consequences of the leadership. I’m not sure that there is grace for failure in terms of technology. And I don’t know that our churches are building culture like that. And, we do hear about the negative things that come from new platforms and from new things. And so, you know, the next time a new thing comes around, which may be the best thing for the church, it is much easier to just sit back and say, ‘Let’s focus our attention somewhere else.’ And, ‘Let’s not push for a new technology, a new platform, new communications.’ 

Mike Mage:

So, yeah, we had an incredible conversation. Jason and I actually had this conversation with Eric Williams. 

(music and guest quote)

“Is it healthy to say I need just I need to unplug. Yes. Is it healthy to say that I need to get in the room with other people? Yes. So to assure people that for the foreseeable future, that’s not gonna change.”

Mike Mage:

With us today we have Eric Williams. Eric, how you doing?

Eric Williams:                

I’m doing great. Thank you, guys, for having me. Excited to get some good, healthy conversation here.

Jason Smithers:                 

I see what you did there.

Mike Mage:              

Yeah, we’re gonna throw it in as much as we can. We’re gonna have a little counter like ding every time someone says healthy. So, yeah, the goal is 22. It’s over/under is 22.

Jason Smithers:                

That’s a healthy goal.

Mike Mage:            

See what you did. So, Eric, I would love for you to give us just a little bit of back story on who you are and kind of even how you got to Cedar Creek Church.

Eric Williams:              

Yeah, well, I got a degree background in entrepreneurship, small family business and marketing, and worked in the marketplace for 10-15 years, then started volunteering at Cedar Creek, mostly in student ministry. I think that’s how most young guys that started, and then when we opened up, I think at the time it was our fourth campus, they were looking to hire some people for different jobs there and the campus pastor, now our lead pastor at the time, he sat down with me, said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for somebody to be on the team and we’d love to have you on the team.’ And I knew that, you know, student ministry wasn’t kind of my bread and butter, but I’d do anything to get, you know, to get on the team, to start being a part of what God was doing at Cedar Creek. Fast forward, a couple years later, moving around a couple different things, we had, had a set off transitions and jobs and titles and kind of a marketing communication position opened up that hadn’t really existed before. And, you know, I was, I guess I was tapped to be able to do that with some of the experiences that I’ve had and background started running the church’s social media as like an additional part of my job before even hopped into marketing communication, which I’m sure anybody listening you have multiple different hats and different things in the job description that are also not in the job description. Things that don’t really make; you lead worship but you also do X, Y or Z, and you’re exporting videos or whatever it happens to be. For me, it was, I was running student ministry and also doing social media, which I think kind of moved into this idea of creating a marketing and communications department within the last year. We were, well, obviously last 2 to 3 years, we kind of latched on to a new framework by Donald Miller, which many of you probably heard about: a story brand. And so I went this past fall to get certified, a story of certified guide to help clarify the message for our church and for all of our departments.

Mike Mage:                

So how long ago did you start with this social media marketing and all that kind of stuff? Because I imagine that has changed a good bit, even within the past two or three years. How long, how long have you been doing that for?

Eric Williams:                 

I think I took over the social media for the entire church, I think it was five years ago, now, maybe six years ago. At the time, it was kind of a grab bag. You know, we had a couple of, I think, I would say that the strategy at the time was kind of personality driven, where you’d have one individual that would post for the page or for the group. Then somebody else would throw up a couple of different announcement slides and photos, and I wouldn’t say there was a corporate strategy for it. I think the individuals that were posting definitely had strategy, and we found some success and and grew. And so, you know, I think I just took from what they would already, were already building, the community that they were building there and trying to put some legs behind it and really tried to keep up with the ever changing nature of social media.

Mike Mage:              

I’ve been trying to get into Facebook marketing and what that looks like because I feel like most of the church is on Facebook. I know there’s a good amount of people on Instagram, not a whole lot of people on Twitter. So how would you, have you seen Facebook marketing change even over in like the past two years and what are you guys doing to sort of utilize this Facebook marketing platform to reach more people?

Eric Williams:               

Number one. It’s numbers. The sheer amount of people on Facebook, the active users on Facebook. I saw an infographic for last month, that showed the number of active users that were on Facebook. And, you know, if you were to make them a country, it would be like the second largest country in the world or something like that, you know. But even in our area just showing the number of active users on Facebook, no matter what younger Millennials and Gen. Z will tell you, they’re still a lot of people that are active so that, the numbers is what drove a lot of it in the last 5 to 7 years. That’s number one, but then two is chasing the algorithm because you have to play by Facebook’s rules. If you’re on Facebook or whatever the native platform you’re on, Instagram, Twitter, you gotta play by their rules and figure out what, number one, what is gonna connect with your audience, but what’s gonna connect with your audience in a way that’s going to play nice with their algorithms. So your specific question about, you know, the actual paying for stuff on Facebook, it’s become a necessity now. I mean, I think we can get some good organic reach just because of the sheer numbers that we have in our church. So we have over 100 staff and five campuses, soon to be six, and we have groups of social media, I call them  like insiders or advocates, where when, when we put out a post that we want to get good traction, whether it’s a life change video or, you know, a message clip or something that’s gonna advertise our next series, I’ll email those links or, like, you know, CD drop anything like that. I’ll email those links out to the staff and key influencers, and we will encourage them to share so that we can kind of get a, you know, it’s a false organic push because it is organic, you’re not paying for it. So that’s really the only way we’ve been able to do it without spending money. But otherwise I would tell anybody that even spending $5 or, you know, getting a $10 a week Facebook budget is going to help you way more than that if you were to spend those moneys on, like for us on newspaper worship ads or anything else. So we’ve really shifted a lot of our money to downplay a lot of the traditional advertising channels and up-sell some of these digital advertising channels. Number one, because we can, we can see the effect of this much better. I mean, when I have a guy who’s selling the billboards or selling newspaper or magazine, like they can tell me what, how many cars go by the billboard. I have no idea how many interacting, they could tell me how many people are reading the newspaper, but, or I mean what their distribution is. But I know our local newspaper, I get one on my porch and I don’t pay for it. And I tell them to stop sending me the newspaper, you know what I mean, but I’m still included in their readership, and so, you know, it’s one of things that I could track it better. We have more control over the graphics and over how it’s presented. And it’s much easier for us to be able to resource our people to then share that messaging and push it more online.

Jason Smithers:               

What would you say to churches that are trying to do this big shotgun blast, try to have a presence on Twitter. Try to have a presence on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. How do you guide them to focus their message and to play on the platforms that work best for them?

Eric Williams:                

Yeah, that’s great. And I mean, I think it would be the same way as you would be, you know, if you’re another, any other sort of healthy church growth type of any other healthy church growth consultant or expert coming on, and, well, I mean, how do we do effective kid’s ministry, student ministry, worship ministry, you know, outreach ministry, all of those things. That’s a shotgun approach that we use in our church. I mean, I think all of us, we would say, ‘Hey, you know, figure out what your community needs. Figure out what skills that you have and then focus there.’ So for instance, Instagram, you know, if you have good volunteer photographers or paid photographers, you know, whatever. If you have good photographers, if you could produce good photographic content and write a little bit about it, then I would say Instagram is your bread and butter your way to go. But if you’re just gonna post announcement slides on Instagram or you’re gonna, you know, repost awfully designed memes then just, like, stop. We’ll save that for something else, you know. So I would just say, like, what are you good at? What do your people need and where can you focus your time? So, I mean, it makes me kind of wanna puke when I see people that are going like the same content for every different outlet because that’s like, you wouldn’t run your TV commercial on a radio ad. You know, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t do those things. If all you can do right now is just have a killer Facebook group, great. Then think about a page, then think about Instagram.

Jason Smithers:               

Yeah, I think there’s that, there is a fear of missing out, but there’s also this principle that churches don’t adhere to which is: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And another avenue that I see that happening and playing out is just utilization of like, Instagram Live and Facebook Live. Can you speak a little bit to that? And how do you guys go about knowing when to go live when not to? When is it actually effective? When is it just kind of an annoyance?

Eric Williams:              

Sure. Well, and I’m, I might be wrong on this, so I might be wrong on all this but this specifically, but this is the mindset that we have for Instagram Live and Facebook Live, is that is the one thing that is, that is not guaranteed, but pretty well guaranteed to send your, your followers a notification. So, for instance, you know we have five services on the weekend. Two on Saturday, three on Sunday. Our Saturday, our first Saturday night service, we will go Facebook Live for one of the opening songs, or Instagram Live for the worship set or something like that. Not necessarily to get that out there for people to sit there and enjoy and consume the content, but more sort of to remind people that we’re there and to say, ‘Hey, this is kind of a peek into you know what we have.’ So obviously people will share that content and do things like that. But we’re not spending intentional time interacting with people on that, more so that that exists there so it’s going to sit on your feed so you can see it. So you see it at the top of your Instagram feed where the stories are, that Cedar Creek was live because again, if you go live, that’s gonna bump you on Instagram to the upper left of anybody’s Instagram story feed. So whereas I could do a couple Instagram stories that are gonna get buried in somebody else’s, you know, top whatever the top section is called. But when I’m Live, I’m sitting there and I’m front and center. You get front page news. That’s like number one. But then when we look at Live, you know, there’s a lot of people that do their services live on Facebook. We haven’t had a great success with that, just because of copyright and streaming and certain songs that we can’t stream and being able to control that, I would say, for the most part, we are free, loose and free with going live. We just don’t save those recordings. I’m not afraid to go live in the same way as I’m not afraid to do an Instagram story because I know the shelf life on them is very short. And it’s really meant for people who are, who we can capture immediately.

Mike Mage:                

That’s a really good tip with the going live thing. I never even thought about how it bumps up your status automatically because that’s so true. I was literally just looking on Instagram last night and people who I don’t regularly, you know, click in and follow. They went live because they were at some event and I clicked on it like, ‘Oh, this is, I haven’t seen them,’ or whatever you know, it brings, you know, them back into my mind that I haven’t checked in with them in a while. That’s really good.

Eric Williams:               

Right. And you might have gotten a notification too, which is even better for me, because if it says, you know, ‘Blank Church goes live, is live right now.’ Even if you don’t check out the notification, that’s again, that’s brand recognition right there where people are gonna think about your church.

Jason Smithers:                

Are there two or three strategies that you have found that are like, this absolutely works this absolutely, it works to effectively communicate and connect with the people in our community that we’re trying to reach.

Eric Williams:               

Yeah, I mean, I think I think social media is such a moving target. I think the key has always been, I mean, just like in church. It’s like, you know, worship styles will change. Translations of the Bible will change, but the message is still the same, and the content is good. And so for me, it’s content is king. And if you can clearly, if you can clearly present your content, then that is going to be engaging 100% of the time over anything else. And so, you know, for me, it’s like clarity is a new creativity. And I know, especially for the creatives listening, like there’s this angst and need to be unique and the standout, and that’s great. But you have to decide what is your messaging for. If you’re messaging is for something to put on the wall for everybody to to look at and observe. Great. That’s art. Be an artist. But if your messaging is there to engage your community, that’s different. And so then you have to be clear. You have to understand what people want, what’s helped, what’s getting in the way of what they want, how you can express this empathy and authority that says, ‘As a church, we know what you’re going through and we have what it takes to help you overcome those things,’ and then give them a clear plan to take whatever the next step is, whether it’s to step into your church for the first time, or to step into the next step with Jesus and then giving them a clear picture of what is a successful interaction like that look like, you know. And then also what kind of failure they are trying to avoid to start from being clear in your messaging in order to engage people. I think you can win every time across every platform.

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I love how everything feels like it’s shifting towards engagement. You know, like, this is 10-15 years ago, like you could have a great light show and really good music and people would come into your doors. And like you, your seats would be full. But now, you know, 10 to 15 years later, it feels like, you know, it feels like we’re still doing that type of thing, but it feels like culture has moved on. And so maybe talk to us a little bit about how you’re seeing engagement change within your church specifically like on the weekends. So, like, how are you seeing people engage either online or in person, kind of how are you seeing things change there?

Eric Williams:                

Yeah, great question. Because I totally agree. When I, when I started volunteering and being involved in, you know, serving in church, maybe 20 years ago. Now, 15, 15 years ago now, it was, it was like who had the best light show, who had the best music that didn’t sound like an old hymn in a pew. And then who had, you know, who had the most engaging preaching that wouldn’t put you to sleep. And now it’s like everyone has caught up because of technology, because everything else like that and the other thing is, now you’re compared to everyone on the planet. There’s a base level, yes, there’s a base level of entry that you need to have in order to, I would say, like, I don’t want to say compete, that sounds bad, but in order, in order to be on par. But now what makes people stand out is how well they’re engaging with their people because you could go anywhere. You go anywhere and listen to an Andy Stanley sermon, right? But you walk into a local church to connect with your people, to connect with people directly. And so that’s what I would say through our social media interactions that has become a new customer service desk that has become a new complaint desk that has become a new triage unit. You know, those are the things that we field more often and more immediate than phone calls or than emails. And so trying to connect people who are reaching out through the social media platforms is so key. And the other thing that I know we’ve talked about previously, but you know, is like what happens when people are upset online? How do you handle that? What happens? Now you can get reviewed online. You know, now these conversations that used to happen in your sanctuaries or in your lobbies or narthexes or whatever, you know, Fellowship Hall, is whatever you call them, like now they’re blasted on the Internet for everyone in the world to see.

Jason Smithers:                 

I gave Mike’s church a Bad Yelp review because Mike didn’t hit the right note during one of his songs. (laughter)

Mike Mage:                

There’s plenty of that’s right. We’re good. (laughter)

Eric Williams:               

But I mean, but I mean, think about it. Fifteen years ago, the blue hairs in the lobby would have their little chatterbox going on about the worship leaders, you know, baggy flannel shirts and stuff like that. But that’s as far as it went. It might go around the Cracker Barrel table, but other than that, it just kind of died there. But now, you know, whatever is said about you or whatever, whatever has complained about us is said and took and twisted and could be talked about wherever. And it is not just a conversation that dies. It’s something that you can see out of context that lives on. So I think for a lot of people in our church world that are in communications or in social media creates this like anxiety over, ‘Oh, my gosh, I got a negative review.’ Or, ‘Oh, what are they saying about our new video,’ or, you know, whatever. And it’s just like this will pass. We’re not gonna, we’re not gonna do a good job of it for the next two or three years, but I think people will start to normalize it, and will handle it well.

Jason Smithers:              

So how do you know when to engage with the negativity?  What are your rules that you follow when you see a negative comment come up on your Facebook or how do you, how do you navigate that?

Eric Williams:               

Well, I have to say, I mean, I’ll just quote a source right now, is I’ve learned a lot from Dave Adamson from North Point. He’s, or Aussie Dave. I think it’s what he is on Twitter, but he’s their digital digital guy who’s in charge of all of that stuff. And so he had some really great things that have helped shape our policies. One of them was like this ‘rule of three.’ Like you respond three times and that’s it. So a troll or someone negative posts. You post once. They respond. You post twice, they respond. You post a third time and that’s it. There’s no more, you know you’re not gonna do a deep theological discussion going back and forth. Number two is, you know, kind of not to Jesus juke, everybody. But I look at Jesus’ model whenever there was a heresy or religious teacher of the law or somebody that was trying to trick him, that’s asking him questions, right, you know, you see that all throughout the Gospels. He answers them. He answers them honestly. He gives them an answer. He doesn’t always go straight up, you know, and give them exactly what they want. But he answers the individual with the crowd in mind. And so for me, that is our, that’s our litmus test, unless it’s some expletives or other physical language that is not tolerated on our site like other than that, but we always step in and respond, and we respond in a way that’s gonna honor their question. And what we’re trying to do is individually trying to usher them into a personal conversation because we value personal conversations over this; as easy as that is to make a digital connection, we value personal conversations. So the first thing we would always say is, ‘Hey, you know, I would love to talk to you more about that. What campus do you attend?’ That’s the first thing like trying to figure out if they’re already connected because that’ll usually separate people out right away. They say, ‘Oh, I don’t go to your churches.’ Okay. Great. Now, now I’m gonna handle you a little differently. But if they say, ‘Oh, I go to whatever campus,’ or ‘I attend or you know I’m connected this way.’ Perfect. Now how can we get you into a personal conversation with somebody that’s gonna love and care about you? So that’s that. But again, answering them in a positive way. You know, for the most part, when we get the people that are saying like again, we have five campuses, we’re the largest church in our area. So we take a lot of these shots. And so when they say, like a common one is we’ve got too much money and, how can you justify having big buildings while people around you are poor. And so our answer is you know what we find common ground. I say, ‘I’m so glad that you care about helping the less fortunate, because we do, too.’ And then we offer opportunities for how we can get those people involved to help us or how we can help them help the less fortunate. Say, ‘We would love to discuss our finances. We would love to discuss the opportunity that we have in our community. We’d love to talk about where maybe some of the gaps are that you’re seeing that we could get on board to help our community. We have more in common than you probably think, and we wanna learn from you.’

Jason Smithers:               

So I don’t have the data to back up this statement. 

Eric Williams:

We can make it up. That’s fine. 

Jason Smithers:

Yeah, I mean, that’s, you’re a communications guy. You could figure it out for me. (laughter) But what I’m seeing just from just taking polls of people I know is that if they have a live experience that coincides with their physical services on the weekend, that is the service that is growing exponentially more than the physically attended campuses. How are you dealing with that tension? Is that a reality for you and how do you, not combat it, because I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but how do you step into that?

Eric Williams:                

Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, we especially this past Easter, we did, we did an on stage art performance thing that the people in our online at all five physical locations than the people watching online didn’t get the same view. They saw it like a lyric video of the painting. So they didn’t get the live experience one, because the way you know, it was weird. we had to put the lyrics of the song because the song was very important, but two, because we just, we just couldn’t reproduce that live experience with excellence digitally. So, you know, we do have some things that consciousnessly as the church we’re saying, ‘This is an experience that’s reserved for people in the room.’ And so I think, you know, in the same way that we would produce different content for Facebook or Instagram or, you know, whatever else, you would produce different content for the different delivery system, just honoring the environment that you’re in. So saying, ‘Is this a live experience? It’s only gonna be excellent, live, then. Cool. Do we need to reproduce this and make sure that everybody can see it in the fish bowl online?’ No, not necessarily. But then there are other pieces where you’re going, ‘Hey, this was a live experience that people just can’t help but share.’ Like when you see a great movie or when you experience a great product or you eat at a good restaurant, you know, you can’t help but tell people. So giving people those digital tools to share. So like our Life Change stories or anything else that we would do on video trying as quickly as possible to get those up to be a digital experience that, like Jason if you went live, and you said, ‘Man, I saw this Life Change story, and it was amazing.’ Now, years ago you’d go, ‘Oh, that was great. Okay, now how can I see it?’ I don’t know. You just got to be there and then you go. Okay. Bummer. But now to be able to go, ‘This was great. This story inspired me. Hey, check this out.’ And now you’re able to point to it.

Jason Smithers:              

Play the tape, 2 to 3 years in the future. What do you think this looks like? What does this mean for the church as a whole?

Eric Williams:

Oh, I think churches like Crossroads in Cincinnati they are, we met with them, their lead pastor stood in front of all of us and said, ‘You know, we’re on the cutting edge. We might even be on the bleeding edge of this.’ And so there are churches that are, like, way out there doing this where it is. It is you, you’ve got an internet device in your pocket. You’ve got a movie screen in your pocket, you know. And how do we transmit an in person church experience into your pocket. And so, just like we’re talking about 15 years ago, when it was all about the light show and the music. If you think about 15 years ago, churches were starting to become, or the progressive churches were starting to become more like movie theaters, right, where you had movie style seating, it was a dark room. There were no more stained glass. And really, that was one of those things where I could walk into an environment where I could consume the content, but I could be anonymous and alone. And now people are using their cellphones to do the same thing. So how do we give them that option, just like we did 15 years ago saying, ‘Hey, just keep attending. We’re not gonna bother you. Nobody’s gonna come around and touch you or, you know, we’re not gonna you know, I’m not gonna take any of your information.’ Like how do we still give them an option to, one, attend andbe anonymous, which you know, could be an online service or whatever. Then, how do we give them an intermediate step to say, like, ‘If I’m on vacation with my kids or if I’m sick or you know God forbid, I have a hard time getting my toddlers out the door. Preschoolers dressed,’ and stuff like, ‘Okay, it’s just not gonna work out,’ how can they still experience church without adding additional burdens of making them show up to our church service. And that I think extends to groups. I think that extends to worship even if some things were going way outside the box. I think for some of us, like prayer type of situations, you know. That’s what I’m saying, like Crosswords in Cincinnati,  they’re doing a really great job of, they had a whole month of prayer fasting where, like at 7 a.m. they just had a worship leader scheduled every day to get up and do a, uh to a worship set at 7 a.m. And like daughters walking in the background getting, you know, getting cereal in the morning and stuff like that stuff like that, but it’s organic, and it’s real you know what I mean and having an online Facebook Live prayer session. Can you do that? You know, 10 years ago we probably get chased out of our churches for mentioning that stuff. But now it’s like, Yes, I think we can. I Facetime my kids every time I’m away from them on vacation for that genuine connection and interaction. Why don’t we do that in the church? And that’s not to, not to take over any of the live experience. It’s to supplement when the live experience isn’t possible.

Mike Mage:                

Something that we’ve been dealing with at our church is obviously the shift, you know, to online services, online programming, all that kind of stuff, that this, you know, we’ve been talking about it for now a little bit. And, you know, we have a lot of people who are still holding on to the way church has basically been done, you know, for almost 2000 years. You know, this whole shift, this whole shift to online is like a brand new thing for Christianity. And, you know, we have a lot of people still holding on to that same, you know, like, well, it’s still the best thing to be in person. And, you know, I think it’s an argument that we can have, but I don’t think the online stuff is going away. So I guess my question, my question is, how do you, as, you know, the communications director, the experience director even, you know, in some sort of creative position where you understand that online is not gonna go away. If anything, we need to be on the forefront to be able to engage them. How do you sort of engage with either your staff or maybe, you know, I’m sure it’s not always older people, but for the most part, you know, it’s probably an older generation. How do you engage with them to say that, like, this is the way that things are going, you know, what kind of conversations have you had before? You know, have you even done that before within your church?

Eric Williams:                

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think you’re right. It’s not always the older generation, because there is definitely people in the older generation, that are hopping online and that, you know, they’ve got iPhones too. If the first thing is, I acknowledge that all of that is healthy, you know what I mean like, is it healthy to say I need to, I need to unplug. Yes. Is it healthy to say that I need to get in the room with other people? Yes. So to assure people that for the foreseeable future, that’s not gonna change, you know, unless the government does something weird and wacko. Unless something drastic changes around us, the trajectory of our churches, it’s still gonna be dependent upon live interaction. I mean that no matter what has happened from the beginning of church time. Even if you think about it, Paul would go to different churches, but he would also send them letters. So that was kind of the first virtual communication. I mean, imagine that. Think about the people in the first congregation that’s like, ‘Well, Paul was just here. How come you got this letter that’s being read by somebody else? No, this is blasphemy.’ You know, like, there were probably conversations regarding those lines, whereas it’s like, but that human connection is still gonna be there. But what happens when, and you hear Paul in his letters, we started like, ‘I wish I could be there for you. I pray about you guys all the time. I want to be present. But since I can’t, I’ve sent my messenger so and so or here’s a letter to you in reference to other letter.’ So I think just trying to honor people that are in that space. And so, yeah, I’m with you. My preference is live. I also know that we want to be able to reach people where they are. So we’re not gonna leave you behind because we’re gonna make sure that live is live, but just like for the people that can’t make live all the time, we need to provide a supplement for them. Just like for people that can’t make digital all the time, we’re gonna have other experiences that are gonna be live only. And that’s not, you know, again being very transparent going, ‘We’re probably not gonna make it right. And we’re probably not gonna make everybody happy. But what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to serve people the best with the resources that we have with what we believe God has called us to do.’ Just make sure that you’re honoring the calling that God has for you on your church. And don’t try to be anybody else.

Jason Smithers:                 

Eric I would love to  shift from I think we’ve been talking a lot about external communications, but I know there’s also a battle with internal communications. So I have to use this example of, I think this is very common in church work. Is, you know, you get to Wednesday or Thursday, the video team, the band, the sound, lights have put all of their working hours into this one killer song. But on Thursday it’s not vibing with the message. The pastor doesn’t, isn’t feeling the song anymore, so it gets axed. How do you deal with the bodies on the floor at that point? How do you pick up the pieces, or how do you manage that in a healthy way? See what I just did there? Got number three. (laughter)

Eric Williams:                

Well, I’ll tell you what I think. I think you probably have some listeners that were going ‘Thursday. Shoot. I wish I knew by Thursday.’ (laughter) I mean, my so, yeah. I mean, like, for us, it’s definitely, we know a lot of things by Thursday, Friday, Saturday maneuver. But, you know, I think I think first of all, that is a tension that’s always gonna be managed. I don’t think that’s ever gonna be a problem that you’re gonna want to solve. Because on one hand, you know you want to leave space for adjustments to be made, for life to happen, for, you know, even if you had a great video going on. If we have a national tragedy or disaster, sometimes that’s something you’re just gonna have to change, you know. I mean, like, you just, you’ve gotta leave room for that. So I think establishing that with your teams right away of saying, ‘Hey guys, our value is to be planned. Our value is to be done by Thursday. Our value is to be locked in by this point. But, you know, from time to time we want to be nimble. We wanna be, we want to be able to maneuver when we need to in order to respond to the needs of our people, of our community, of our lead pastor, if our worship leader goes down and we need to change keys.’ You know, whatever, whatever you need to do. So that would be in on the front end. And then I think when that moment comes up, you know, and Jason you and I have talked about this, but when that moment comes up, like asking for people to get it done in the moment, but assuring them that there’s gonna be an opportunity to talk about it later. So, ‘Hey, I know this is frustrating.’ Again recognizing that it’s frustrating. Don’t just expect them to get over it. But just say, ‘I know this is frustrating. I know we’ve worked a lot on this, and this is something that’s violating our value of being set.’ You know, whatever that value is, ‘But we need to get this done. Let’s do whatever we can to make this a win now and then on Monday, we’re going to sit down and talk about. So if you have any feedback that’s not going to help us get to where we need to go, please note that. Write that down and I would love to discuss that on Monday.’ And then as a good leader following up on Monday and following through with what you’re with, what you’re saying and restate the value and being healthy enough to know when that value changes.

Jason Smithers:

I don’t know where this kind of necessarily fits in our conversation, but I know we talk a lot about things moving into a digital market. But the fact is, I still on Easter, the week before Easter, I get about 1100 church mailers in my mailbox. (laughter) So obviously print is not dead yet. What, well, maybe some quick best practices, is that wasted money? Is there any type of return on that? How do you feel about print mailers at this point?

Eric Williams:               

It’s all about expectations for me. I think, you know, this is one thing going through the story brand process when you meet with the, you know Donald Miller, he’s the guy that’s heading that up. And he actually started advocating for doing direct mailers. And he said that, you know, writing a sales letter for a business and sending it through the mail, and a bunch of us are in the room and we’re eye rolling. Like what the heck? And then when he said it’s not too close a sale, it’s because everybody, even if they look at it for two seconds to process what it is and throw it away, they still see your brand name on the mailer on the return address. And so that’s brand recognition, whether or not you know you. So if you are sending out mailers and saying the goal of these mailers is to increase attendance by X percentage or to get whatever percentage return, that’s probably an unhealthy goal, and that’s probably gonna be a waste of money. Is it gonna be super effective that we’re definitely gonna be able to increase attendance? I don’t know. But when I send one to Jason Smithers and it’s gonna remind you of what our Easter times are because you’re a regular attender and you might actually put that up and go, ‘Man, that was a really useful tool. The fact that I have this reminder when my Easter times are.’

Mike Mage:               

You mentioned something in a conversation that we were having earlier about the way that you guys are calculating your online attendance as opposed to in person attendants. And I’d love for you to just to talk a little bit about your strategy to that, and how you guys are formulating your numbers. Because I know it can look a little different than just, you know, butts in the seats kind of thing.

Eric Williams:              

Yeah, so, full disclosure. We’re not there yet, but this is our dream. And this is where we want to move. Right now, so, I, and I still don’t have the right date for when we started online services, but it’s probably 10 years ago is right around that, the timeline where we’d start online services, and then immediately we saw, like, a 1000 to 2000 dip in physical attendance, which obviously for that time, you know, early two thousands, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is going on?’ Immediately online became kind of this red headed step child of the church. But we would list out Campus One-Physical, Campus One-Auditorium, Campus One-Children’s, Campus One-Students, you know, total physical attendance. Campus One, Campus Two, Campus Three, all that. And then, there would be a line for online. And it would just be one chunk of online viewers. And so, of course, like over the years, you start to look at that and you go, ‘Great. We have people that are watching, but they don’t have names, they don’t have faces, they don’t have stories. They’re not in our community.’ So, like our campus pastors and our campus staff, they’re kind of like, okay with, you know, ‘Okay, great.’ That in essence, we’re almost setting them up to look at them like competition, like they’re taking away from us because now people are going to watch on their phones instead of coming into our church. So take that and say, ‘This is how we want to go. This is where, you know, we’re trying to use data to help us.’ Is to say, if we could attach a zip code to every single person that’s watching online, whether that’s a pop up window that says, ‘You know what zip code are you watching,’ you know, we’ve done that sort of thing. You know, we’ve done that before with how many people are watching the screen. What we’d love to do is figure out which zip codes are attached to which of our campuses within that service area and, you know, let like we mentioned off line that the Catholic Church has been doing this for years with her diocese of saying we have a physical intensive of X, a membership roll of Y and then these are the souls were responsible for in our community of 750,000. And you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ But they realize that that’s who they’ve been called to serve. And so now if we say okay with, now, we have a physical attendance of X. We have groups of Y, we have physical attendants that also watches online of this number. But ultimately, they look to say, ‘Let’s list it Campus One-Physical, Campus One-Online.’ So now campus pastors and campus staff are looking at that number of saying I might have 2000 people in my church right now, physically, but there’s another 1500 that are watching online. Some of them could be regular attendees that are coming, you know, once a month and watching the others online that could be on vacation. You know what, whatever it could be people that are in our community checking us out, you know, maybe they don’t want to step foot in because they’re not ready yet. But at least to be able to think about things differently of saying you know, going back to an earlier question. You asked, like what we see in the next five years. I think that’s part of the digital transformation is to see people not as just people who walk into our doors, but people who would be connected to our church in whatever way and not to shame them or downplay them or discount them if they’re not 3 to 4 weekend a month physical attenders.

Mike Mage:               

Are you gauging, so people put in, you know, there’s a pop up that comes up and people put in their zip code. But are you also asking, like how many people are watching on a certain, like IP address?

Eric Williams:              

So here’s, you know, when we first started online, we had a pop up that said how many people are watching with you. So we know that pop up thing works, and then we averaged out to our multiplier is 1.4. So we take whatever our unique views are, and in livestream, we use it for unique, unique views, excluding loads on livestream and we multiply that by 1.4 because we saw over five years of collecting that data, it was consistent at 1.4 was the average. Then when we checked with Life Church and theirs was, like 1.525 were like, ‘Okay, 1.4. Yep, that works.’ So we know that works. So therefore, we know that we could do the same type of pop up with a zip code. We have not started that yet. This is really I mean, we’re really new with this right off the Easter, but this is like part of when we were talking about my job transition is to get into how do we put some gas behind that to make sure that we’re capturing it because, you know, I just started doing some rough estimates with what livestream could capture a ce faras if you if you actually ping in a city. And I said, like, our Finley campus, which is our smallest campus right now, you know, something like 50 to 60 additional people on a weekend attend that we could tell, you know, if they’re outside of that city limits or if their IP is pinging somewhere else, you know. Great. But like, I just pitched it to our leadership. And I said, ‘What if our attendance report looked like this.’ And just lined it up that way with the numbers that I had, I didn’t pad them at all, and it was like, ‘Wow, that would be a big difference for us if our numbers look like that,’ you know, thinking that way. And that’s where really we got that from Crossroads because they stopped calling their campus pastors “campus pastors,” and now they call them “community pastors” because you’re not just in charge. I know it’s semantics, but you’re not just part of your campus or of your walls. You’re actually in charge of that community. And so thinking about your job is how do I engage the community is what we should be doing anyway. But it’s another tool that helps saying, you know, people are engaging with your campus outside of your campus every single weekend.

Jason Smithers:                 

Eric if church staff want to reach out to you, if they have more questions on the things that we talked about today, what’s the best way to get in contact with you? Maybe share your website and maybe your home address and your cell phone number. (laughter) And your social security number.

Eric Williams:               

My credit card information. (laughter) Well on social media, I mean, basically, every social media account is EricW712. E–r-i-c-W-7-1-2 because my birthday is July 12th and that was my very first CompuServe email address. (laughter)

Jason Smithers:                

Way to stay strong. (laughter)

Eric Williams:               

Yeah, well, pretty much, it’s pretty much guaranteed that nobody’s gonna take it now. So EricW712 you can reach me at all the major social media outlets there. If you want to send me an email, if this is a specific church question, I’d love to help people just troubleshoot anytime they want. But, you know, feel free to email me. EricW@cedarcreek.tv. I also help churches clarify their message as a story brand guide and consultant for messaging. And I do that through my website 212consultingservices.com. So if you go to 212consultingservices.com you could see some information about the story brand framework. If you’d like to have a conversation on how we could clarify your messaging in order to help engage the people in your community, you know, I’d be happy to see how we can help.

Mike Mage:               

Well, Eric, I cannot thank you enough. I mean, this has been incredible. Incredible stuff. I would love to have you back on the podcast at some point. Would that be alright if we had you on again at some point?

Eric Williams:

I’m willing to help out however I can, because I love what you guys are doing and what you’re all about.

Jason Smithers:                

Awesome. Yeah, we’ll definitely take you up on that for sure. 

Mike Mage:               

Yeah. So Eric, thank you. Thank you so much. And we’ll definitely talk to you again.

(closing)

Jason Smithers:                

That was an awesome episode with Eric. He thinks in a way that I just, I don’t think of, especially when it comes to communications and in the church world. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah, I really, really enjoyed talking with him and just even the conversations we had before that episode were just as enlightening as the interview that we even got to record with him. And I can’t wait for him to be on the podcast again. And speaking of enjoying, if you enjoyed this podcast and you want to hear more, we would absolutely love if you, the listener, could share this on social media or with your creative team at your church. Or you could just simply leave us a review in your podcast app or whatever you download your podcasts. It would mean the world to us.

Justin Price:                 

It would. Any review would be incredible, except for a one star. I know if this, if you were thinking one star for this one, wait till next week. The next episode is incredible. It is definitely a five star episode. We’ve got Sean Curran from Passion who’s really breaking down his story, his history, a lot of how he went from being an artist that was no longer on a label to being on stage at Passion, one of the largest worship experiences in the world. It’s an incredible story. I think you guys are gonna love it. Thanks for listening this week and we look forward to hanging out with you guys in a little bit.

(music)

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 5 – Mike Cervantes

You could do everything, but you shouldn’t.

Creatives that serve in churches are often swiss army knives. They can do a little bit of everything. Developments in technology have even made expert tools available at a pretty reasonable price. Mike Cervantes, Chief Mastering Engineer of the Foxboro, talks about how critical it is to fight that impulse and find strategic partners to help you get it right, from recording to mixing to mastering.

>> Episode 6: Stephen Brewster


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:              

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(music intro)

Well, welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast, where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. I am your host, Mike. And today we actually have an incredible conversation with another Mike, the world’s best name in the world. Mike Cervantes, who is a mastering engineer at Foxboro Studios. And we’re gonna be talking about a lot of awesome things when it comes to mastering. Jason, you actually know Mike, right?

Jason Smithers:               

Yeah, I know Mike through, he’s done work for us. So I have a band called The Science Class and we had a successful kickstarter about five years ago, and which allowed us to even then do a second project. And when I was looking for a master and engineer, I kept hearing the name The Foxboro. You have to talk to Mike at The Foxboro. And when I looked it up, I looked at his credits and he’s got, he’s mastered music for independent major label, Dove Award winning Latin Grammy and Grammy nominated artists. His masters have been found on Billboard charts, Spotify charts number one spots on iTunes. So basically, I looked and, like, okay, I have to work with this guy. I don’t know if I can afford this guy, but I have to work for him, and I come to find out he is very reasonable. And he’s such a great guy to work with. So, I am really looking forward to our conversation with him. And just to kind of unpack in that world, that is, can kind of be kind of mysterious for churches. Like what is what does it even mean to master something? What does that even mean to, you know? Do I really need somebody else to mix my stuff? Can I just do it myself? So really looking forward to this conversation?

Mike Mage:               

Yeah. I, when I was with Bellarieve, I never fully understood any of that world. Like I understood recording poorly because I had no training whatsoever. As most, I feel like most worship leaders, most people in churches do, like, we understand recording at its base level. And I remember when we were doing demos and everything with Bellerieve on sort of our first studio release, you know, we would do stuff with a producer, and he would do these rough mixes of what it, you know, this stuff that we were recording and it’s like, “Well, this needs to be louder,  this needs to be,” things we had, you know, this long laundry list of stuff he goes, ‘Oh, that’s a mixing issue. That’s a mastering issue, whatever.’ And so we were starting to get, like, so upset like you’re not doing your job, but really, like, it was a mixing in a master. I had no idea, I was so naive to how important all of this stuff was. Do you have any sort of similar experiences with that?

Jason Smithers:              

Yeah, well, I’m looking forward to people hearing this conversation because I get into one that I won’t, I won’t spoil it. But within this whole thing is basically we; I was with a church and we wanted to put out a live recording and we practiced for one month. And when we pressed the button, something else happened that I did not want and left me kind of devastated from there. So I’ll let the episode get into that. But it’s also kind of funny with mastering as it’s always this like, weird mythical thing. You don’t really know what happens. You just give your files and it goes into a cauldron with smoking or something, and then your files come out sounding better. I don’t know what it is that I love this conversation, because Mike was able to kind of unpack for us the value of mastering and getting it right in the recording and mixing. 

Mike Mage:             

Well, I think it’s a great topic that everyone kind of needs to be informed about, especially every worship leader out there, every creative director out there that is planning on doing anything, you know, with original music. And even, you know, diving a little deeper, trying to find out who you are, who God says you are, becoming more and more yourself. And you know, having your unique voice in this awesome mission that we have in bringing disciples to Jesus. So it’s an incredible conversation we really hope you enjoy with Mike Cervantes of Foxboro Studios. 

(music and guest quote)

Mike Cervantes:

“Just be yourself. People will notice if you’re trying to be somebody else. You know, just think outside the box. Just because somebody hasn’t done it before doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.” 

(music)

Mike Mage:

Well, welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. Today on the podcast, we have Mike Cervantes. Is that right? 

Mike Cervantes:

Yes, that’s right. 

Mike Mage:

He is an incredible audio producer, works a lot with mastering audio. And Mike, it’s so great to have you on our, on the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mike Cervantes:                 

Well, thank you for having me.

Mike Mage:                

So, Mike, I know Jason knows you fairly well, but I would love if you could give our audience maybe just some background as to who you are. How did you get to doing what you’re doing right now?

Mike Cervantes:                

So I am a mastering engineer. And that’s all I do now. And I operate out of my studio called The Foxboro, which is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thankfully, today we live in a day of age where you can just send files over the internet and, and that’s how I run my business. I pretty much, I sit in my cave here, which you could just imagine how dark it is. And I just receive files from people, different producers, mixers, engineers, sometimes artists from New York, Nashville L. A, Arkansas, Texas, Central America, South America, Canada. I have a client in Australia.  I’ve worked with people in Budapest before in Europe. So it’s, it’s a wide variety of people that I get to work with. And, how I got started was; I was playing in a band when I was 15. We tried to record an EP at church, the church I was going to, and it didn’t sound very good. And I thought I could do it better, which is kind of, kind of a tale of a lot of engineers who, they have a band they try to record something and it doesn’t sound very good, and they think they can do it better. So we ended up selling that terrible EP for $5 to our friends, and I think we made, like, 300 bucks or something, which is pretty good. And we, I just used that money to buy some microphones and fix up some equipment that I had and basically started recording at home. And this is before, like pro tools was really popular, before the whole, like, home studio revolution I guess you could say started. And, there was a club in town here called Skeletones, which, if anybody’s listening that toured in bands, they might know what I’m talking about. But it was a pretty popular club, and they only accepted demos that were, they couldn’t be basement demos to play at the club. So to be considered, it had to be a legit demo. And so, you know, that was my goal. And I recorded a demo for my band and one of my friends, we jumped in my car, drove downtown. We listen to it because we’re so excited to turn it in. And he looked at me. I remember he looked at me and said, “This sounds really good.” And I was like, ‘Holy cow, like my friend thinks it sounds good.’ And, so we turned in the demo and my band got to the play at the club, so I was like, ‘Okay, great. It must sound good enough.’ And then it popped in my mind, like I wonder how many other bands are trying to do this in town and they can’t get a good enough demo, but they’re a pretty good band. So I went on a website called purevolume.com, which some people might know what I’m talking about.

Mike Mage:                 

I remember. 

Mike Cervantes:

Yeah, this is pre, like My Space a little bit like kinda in the same area of time, but, so I went on there, I think I emailed like, 20 bands or something. And I got one band that was like, ‘Hey, yeah, we’ll record with you.’ And that was my first, like, paid project recording when I was 16- years-old. And from that point I end up going to college for recording. Throughout college I recorded bands that’s how I made money, and by the end of college, I basically had built up a clientele to start my own studio in downtown Grand Rapids and, which was called The Foxboro. So, I ended up, I was there for, like, two and a half years, produced a lot of bands. This whole time I was producing and mixing and recording bands, I never did mastering, so I always sent it out to somebody else. I actually thought mastering should have been the most suicidal career in all of America because it just sounded so boring. So, I actually had an opportunity to sit in with a very, very talented mastering engineer named Hank Williams in Nashville. And I got an opportunity to sit in with him for like, an afternoon. And, he pretty much blew my mind as to what mastering was and pretty much proved me wrong that it was not a technical thing. It’s very artistic. And when I was there, there was, I didn’t notice any interns or assistants. So I had just asked him like, ‘Hey, do you do any internships here?’ And he kind of told me, ‘If you moved down here, you know, you can come in whenever it’s appropriate to watch me work and ask me questions and stuff like that.’ So pretty much being a fly on the wall and it wasn’t, there wasn’t ever a title given to me, but essentially, it was an apprenticeship that he was allowing me to do. So I ended up moving down there, about four months after that. Through that opportunity, I not only got to learn from one of the biggest mastering engineers at that time but I also got an opportunity, a job opportunity where he recommended me to a big mastering studio in New York. Through that, I worked myself up the ranks and became a mastering engineer there. And I worked out of Scott Hole’s room and he took me under his wing. After a while decided, you know what, this is all, this is just being done over the Internet with my clients. So, like, I could do this from anywhere. I could be on Mars with a WiFi connection and still be able to do this. So, you know, what’s stopping me from moving back to Michigan and doing this from Michigan. And that’s when I decided to. There’s a lot more to the story which we don’t need to get into you, but, ended up moving back to Michigan with my wife and started The Foxboro over again as just a mastering studio. So that was about three years ago, actually, and since then, there’s just been some pretty big opportunities. I’ve gotten to work with some pretty big Christian artists, like For King and Country and Love in the Outcome and Sanctus Real. So there’s been, you know, quite a bit of; what I get to do mastering, it’s a very, what’s appealing for me at least, is it’s very quick. It’s not like you’re spending two days on a mix or two days recording one song. It’s usually like, ‘Yeah, we can pop out an album and a couple singles in a day.’ And it’s very fast paced, there’s not, you’re kind of thinking more about the song and just how you can do more justice to it if it’s needed, at least in my world. And, so that’s what I really enjoy about it. And you get to work with a ton of genres. So it’s been, it’s been pretty awesome the last five years, just completely dedicating myself to mastering and I’m just really excited about a lot of things happening. So that is the story.

Jason Smithers:

That’s a cool story as far as how you started with your first band. And I think you said you made about $300. And when you say it, it’s like it doesn’t really sound like much, but that’s about 299% more than you could make on Spotify these days. 

Mike Cervantes:

(laughter) That actually that’s true. 

Jason Smithers:

Yeah, that is fantastic. So it sounds like you have a lot of roots in the church and, you know, here Healthy Church Growth we’re trying to help churches in any way we can. And I feel like with your experience and your history, you can really speak into that. So I would love that kind of here. Maybe even if you have a story. Or maybe it’s just these common misconceptions that churches have when they’re so excited, they’re ready to record their, or maybe they’ve finished their recording for their church album and they’re ready for mastering. And maybe they don’t know what mastering is. I know that there’s a lot of misconceptions with that. Is there anything maybe you can help with churches with direction with that? Or just even a funny story that you have from your past of working with this experience?

Mike Cervantes:               

Yeah. Yeah. So I got a lot for you. We could be on here for hours. But really, yeah. Coming from the church, there’s definitely the misconception of, ‘Oh, we can do everything.’ Like and it’s true. Yet you could do everything. So for, you know, the music world, for example. Yeah, we’re gonna do, you know, the church will say we’re gonna do everything ourselves. Well, then you release the song, and again, going back to Spotify. You know, if your song sounds terrible, that your congregation is only gonna listen to it one time and tell you a good job, and that’s it. And, you know, and then you get that less than 1000 plays on Spotify, which doesn’t help anybody. So really, the goal or the, you know, the thing that I have seen it’s like, ‘well, how do we get these? True? How do we help these churches so that they can make a product that their church is like, Holy crap. This sounds awesome. Like, Yeah, I’m gonna.’ You know, that’s where the one misconception is. The second misconception is, ‘Well, hey, we could just mix it ourselves, and then we’ll send it in for mastering because that Mike Cervantes guy at The Foxboro he worked on that for King and Country Song and it’s going to sound so good.’ And, you know, there’s been a note. So here’s a story. You know, there was a church that did that. ‘Hey, you worked on this For King and Country song. You know, we want you to master our song.’ And, it didn’t sound the greatest as a mix, and I mastered it, made it sound better as that’s what I do. Sent it back. And they’re like, ‘Well, hey, wait a minute. This sounds better. But it doesn’t sound like that For King and Country Song.’ And, it’s like, ‘Well, yeah, you know, your mix wasn’t, it wasn’t the greatest.’ And so, you know, through that, you know, I helped. Obviously, I’m gonna help them through that process to make their mix a little bit better, and we did get it better. And it, you know, ultimately sounded better. Didn’t sound like the For King and Country song that I had worked on, but it did sound better. So, but I’ve also had it where churches have sent me songs that they’ve mixed themselves. And it’s like, ‘Holy cow, who in the world mixed this song?’ Because it’s amazing. And so, don’t get me wrong, like there are some churches that do, you know, what they’re doing as far as that. But as far as mastering goes, it will add that extra bit to, you know, either enhancement or even just checking to make sure it’s gonna translate well on all systems, streaming platforms, all that stuff. So that’s where, that’s where I come in as a mastering engineer. To help those churches that can mix well, as being that last guy to pretty much approve like, that, ‘Yes, this is gonna work.’

Mike Mage:           

Hey, so I was  thinking about this as you were talking about the difference between mixing and mastering and how, you know, a bad mix, even if you master it, it still won’t probably sound up to par of whatever you’re probably wanting it to sound like. So maybe, maybe just drilling down a little bit into what is the actual difference between mixing and mastering and why even just on like a very basic level. Why should someone mix then master? Obviously, I know it might sound like a dumb question, but, like, why is mastering the last thing to happen? Why don’t you master tracks after you record them and then mix it? You know what? Why does it go through, sort of this progression of recording, mixing and mastering? Does that make sense?

Mike Cervantes:                

Yes, Absolutely. So, yeah, kind of to answer the question very easily. Recording. So the band goes into the studio, right? They record all their instruments. You got like guitar, drum tracks, bass guitar, piano, keys, vocals. You have all these different tracks, right? All these different instruments, and they’re playing at all different times of the song. So, everything recorded. Well, you have to send it to a mixing engineer or a mixer, to basically essentially balance all those sounds at the proper times throughout the song. So, and then they can also like, add effects and make it sound bigger and better and all that stuff. And so their focus is on the balance of all the individual instruments. And then they print that down to a left and right mix, a wave file, and then they send it to me. So my focus as a mastering engineer is just on the mix. It’s not on individual instruments or anything like that. And throughout the mixing process, they may have been really focusing on certain things that kind of led them into a world where, you know, like the mix turned out darker because everything was recorded very bright, and they had the, you know, kind of tame those individual instruments in the mix. And then, they, it leads them into a place where it ends up being darker and where I can come in and say, ‘Oh, we need a little bit more top end and make things a little bit airy.’ And, ‘Oh, well, the bottom end, you know, it’s a little boomy. Let’s control it a little bit more.’ And then, of course, ‘Let’s make it a little bit louder,’ so it just sounds, has more, more impact, more punch. You know, there’s a lot of different ways that we can go with mastering. But essentially, I’m just focusing on the mix. I’m focusing on the forest where they’re focusing on the trees in the forest. If that makes any sense.

Jason Smithers:                

I think there’s also this misconception that, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna record it, and we’ll fix it in the mix. We’ll autotune this. We’ll get all this, you know, I got your 1000 plug ins that I can put on this to make it sound completely different.’ I’m sure that makes you cringe. And maybe there’s some advice that you can give to churches out there of, like, how do you nail it in the recording process? Like, what are some tips that you would say, like, ‘If you did this, man, you would, the rest of the process is gonna go really well for you.’

Mike Cervantes:               

Yeah. So, where it starts is the musician, simply. You can’t, you can’t have somebody who’s just started playing drums four months ago, record drums and expect, you know, expect to put on the Travis Barker plug in sound like Travis Barker. So, you know, really, you know, I’m a drummer. So, like the thing that I’ve learned is, a good drummer can make a bad drum set sound really good because they’re just good. They have really good technique, and that definitely is one of the hardest instruments to record, along with piano. But, you know, as far as drums go, it requires a lot of technique and all that stuff. So pick really good musicians. And at that point, I would say it goes to the instrument too. You know, any bass players out there will know there’s a big difference between a Mexican made P Bass and an American made P Bass. A giant difference in tone, electronics, everything. And, so if you have a good bass player who’s on American P Bass, it’s gonna sound awesome. It’s gonna be really easy for that mixer to mix the music. And then at that point, you know, it’s just really recording techniques, you know, using your microphones properly. And yeah, “fix it in the mix,” that’s a very common phrase. A lot of people will think, ‘Oh, we’ll just put the microphone up and hey, we got sound. We can start recording now.’ Like it’s a little bit more than that. You have to move the mic, move the mike to wherever it sounds good. And then if it sounds good, then you can record. Not just all we got sound. And we’ll fix it with plug ins later. No. Doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, not yet. Maybe, maybe in 20 years it’ll work really easy like that.

Jason Smithers:               

So Mike, you have The Foxboro going, and it’s been going three years strong, right, for mastering. And within our conversations with each other, I felt this, this passion from you that, like, ‘This isn’t the only thing I should be doing right now. I think I can really go further helping churches produce something great,’ and just like the techniques you just talked about. And so you have launched a new business called the Kingdom Crew. Do you want to talk to us a little bit about what that looks like.

Mike Cervantes:            

Yeah. So Kingdom Crew came out of a very similar situation that I’m sure a lot of churches go through. They recorded all their songs. They recorded a whole album’s worth of songs. And it took three times longer than it should have. They wasted all their time doing that, which is fine, you know, it’s better to make sure the songs were right, and they sound great, recorded great. But then, of course they scheduled a release date that was within two weeks of the time they finish recording. So they’re scrambling to figure out what you know they’re gonna do to get this thing out on time, get it sounding great. And so I was in a position where we very much like, is exactly that. Basically, a church had a release date. They’re already promoting on social media, and but the album wasn’t even done yet, and so I had worked with them in the past. They had reached out to me and asked, you know, ‘Do you have any suggestions for some guys that could help us mix this thing and help, you know, make it sound better?’ So I just thought, ‘Well, yeah, I got these two guys, you know, they, they have these CCM credits, like Christian Music Credits.’ Those guys mixed the album. Sounded great. I got to do the mastering. It was a piece of cake because I worked with those guys a lot of times in the past and pretty much at the very end of it when I was doing the QC listen, and just double checking all the files I had this idea of like, ‘Holy cow. What if we turn this into, like, a business and a brand or a service, really, for churches that are going through the exact same thing.’ And because I get this all the time where, you know, a bad mix comes and it’s like, ‘Well, you know, if you guys would have just sent it to somebody else, you know, would sound really good.’ And so for me to do it on my own as The Foxboro, it was kind of, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, like, just as The Foxboro. I thought it would just be better if we had a group of guys and call it something. And Kingdom Crew was what we, what I chose to call it. And ultimately, yeah, that’s what we’re doing. We’re just, we’re here to offer mixing and mastering services or just mastering, for those churches that can mix on their own. So, like I said, there’s a lot of churches that have the ability to record their own music. But when it comes to the mixing and mastering, they just don’t know what they’re doing. Or it’s like a daunting task. They have to get it done so quickly. And the last thing you want to do as a church is release something that, like I said, the beginning is not good quality, and then your congregation doesn’t care.

Jason Smithers:              

Mike, I love the fact that it’s, you would probably want the churches to reach out to you before they even start the recording process so that there’s a relationship there that you guys are built up and said, ‘Hey, guys, you’re ready to record. Here’s a little bit of advice that I could give you before you record and that way, they’re getting this stuff you’re mixers and you mastering are getting some great content coming through.’ I love the extra touch that you guys are adding to help churches. I was with the church back when I was in full-time ministry, and I was tasked with doing a live recording. And I, I think I had the band practicing for 4 to 6 weeks, something like that. And we got into the actual recording and it went fantastic. Like it was a perfect, like we all got off stage, we’re high fiving. And then someone was waiting for me backstage to let me know the audio crashed. (laughter) Super devastating.

Mike Cervantes:

Blue screen of death. (laughter)

Jason Smithers:

Yes, everything. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong with that. And it was the worst week. I could remember just feeling just defeated after that. And looking at it, you know, that has been, you know, five years ago. But looking at it now, it’s like, ‘Man, if I would’ve had experts along with me to, like, just make, you just do a couple double checks here like, ‘Hey, are you doing this? Are you doing this?’ That would have been so helpful. So I wish the service existed five years ago. I wouldn’t have to look at a blue screen of death. (laughter)

Mike Mage:               

I was just thinking about kind of, how and, you know, we’re talking about the misconceptions and all that kind of stuff. What, when you’re listening to a track, when you’re even going to master something, or you’re listening to other songs you know that have been mastered obviously through Spotify or whatever; what are some things that you’re listening for to make, for a track, have, like good mastering?

Mike Cervantes:                

Well, the first thing is vocals. That is the first cause, in my opinion, that is, that is the most important part of a song. It’s what people are listening to, you know, for a majority of people are listening to you is the vocals, the lyrics. So that’s the first thing I listen to is to make sure that that is clear and it’s sounding good. You know, to get into a, to get more technical that can also lead into making the Phantom Center a lot more powerful and punchier and just clearer. Because if I…

Mike Mage:               

Real quick. What’s the Phantom Center? I’ve never heard that term before.

Mike Cervantes:               

So the Phantom Center is basically, it’s a pretty technical term, I guess. 

Mike Mage:               

No, no. It’s cool.

Mike Cervantes:               

But yeah, the Phantom Center is when you have two speakers, left and right speaker, and you play a song and you hear the vocals in the center. That’s the Phantom Center. So it’s basically the same signal that’s coming out of both speakers at the same time, but it is centered. So, so yeah, that that’s what a Phantom Center is. So really, even in mixing, too, I mean, here’s some advice for churches that are trying to mix. If you can get your vocal snare and kick the sound right in the center, and with the bass guitar, too, chances are everything else is gonna fall into place because, those, having it in the center, there’s so much happening. Like so to get everything that cut right is where it really, that’s where the impact is, that you can make as a mixer.

Jason Smithers:             

Mike, what would you say, out there right now, as we’re recording this podcast, work that isn’t your own that you hear either on the radio, you’re grabbing the files off iTunes, where you’re like, ‘Wow, this just sounds amazing.’ Like, what’s a great frame of reference for you right now that’s just that, you know, $100 stake. That’s just the way, it just sounds fantastic. And maybe give the listeners this frame of reference of what, from a  professional mastering engineer, what sounds good.

Mike Cervantes:              

Oh, man. That is really hard, and like, that is really hard to answer. As far as albums go, I guess, like right now what I’m listening to and, think, at least what I think sounds good right now. I actually really like the new Keith Urban album. I, you know, if I were to say that, yeah, the Graffiti one. If I were to say that when I was 17 my friends would probably disowned me, and, you know, I wouldn’t have any more friends. But, like, you know, just stuff that doesn’t sound too over compressed. You know, in general, it just sounds alive. Sounds like it’s jumping out of the speakers. To me, that’s what is, sounds really good.

Jason Smithers:                 

You and I have had a conversation before just about churches just trying to find their own voice. And I’m sure at The Foxboro, you have probably noticed a lot of church projects that come in and just start to sound the same. Either sound like they’re trying to be Hillsong and trying to be Bethel. They’re just, they’re not finding their own voice.

Mike Cervantes:              

Yeah, my advice would be, you know, my advice would be, just be yourself. You know, the church I was talking about with, you know, that they had that crazy deadline. And we had the, you know, kind of where Kingdom Crew came from, the idea, they’re vocalists is just, he sounds awesome. And he’s really unique. And he’s not trying to, I mean by any he means, he’s not trying to sound like somebody else. And I think that’s really where, you know the vocals is where people won’t notice if you’re trying to be somebody else. You know, I think also the style too of your music. You know, you can Yeah, I guess the whole song Young and Free thing is pretty popular right now. I mean, that album actually sounds great and, like that new one, it sounds really great. And I think a lot of people are trying to do the whole electronic pop thing. And I think a lot of what it comes down to is also, just affordability. I mean, you can actually, you can create those kind of tracks a lot cheaper than recording a full band, you know, today. So I think that’s where it comes down to for a lot of churches is just that, you know, they can afford to make that stuff. And, you know, maybe they got a guy in the worship team who’s just creating all this stuff on Their laptop, you know. Just think outside the box. Just because somebody hasn’t done it before doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. So I think for me even growing up as an engineer, because I’m 31, I started doing this stuff when I was 15. So it’s been what is it 15? I can’t do math. (laughter) But like, point being is just that, you know, I think for me, I learned a lot of the rules. I learned a ton theory. All this stuff going to school like I learned a lot of that stuff. But really, what it came down to is learning the rules and then just breaking them completely. It was very hard process to do that, because you, just you learn something and you just think, ‘Oh, this is how you do it. This is the way.’ And there is this one particular album I recorded a band, and the guy just, he made me do crazy things. And for me, like it was like, this isn’t right putting distortion on all this stuff, that that’s weird. You shouldn’t do that. Everything’s supposed to sound clean, I thought. And come to, you know what’s funny about that is that album was the turning point for me in my career. That album’s full of weird stuff. So, don’t be afraid to take chances, you know. Just like I said, just because somebody hasn’t done it before does not mean it’s wrong. There’s, you can do, you know, there’s plenty of guys doing stuff that are just crazy ideas and the funny part about it is you might be listening to an album and there’s just something on there that you would have never thought it was done a certain way. So, yeah.

Mike Mage:              

Cool. There’s no better advice than just to be yourself, whether it comes with creating your own music or in any other way, just being yourself. And, that’s really great advice, Mike. Mike, thank you so much for joining us. Some really, really awesome stuff. We really appreciate it. Appreciate you being on here, and we hope we can have you on again.

Mike Cervantes:             

Yeah, absolutely. Please. There’s a lot that’s gonna happen with Kingdom Crew. There’s a lot of, yeah, there’s a lot of plans to help churches even more at this point. 

Mike Mage:               

Perfect. 

Jason Smithers:

That’s awesome. 

Mike Mage:

Well, great. Thanks, Mike. We’ll talk to you later. 

Mike Cervantes:

Alright. See ya.

(music)

Mike Mage:

Well, man, what a great conversation. Jason, I don’t know if you’re like me, but I had no idea what Phantom Center meant. I thought he was referring to some metal band he was working with, I don’t know. (laughter)

Jason Smithers:              

I was really hoping that Phantom Center meant the place that I could go find all of my files that I lost from my live recording. Like there was just this phantom center that you just have to find it, and, you know, it will get all of my tears back that I had to shed over my lost recording. (laughter)

Mike Mage:                

Exactly. Well, coming. But really, really good stuff. Some stuff I like, I said, I mean, not just Phantom Center, but stuff I hadn’t even thought about, or I didn’t even know and I really think that it’s gonna help out a lot of, a lot of people in our audience. So, where else can people find Mike, Jason?

Jason Smithers:              

Yeah, you can follow Mike on Instagram @thefoxboro, or just go to the website thefoxboro.com. And then also, especially if you’re a church that’s getting ready to do a live recording project, a studio recording project, I would highly recommend, I know these guys as people and you know a couple of them on the crew. At least one of them on the crew is one of my best friends. So kingdom-crew.com. Definitely get them involved with your next project. I think you’ll save a lot of headache in the long run getting the experts involved in the beginning.

Mike Mage:              

And if you like this show, if you like this podcast and you want to hear more, please, like and subscribe, rate and review, wherever you get your podcasts. It not only, would it mean the world to us, but it would help us engage you, the listener, and just to see what you want to hear more of. So thanks so much for listening to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We will talk to you soon.

(music)

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 4 – Todd Henry

Practical tips for leading creatives.

How do you make the jump from “I can be creative” to “I can lead creatives”? Many times, particularly in the church context, gifted creatives are elevated to a leadership position over creatives of multiple disciplines. This is a nuanced and under-discussed transition that requires some fundamental paradigm shifts. Todd Henry, author of Herding Tigers, talks about ways to make those shifts and lead in a way that accomplishes great work and develops your team.

>> Episode 5: Mike Cervantes


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage: Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(Music Intro)

Mike Mage: Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast, where we here believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. I’m Mike Mage, and today we have an insane podcast. We have an insane conversation with Todd Henry, the author of a book called “Herding Tigers” as well as “The Accidental Creative” and plenty other books. He also has a podcast called “The Accidental Creative” podcast that apparently he has been doing for ten years, or over ten years which I didn’t even realize. But I came across “Herding Tigers” earlier this year when it was released because my creative director actually handed it to me, as almost like a gift, and it’s one of those like wink/wink things like, “Hey, you should read this book.” And then I would say, “Oh yeah sure.” And then they would say, “No. You really should read this book.” And so I picked up on the hint and I read the book and it literally, it blew me away. And then come to find out, Jason, you actually have a pre-existing relationship with Todd, right.

Jason Smithers:

Todd is very, is a very generous person with his time, as far as being able to give his knowledge to young authors like me. I say young, not in my age, but green I should say, green authors. So he’s just been really helpful for me just learning the craft but along with that, with “Herding Tigers” it was, I realized for me, I used to be in the church world, but now I am, I’ve transitioned into a Director of Operations for a marketing agency, for a branding agency. And all of the things within “Herding Tigers” resonated with my past job and my current job. So this thing became for me like this manual. I still use it in my job and you know Justin, our other co-host here, being my boss, I suggested to him, “Hey you should really check out this book,” not in a way that I’m like, “Hey, there’s some things you should change in your life and in the way you’re leading your organization.” So that’s kind of how it all came full circle. 

Justin Price:

I’m angry that, I’m angry at myself that I did not listen to Jason sooner to read this book. So, maybe that’s a good line. Six months ago, Jason’s like, “You should read this book.” He didn’t sell it hard. We know he’s not a sales guy. He’s also saying this like from the perspective of like, “Oh I’ve managed the social media for this. He was a client of mine.” So I’m thinking like, “ok like, he’s thinking it’s got some good stuff in it.” Like, little do I know it’s a key to unlock my entire kingdom. And Jason’s just like, “Yea, you know, I think you’ll get some good stuff out of this.”

Jason Smithers:

And you’re right, I don’t do a good job selling, but on this side of things, if I would have known, if I would have had this book when I first started in ministry, it’s a manual. I mean, “Herding Tigers” I would say is a manual for the person that has not had experience managing or leading a creative team within the church. I think it can be used as a manual too, as I keep going back to the book and like finding, like what am I struggling with right now, what am I wrestling with within our organization and finding points in the book that I can go to and get super practical advice right away. 

Justin Price:

The reality is, I think, whether or not you’re qualified to be a manager or a leader, you’ve been put into a spot as that leader, and you desire to do a good job. And this book, while a lot of the principles are difficult for us to put to practice, like it’s hard. There are some real hard truths in there we have to work through. I think the majority of most of you guys who are out there listening, would like to know what more hard work you can do, cause it’s also hard failing at leading a team. And the reality is, most, whether you’re qualified or not, most of us in creative leading positions, we just really want to do a good job. It’s not that we’re afraid of the hard work, or the painful things, we just need that direction so that we can go down a path that’s what’s best for our team and for our organization. 

Mike Mage:

Well, and it’s almost, it’s very similar to the idea, and we talk about it in the conversation, that creatives need boundaries to create well. I mean you can’t just give them a blank canvas. And it’s almost, managers, also need boundaries in how to manage well. Directors need boundaries in how to direct well, and like this, “Herding Tigers” and really Todd’s entire body of work, is incredible boundaries and guidelines and signposts in how to direct creatives in working well. And there’s just not a lot of people doing that. And I think it’s going to be incredibly helpful. Just like you said Jason, it was incredibly helpful for me earlier this year, stepping into a new role as directing a bunch of creative people and how to accurately manage them well. 

Justin Price:

With that Mike, I think we should jump into the podcast.

Mike Mage:

You know what, let’s listen in on our conversation here with Todd Henry with the Healthy Church Growth podcast.

(Music)

Todd Henry (Introduction Quote):               

Usually the signal to us that they’re capable of going to the next level is that they’re really good at what they do. But being really good at what you do does not mean you’re                

gonna be really good at leading other people in doing what you do. Those are fundamentally different skill sets. 

Mike Mage:

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We have an incredible guest with us today. We have Todd Henry, who is the author of some incredible books. The most recent one is “Herding Tigers.” Todd, thank you so much for joining us. How you doing?

Todd Henry:                

Well, it’s great to be here. I’m doing well, hope you guys are doing well as well.

Mike Mage:               

Doing awesome. So, Todd, I just kind of want to start out. I just love If maybe you could give a little background on kind of how you got to the point that you’re at being an author, speaker, all that kind of stuff. How’d you get to you doing that now? 

Todd Henry:                 

Well it was, as my friend Mitch Joel calls it, it was a squiggly path, right.  And I think most careers are squiggly paths, so I think it’s not a straight line always. If you’d told me, say, 30 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed at you because I had no intent of doing this, but so I went to school to study marketing. I put myself through school partially by performing music. And so, as I now call them “my misguided twenties,” I’m careful to call them that in front of my children, traveled and sang music for a living for a handful of years. And then I met my wife. As these stories go, she convinced me that music business, gainful employment, and marrying an amazing woman, like you can have two of those three but you can’t have all three at the same time. So I chose gainful employment, marrying an amazing woman and was fortunate to be involved in a church community in Cincinnati called Crossroads, which at the time, which now is massive, massive, massive. It was big at the time, but it wasn’t nearly as massive as it is now. And, through a variety of circumstances because I’d been involved there, ended up becoming a staff member there at Crossroads. And was also interfacing a lot with, you know, being based in Cincinnati there a ton of brand and design firms, because the mighty Procter and Gamble is based here. So obviously being the largest advertiser in the world, there are a lot of brand agency presences here. And so I was spending a tremendous amount of time with designers and writers and creative directors and people from that world. And in 2005 I launched the podcast called “The Accidental Creative,” which was basically basically targeted at, you know, some of the stuff I was hearing from them about what was working, what wasn’t working, frustrations, frustrations I was having as I was trying to grow my team. So anyway launched that podcast. The podcast quickly took off, became a thing which was really fun, but also a little bit terrifying. And then that opened the door for me to be able to go in and begin to work with organizations and to sort of help them sort through some of the creative issues that they were having. This is like 2006, 2007. I started getting invitations to go and speak to companies and to work with them, to help them think through that intersection of business, creativity and you know, spirituality I guess you could call it, although they may not call it that, you know, how can we make this profitable, how can we make this efficient and effective, but also, how can we make this meaningful for our team. I think those are questions that we’ll ask. So I spent, you know, about a year, year and a half doing that and then decided, “Hey, I think this is where I’m supposed to be.” So I launch my own business. I ventured out into the unknown, was offered, this is the part where I say, “Oh, and then I was offered a book deal by Penguin Books.” And that book was “The Accidental Creative,” and it did really well. You by this time, I had a number of years of on the ground, you know, working with people and researching and consulting and that kind of thing. And then, you know, the second book, “Die Empty” came out in 2013 and that book did well. “Louder than Words” came out 2015 and then “Herding Tigers,” as you mentioned, just came out 2018. And “Herding Tigers” really was sort of a return to “The Accidental Creative, kind of my roots, because I spent a lot of time working with people, individuals and their creative process. And I would hear from people, I was working at companies or or speaking at a conference or something, and people come up and say, “Hey, you know, I really appreciate what you’ve been doing for me and I appreciate the practices and the rituals and my personal creative process is so great. But let me tell you about my boss,right, and then proceed to tell me about how miserable their organizational climate was.” And so what I wanted to do was just sort of peel back the layers of the onion a bit and talk about what it is that allows creative people to thrive within organizations and you know sometimes what it is that your managers are often thrown into positions of leadership without any kind of formal training, or, you know, any kind of personal development as it relates to what creative people really need. And so I just wanted to in some ways shine light on that and help people inside of organizations understand the kinds of things that allow creative people to thrive.

Mike Mage:               

I think that’s like that’s such a great segue way because I was handed the book “Herding Tigers” by my creative director, who told me about “The Accidental Creative” and “Herding Tigers.” And it’s funny that you say that, you know, “The Accidental Creative” is sort of like, it’s almost like a prequel to “Herding Tigers,” you know, like they’re both, they’re linked together, it almost feels like. And last year I went from just being, you know, a worship leader having a team, you know, volunteers all that kind of stuff, to then being put in a position to where I have actual employees reporting to me. So, like I literally went from maker to manager and like exactly what you say. I had no idea what I was doing. (laughter)

Todd Henry:               

Yeah. Yeah, Well, that’s true of a lot of people, right. Yeah, in you know, in design firms and other places, even where there is a pretty clear hierarchy of authority within the organization, there’s a pretty clear path to getting promoted. Still, for the most part, people, their only training and leadership is whatever their former manager did, right. And what we do is we say, “Hey, you know what? You’re a great designer. You know what you should do? You should become a design director. You know what you should become an art director, you should become a creative director.” And so we just kind of promote people. And even though they may be perfectly capable, usually the signal to us that they’re capable of going to the next level is that they’re really good at what they do. But being really good at what you do does not mean that you’re gonna be really good at leading other people in doing what you do. Those are fundamentally different skill sets.

Jason Smithers:                

I think when you’re coming from the church world, we’ve all, I think, we all have similar stories. We’re all musicians before we did this and we had no corporate training. We didn’t have the experience going through that. We played in bars. We played in other bands. Then all of a sudden, maybe your church is growing and you don’t know how to manage all that. Are there some practical tips that you could give the other people out there that are in similar situations to transition from maker to manager?

Todd Henry:                 

Yeah, I think the very first thing, so there are a couple of things in “Herding Tigers” I talk about two important transitions that you have to make. The first is a mindset transition, and the second is a mechanics transition, right. So you have to focus on your mindset first and then focus on your mechanics. How do you lead the creative process, you know. How do you instill processes and culture in your team? Those kinds of things, those are mechanics based things. But I think the very first thing you have to you have to recognize you have to do is you have to recognize that it’s your job to lead the work and not do the work, which means you have to transition from a mindset of ‘I am responsible for the way that the work gets done.’ Not ‘I am responsible for doing the work and controlling the work.’ So it’s really a transition from control to influence, meaning that, you know, the work getting done cannot be predicated upon your presence. It has to instead be predicated upon principle. It means that you have to establish a leadership philosophy for your team, help them understand how you make decisions, help them understand what a good idea looks like, help them understand how conflicts should be handled, help them understand how to make those important strategic decisions in the midst of the process so that they don’t have to run to you every single time and say, “What should I do about this?” That’s your job as a leader, and that’s gonna be slow going at first as you’re building your team and you’re developing your philosophy and you’re instilling culture and you’re doing all of these things, it’s gonna be slow going at first. But if you are constantly stepping in and doing the work for your team and controlling the work of your team, which, by the way, when you care about what you do, and most people care to some extent, but what they do, but when you’re working for a nonprofit or you’re working in the church community, you feel like the stakes are a little higher right. And so, of course, you care about what you do, and sometimes that care can very very quickly transition to a mindset of control. I have to control this to make it exactly what I want, but that is the antithesis of what a healthy, creative environment looks like. When you grow from a very small organization and you start growing very quickly into a larger organization, that transition is difficult because you really you probably many people probably are the ones who do everything at first. And as your team begins to grow, it could be really difficult to release your grip on some of that work and to say, “You know what? We might have to endure some seasons, where it’s difficult and where some of the work isn’t exactly what we want it to be. Or maybe it’s a little bit subpar because we’re letting people take some risks and try some things, but it’s all in the effort to eventually navigate them to a place where they can make decisions on their own and the work that we create skills well beyond my personal capacity.” When you control the work, the work never skills beyond your personal perspective and your personal capacity. And as a leader, your job is to try to, I believe that there were three qualifiers of a healthy leader of a creative team. A  healthy leader of a creative team accomplishes the work. Which, by the way, is where most people put a period right. They accomplish the work great. We’re done. No. Accomplishes the work while developing the team to tackle new and more challenging work. If you’re not developing your team to tackle new and more challenging work, which means releasing your grip on the work and allowing them to take risks and try things. And, yes, there’s gonna come a time when you have to step in and make sure that it’s not a disaster. Absolutely. But in the midst of the process, are you controlling every decision? You controlling all the work? If you are, then you’re not really fulfilling your responsibilities. 

Justin Price:           

Can we just acknowledge that for a really good leader, for a really good creative, this is again, probably somebody who’s in that position because they’ve got some serious skills, there was a phrase you said in there that, like I think it was against, all creatives that would be like a cheese grater to the face and that is ‘we have to allow for there to be some subpar work while giving space for people to experiment and improve and be hands off.’ Can you unpack that process? Because that’s an easy thing to say. But, man, if I’m the creative director at a church in it’s Christmas and I’m trying to be hands off and let my team grow and they take us down, you know, even if it’s just a slightly subpar, I’m like, “Yeah, but this is our one time to celebrate Baby Jesus.”

Todd Henry:                 

So just a couple of qualifiers on that because I’ve had a lot of interesting pushback from people who have read the book and of emailed me and said, “But I’m gonna lose my clients if I do that right. I’m gonna lose my job.”  I’m not talking about putting subpar work out into the world. That’s not what I’m talking about. There’s gonna come a time when you have to say, “Okay, we’re not getting there fast enough, and now I need to step in and guide the process and make sure that we’re navigating to a healthy place.” So it is important to recognize. I’m not saying, “Oh, you know what? Your organization is just gonna have to suck for a while, and your clients are gonna have to be really ticked off at you.” No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, are you allowing enough space in the process for your team to be able to experiment, to think for themselves, to take risks? Or are you basically telling them what to think? Are you stepping in and doing the work for them at every turn and saying, “Hey, do this? Hey, try that. Hey, go this direction. Do these things.” Is that what you’re doing or are you allowing them some space in the process? Now there isn’t always going to be space in the process. I have experienced that as a leader. I’m sure you guys have as well. Many people listening have experienced that where, listen, we have a time crunch project or this is an absolutely critical project that I need to be involved in at every step because we need to make sure that this is delivered in the way that that meets our expectations and standards. Christmas, and the example you gave Christmas, probably would be one of those examples, right. Or Easter, or something like that. Absolutely critical that those are delivered in the right way. But are there, is it that way everywhere in your work? Are there other projects where you say,”You know what? I’m gonna release the reins a little bit and let them run. I’m gonna let them try to experiment and figure something out on their own here.” Or are you, do you feel the need to control every aspect of the work all the time? I would argue that if that, control at the end of the day, control is ultimately a security issue, right. It’s about insecurity. It’s about your unwillingness to recognize that other people can do things as well or better than you can if you give them the tools and the freedom to do so. And for a lot of leaders, when they get promoted to a managerial role, they’ve defined themselves as a designer or as a musician or, you know, that’s how they define themselves. That’s their identity. They placed a lot of identity on the values they’ve produced. Well, now that I’m a manager, who am I? What do I do? What value do I create? They feel the need to insert themselves. And I believe that your area of greatest insecurity is the place where you have the potential to do the most damage to your team. Those areas of deep insecurity that you carry around as a leader, whatever you’re trying to protect, whatever you’re trying to hide, whatever you’re trying to defend in some way, that’s the place where you have the most potential to do damage to your team. So you need to watch out for that and you need to let loose the reins every so often and let your team run. And then there are gonna be times when you have to snap back the reins, and you have to come in to make sure that the final deliverable is on par with what you expect. But you can’t be involved in control every step of the process or you’re damaging your team. And by the way, talented people are not going to stick around for very long if that’s your culture. If your culture is, ‘I am a domineering creative director,’ well, people are gonna say forget this. I’m gone. I’m not sticking around here. This isn’t any fun. You’re not letting me develop.

Jason Smithers:               

To shift shift gears, Todd. I know you talk about in the book, and we’ve had these discussions before, I have never heard a church staff member not refer to their team as family. And I know you say very clearly in the book, ‘Your team is not a family. Don’t treat it like one.’ Can you kind of get some clarity on that, because I think one thing you’ve told me before too is, “you cannot fire family.” So how do you navigate that feeling? I know they want this sense of, like, we’re a really close team, but to the detriment of not being able to make changes on your team if you need to.

Todd Henry:                 

Yeah, we can, we can sacrifice for one another. We can care about one another. We can do all the things that families do. But we’re not family as an organization. And this is a really tricky thing right in the church world, especially because, you know, there is a spiritual reality that you will live with, which is, we are family, brothers and sisters, right? It’s right there. It’s in our creed. It’s what we believe, right? And yet you’re working for an organization, and that organization is not the same thing as the church. And so I think it’s important to recognize that there is a distinction between my job and my function in my position within the body or my position within the church. My position within the church is not, I am, you know, my job is such and such. I’m a creative director. I’m a musician. I’m a worship leader. Whatever it is, that job is always subject to termination. There aren’t enough funds. Sorry we have to let you go, right. Or you know what? You’re not delivering. You’re not doing what we hired you to do. You’re done? Well, you don’t fire your family, you know, and so I think that creates an unhealthy expectation, and a lot of organizations where people think, it becomes a very comfortable place just to exist. Right? I have many times, I always believed and I continued to espouse that vocational Ministry is not a career, you know, it’s not a career. It’s a season. It’s a calling, something that you choose. But I believe it’s something everybody should examine themselves in and say, you know, every so often, maybe every year or two say, “is it’s still my calling. Is it still what I’m called to?” You know, because it’s not. It’s not a career, it’s not, you know? So I think people settle in. Sometimes they get really, really comfortable because, you know, it’s great. You never have to question whether what you do every day is having value to the world, right? If you work for a big international conglomerate, believe me, I’m out in these organizations all the time. I’m working with people. I’m constantly talking to people who are questioning, ‘Does my work really matter?’ Does it matter that I saved somebody fifty cents on the bar of soap? I don’t know, you know. But you never have to question when you’re doing that kind of direct work that a lot of people listening are doing, so that’s a huge blessing. But also, you know, it’s easy to conflate that with, you know, our organization is family and you can allow it to become a really comfortable place just to exist and to justify it. We have to feel free to fire people. It’s an organization, right? An organization trying to accomplish a purpose. And frankly, you’re also, there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility and trust on behalf of the community that you serve when they are paying your salary to do the work of the community that needs to be done. You have to feel free to make decisions like, this person needs to be let go because there’s a performance issue. There’s a moral failing, all of those things. If my son has a moral failing, I’m not gonna fire him, right. Like, I’m gonna lovingly sort of try to figure out a way to get him back to a healthy place. You want the same thing with, you know, with performance issues like my son doesn’t take out the trash, I’m not gonna fire him from the family. But you know what? If somebody in your organization under delivers for a period of time then they probably need to be let go because you’re not being responsible with the resources of the community. So I just think we have to be really careful how we talk about these things. Now, re we still positionally brothers and sisters? Are we still positionally family? Even if I fire you? Absolutely. No question. And I might even be doing what I think is the most loving thing for you by firing you. I do think that, you know, it’s important that we be very careful about how we, words matter. Terminology matters. Semantics matter. We have to be very careful how we throw words around, and I think when a leader says “we are family,” it’s usually again rooted in their personal insecurity. It’s ‘I need to feel like we’re close and we love each other, and isn’t it great to be on the team.’ You know, like I need that reassurance from you more than you need it from me. So we have to be really, really, really careful how we talk about stuff like this.

Mike Mage:                

So going off of this “words matter” thing, I feel like people put in a position, so going from maker to manager, and they sort of get put in this position initially because they’re good at their job and cause people like them. You know, you don’t get put in a position of leadership because people don’t like you most of the time, at least in a church. So it ends up, especially in the beginning, you sort of adopt this conflict averse mentality. You want to make sure everyone likes you. You want to make sure, you know, you don’t rock the boat too much. You don’t want to just come in guns blazing kind of thing when you get this new title or whatever, this new leadership role. So maybe talk to us a little bit about how do you step into these difficult conversations still focusing on, you know, all of the important things, making sure, you know, you’re married to the mission and all that kind of stuff. How do you look past, almost this, like I can’t adopt this conflict averse mindset for the sake of the organizations? What are some, maybe some practical tips into stepping into those difficult conversations?

Todd Henry:                

That is a great question. I think that we are largely defined by what we choose to hide from other people, and we are largely defined by the questions we refuse to ask. Most of the time leaders get in trouble because they refuse to ask important questions that they know need to be asked and they don’t ask them. Why are we doing things this way? Why is this behavior tolerated? Why are we choosing to take the safe route here instead of the what I think would be the more risky but the more effective route? You know, we avoid questions, because when you ask a question, it creates immediate accountability. The moment that you ask a question, that means that you’re accountable for whatever the answer might be. And we don’t want that. Again, it goes back to insecurity and comfort. You can be liked and be effective as a leader. You can be both. I mean, I’ve met many leaders who were both liked and effective, but you cannot chase being liked and chase being effective at the same time. At some point in everybody’s leadership career, they’re going to have to do something that is gonna cause them to be disliked because it’s the most effective thing to do. And so I think it’s a really good meditation for leaders to do on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to do it on a weekly basis. Is there any area where I’m behaving in a manner to be liked by the organization, even though I know probably the most effective thing to do is something entirely different? And just really even looking at that, just asking that question, I think will illuminate areas where you realize, like, ‘Well, you know what, I’m tolerating behavior in my meetings because I want to be liked, even though I know it’s not the best thing. I’m tolerating this person not getting back to my emails because I want to be liked, even though I know it’s not the right thing. You know what, this person in leadership is not giving me answers as quickly as I need them, or isn’t isn’t being diligent in what they’re doing, and I need to speak truth to my leader. I need to manage up.’ Something about leading, by the way, is people think of leading is being on top. It’s not. Leadership is about being in the middle, right? You have to manage pressure down. You have to manage pressure up, constantly. So you not only, that people think about leadership is I have to advocate on behalf of the organization for my team. So the organization wants something, I need to make sure my team gets it done. But it’s equally about advocating for your team, toward the organization and saying, ‘Hey, you’re not delivering your end of the bargain here. I know you have all kinds of pressures, all kinds of constraints, all kinds of things. But I need you to do your job better so that my team has what it needs to do its job better because they’re the ones being ground in the gears by your lack of diligence or attention or whatever it is.’ So you know, that’s something that’s not going to make you liked as a leader. If you do that, if you have to speak truth to your manager, to your own leadership. But it’s absolutely critical if you’re gonna be effective. So I think just asking that question. Am I doing this to be liked or am I doing this, because I really believe it’s the most effective thing. If you just make that part of your discipline, it’s gonna help tremendously. 

Mike Mage:                 

Good gracious. That’s very convicting. (laughter)

Justin Price:                

Todd, can we hire you to talk to all of our clients? (laughter)

Todd Henry:                

The answer is yes. (laughter) That’s a funny thing that people think that, ‘this doesn’t relate to me. I’m not a leader,’ right? But that’s not true. If you have clients, you have to lead your client. I mean, we all, it’s so cliche to say, ‘everybody’s a leader.’ But the truth is, everybody has leadership functions in what they do, regardless of their role. And so you have to, and hopefully your goal, your ambition, is to overtime increase in your responsibility. You still have to lead, even if you don’t have a position of leadership in an organization, you still have to lead. 

Jason Smithers:                 

I like that. You bring up stability in “Herding Tigers.” You talk about the “five myths of creative people”. The one that stuck out to me the most is that there’s the myth that creatives just want total freedom in their job. You gotta like, leave them alone, let them do their own thing. They’ll come back in eight days after they’ve come down from the mountain with a full beard and they’ve got the idea. So, like, let them do that thing. Keep them in there at a distance and they’ll come back with something brilliant. What are your thoughts on that? Where’s that come from? How do you counteract that?

Todd Henry:                

Yeah, it’s a myth. It is a total myth. Creativity, healthy creativity requires boundaries. You need boundaries, otherwise your creative energy dries out on the plain. Orson Welles said, “the absence of limitation is the enemy of art.” You have to have some bounding arc for your creative energy or your creative energy is gonna dry out on the plains, it’s just not going to be effective. And so I think that we as leaders, we have to recognize that our team, no matter how much they push against boundaries they rail against, you know, any restrictions you try to put on them, no matter what they say to you, deep down, they crave some kind of boundary, some kind of limitation, some kind of creative direction so that they can focus their energy more effectively. If you say, ‘hey, all bets are off, anything goes,’ a lot of creative people just will be paralyzed. They have no idea what to do. There was an artist who I came across in researching “The Accidental  Creative” who used to make random lines on campus, when they started a new work. They would just, you know, take a paintbrush and just go “loop” and just make a random line. And then they would create the art from whatever that random line said to them. And the reason they did it was because they needed a place to start because a blank canvas isn’t very helpful. But a canvas with one single squiggly line on it suddenly, that begins to give you some sense of direction. It’s almost like the canvas is speaking to you what it wants to become. And I think in the same way we have to do that for our team. We have to say, ‘Hey, we may not get exactly where I think we’re gonna get, but here’s the general direction I believe we need to go. Here are some boundaries, some rails, some expectations. Here’s the process. And now go for it. Right? And I’m gonna give you a little freedom, and we’re gonna have some checkpoints along the way so you know exactly what, we’re gonna have conversations about how things were going. Now go for it.’ And that’s much more helpful to the average creative person. That’s by the way, how you retain great talent, is by doing that. By giving them; Most creatives are professionals that you know, they want to get it done. They’re highly talented. They’re highly capable. They just need somebody who’s willing to give them a little bit of direction and let them do what they do best instead of having to figure it out on their own. They want to be protected, and they want clarity. That’s really what stability is all about. 

Mike Mage:               

Do you think as a creative manager, I mean, I think that that’s harder to do than just straight up just doing the work yourself. Do you think that that’s one of, like, the primary reasons it feels like creative managers fail, is like maybe just at its simplest, like it’s just harder to do?

Todd Henry:                

Yeah, it takes a lot more effort, you know, it’s like, I hate it when people, don’t hate it when people use analogies of their children, with like, in business scenarios. I do, too, but I’m about to do it. (laughter) So, it’s like it’s like parenting your kid. It’s so much easier just to say, ‘Hey, stop doing that and do it this way,’ right.  It’s so much easier to do that as a parent, like it, it makes my life more comfortable. But it’s a lot easier, it’s a lot harder, but a lot more effective if I let my kids make their own mistakes and I give them some boundaries within which to experiment and then, you know, at the end of the day they learn on their own what works and what doesn’t work. It’s gonna stick a lot more verses my kids just waiting for me to tell them what to do. Same principle applies, you know, like it’s a lot more convenient to just control. It is, that’s why people do it. It’s a lot easier. It makes my life easier. You know, I don’t have to worry about my job or the results or whatever, but that’s not what leadership looks like. You know, there is a great scene in the miniseries based on the book “Band of Brothers” which is a great great book. But the miniseries, the HBO miniseries where, Dick Winters, who was a captain at the time, his soldiers were trying to take the town of Foy, and the soldiers were being led in on the attack by, Foxhole Norman, you know, Norman Dike, and he he got paralyzed in the middle of the attack and split the platoons and did all these terrible things. And Dick Winters, you know, he was an experienced soldier and had led the men into lots of battles. So he grabs his gun and starts running toward the front line, you know, to take over command. And his commander, Colonel Sink says, “Captain Winters, you get back here, you…” you know, it’s stuff I can’t say on this podcast. (laughter) You know, he said, “No. I know you care about the men, but you can’t do this.” And what he was telling him in that moment is, ‘listen, your position of leadership and the role that you play and the value add is much more significant than you going in there and losing yourself in the midst of this battle. We can’t afford to lose you in the midst of this battle.’ You have to recognize that as a leader, you have a role to fulfill and that role is a strategic role. It’s not an executional role, and yes, the results matter. And yes, there are times when you have to step in. Absolutely. But it’s important that you recognize that your job as a leader is to not to pick up the gun and run to the front line. But your job is the leader is to make sure that your team is equipped with what it needs to be able to do to do the work. And so, you know, I learned a lot from that. Actually, it’s funny, that really hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw that scene and thought that’s a great illustration of what it really looks like to be a leader. It’s not that you don’t want to run to the front lines. It’s not that you’re not capable. It’s that you recognize that there are people on my team who need to take that responsibility upon themselves.

Justin Price:                 

On that topic, you mentioned that it is good for you to get your hands dirty as a leader. And I was thinking about the fact that it’s, a lot of times the reason why we’re good at whatever it is that we’re good at that got us to that management spot is because we, it’s actually something we enjoy and being good at it, we really like it. So, to Mike’s point, and what you’re saying that, it is more difficult to manage. There’s even something like, we almost have, like a loss in being great leaders and being hands off. Can you close this up with some thoughts about that? The juggle between how we can be fulfilled, enjoy getting our hands dirty without controlling the process and doing it for our teams, and finding that balance.

Todd Henry:                

Yes, so they’re a couple of things on that. The first is, you have to get your hands dirty because you have to maintain your credibility as a leader, right. If you’re just seen is always floating above everyone and issuing edicts and stuff, well, that’s not, I mean, You’re gonna lose credibility with your team. You’re gonna be talking about the work, you know, but not really talking about the work. It’s a very different thing. Talking around it, I guess would be a better way said, rather than talking about the work. And so there’s a credibility gap that emerges when you don’t have anything that you do, any value that you tangibly create. So you have to do that to some extent and also for personal satisfaction. You have to stay engaged so that you have, at least some sense that you’re still developing your craft, whatever your craft is, that you’re still involved in some capacity in doing that. So I think for those reasons, it’s really important to get your hands dirty at least a little bit. So you should always have some project where you’re doing the tactical work, right. Or something that you’re producing that is of value to the organization so that people can see that you’re still invested. Engaged. Now I think that the larger issue as it relates to that is one of personal rootedness and satisfaction. You know, as a leader, many people get into doing what they do because they love what they do, right. ‘Are you kidding? I get to design. I get to write. I get to, you know, make videos. I get to make music. I get to make whatever it is I want to make. That’s great. I get to do what I love, and I get paid for it.’ And then over time, we lose touch with that first love. And so I think keeping some work reserved for yourself and doing some work is also a part of keeping that flame lit, the quiet fire that burns beneath the surface of all of your work. So it’s as much a matter of making sure that you don’t lose touch with your first love as it is with, you know, making sure that the team sees you as an effective contributor.

Mike Mage:                

Well, Todd. This has been amazing. Like, seriously, so, so amazing. Thank you so much for joining us. I really hope that we can have you on again at some point. But I really, really appreciate you being with us. Just one more quick thing. Is there any, like, maybe just a couple sentences of advice, parting wisdom that you want to give our audience?

Todd Henry                

Yeah, I would say, I say this to the businesses, I  say this to, you know, untold numbers of people. I just said that yesterday in Washington, D C. at a conference. Listen, in 100 years, no offense, but nobody’s gonna remember your organization, you know. Most likely, with very, very few exceptions, nobody’s gonna remember your organization. They’re certainly not gonna remember that project you’re working on right now, that is just the most important thing that you’ve ever done in your life. And you’re sacrificing everything to get this project right. You know, in five years people aren’t gonna remember, let alone in 100 years. So you know, now on that depressing note, recognize that impact that you have on the people that you lead and the people around you is going to continue to resonate for generations to come. There are people’s lives who will be different forever because of the way that you lead them for better, or for worse. And that impact then is going to echo through generations of people that they lead and the people that those people lead, even people that those people lead. So just be mindful of generations of leaders who follow you are going to be impacted by what you do every day. So my encouragement you is commit to being a leader who makes echoes.

Mike Mage:               

Very cool. Perfect. Well, Todd, once again, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’re awesome. And we hope to talk to you again soon. 

Todd Henry:

Yeah, thanks so much.

Justin Price:               

Wow. I feel like every creative who just listened to this podcast needs to be delivered a warm blanket to just kind of snuggle up with for a second. 

Jason Smithers:

I just need to sit down for a second. (laughter)

Justin Price:

I mean, everything that he said is like, it’s just opening up any wounds and just like cutting straight to the surgery. And just highlight, he hit so many just key target points for us as creative leaders, I think, man. Just something I’m incredibly grateful to even get to be a part of that conversation. It was so cool. What about you, Jason? What can we do to engage in that conversation further?

Jason Smithers:

Yeah, I know I said at the beginning, the podcast, but this really is a manual that you can use as a creative professional, whether you’re in ministry or you’re with an agency. You can get “Herding Tigers” wherever books are sold, on Amazon, in other places as well as if you want to dig deeper with your team, you can go to herdingtigersworkshop.com and there’s some great resources that you can actually dig further in with your team. And, as always, to follow Accidental Creative podcast. Subscribe to that because I’ve been listening now for, oh gosh, maybe eight or nine years, and it’s definitely at the top of my list of things I listen to every week. I would make that a high priority for any professional creatives out there that if you aren’t listening to the Accidental Creative podcast with Todd Henry, definitely do so now.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah. Well, speaking of podcasts, if you like this podcast and you want to hear more, there’s some real practical tips that you could do that would really help us, and really just just help the engagement from us to you, if you share this podcast wherever you get them. Share it on social media. Share with your team at church. Share with your family, even your enemies, share them with people that you don’t like. Just try that out. You can also rate us wherever you get your podcasts. And like we said, you just don’t do a one star. You could do a five star for even a four star. It’s fine. Just stay away from the one star, we’d love for you to review and rate us and maybe even ask us some questions there. Maybe even some topics that you’d love to hear us talk about next week. Speaking of topics, we have an incredible topic that we’re going to be discussing with an industry professional, about what does it look like to mix and master your music well. I know there’s a lot of churches out there that are diving into creating their own original music, exploring that possibility just because it’s honestly so affordable and so accessible. Way more than it has been in the past. So you’re not gonna want to miss that. It’s going to be amazing. Once again, thank you so much for listening to the Healthy Church Growth podcast where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.

(music)

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 3 – Matthew Hartsfield

How to build a healthy creative culture at your church.

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We all want to create a healthy culture for the creatives serving at our church, but it can seem like a daunting task. Changing culture can seem like a task that’s too big and too ambiguous to undertake. Matthew Hartsfield, Lead Pastor at Bay Hope Church in Tampa, FL, gives some practical tips on how to create a healthy culture and why it’s too important to put off.

>> Episode 4: Todd Henry


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:                 

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. (Music Intro)

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. My name is Mike Mage and I am one of your hosts for this podcast. And here at the Healthy Church Growth podcast, we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. 

Today we have our co-host with us. We have Justin. Justin, say “hey.”

Justin Price: 

What’s up, Mike? 

Mike Mage:

And we also have Jason with us as well. Jason, hey.

Jason Smithers:

Hey, Mike.

Mike Mage:

Hey, so we were talking kind of about, you know, this podcast and who we want on. And, you know, one of the people that I had thought of was sort of, and not even the actual person, but sort of the general role that this person would be in would be a pastor. Now, you guys have both, I mean, we’ve all worked at churches right. I mean, like, Jason, how long did you work at your church? 

Jason Smithers:

I was on staff at a church for about 15 years. 

Mike Mage:

And then Justin, you’ve been working at churches for, like 70 years, right? Just in and out.

Justin Price:

I’ve put in 13 years, I’d give that. That’s a baker’s dozen. Mike,

Mike Mage:

I don’t count. I can’t count. So, yes. So we’ve worked at churches and, you know, being creatives, I thought that it would be a really good idea to have a pastor, sort of have a conversation with a pastor about what does it look like to have a healthy relationship between a creative and a pastor. And I feel like he does a very good job at the person that we interviewed. His name is Matthew Hartsfield, and he just happens to be the pastor at the church I work at a Bay Hope Church in Tampa.

Justin:                 

It’s interesting just to set up the relationship between the creative and the pastor. So typically there’s a wide gamut. I’ve worked with, you know, pastors who kind of came up through the creative route as like, as a worship leader and developed as a lead pastor. But typically, the lead pastor tends to run a very collegiate and philosophical, theological route and kind of comes up through a lot of leadership administrative type roles and then kind of takes over as a pastor and which is quite a different path of a creative. And so it is, I think, is one of the most interesting relationships, because the success of the church could go so well when those two are working hand in hand and it can be so conflicted when the two are not.

Jason Smithers:                 

I think that’s the reason for this episode too is that we as creatives come from a completely different background. So I think maybe we don’t have crazy stories, but I would say we have all had those times, we’re just not, we don’t understand each other. We don’t understand the viewpoint of the pastor. The pastor doesn’t understand the viewpoint of the creative person. So I think, you know, us three had sat down and said, you know, we really need to talk about what this relationship looks like.

Justin Price:

Yeah. Can I give you guys a dichotomy of two pastors? That is kind of interesting. 

Mike Mage:

Please. 

Jason Smithers:

Sure.

Justin Price:

I know the first church that I officially got to be a Creative Director at, the pastor would proof my design work before we would launch a big communications campaign based on the sermon series. And, he would have input, like, you know, what color, even what font. He really was very hands on in the creative process, which was fine. I had enjoyed supporting. He had a vision, and that was it felt much more like a support role. And, in leaving that church and going to a different church, I remember one of my first, like sermon series, we were gonna do a large push and put together communications campaign. And I presented it to the pastor in my meeting with him, and he looked at me and I’ll never forget. He said, “Justin, I don’t care what color you put and I definitely don’t know anything about fonts.” And he goes, “I don’t want you to ever ask me that question again.” He goes, “Because it doesn’t really matter what I like. I hired you to pick what’s best for our church.” And for me, I felt like that relationship unlocked a whole new level for me as a creative, because it gave me that ownership to really take things to the next level. And I actually felt like he depended on me to be able to meet him with where he was at with the substance of the message of the series, and to be able to bring that same level of intensity he brought with his preaching, from the creative, from the planning, from the concepts, you know, all the way down to the fonts. And that was really empowering. That was a cool moment. I wish I could say, man, I had a really crazy, terrible experience that changed me. But that good experience was quite profound for me.

Mike Mage:

That’s great. Yeah, well, I think, too, Matthew, you know, I get the privilege of working with Matthew who we’re talking to in this episode, and he does a great job of doing exactly what you’re talking about empowering. But I do think it’s interesting. There is, like, a huge difference between, like, empowering with vision and mission, and sort of just allowing things to happen under the guise of empowerment, because I have actually experienced that before. I haven’t worked under too many pastors. But I have worked under, you know, the leadership of, you know, someone just; it almost feels like they let me do whatever they want, or whatever I want, but it’s, it’s not, it’s not for the good of anything. They don’t have an opinion necessarily because they have no idea where the vision or the mission is going. And that can be, it’s weird. It’s like this weird, almost like, a little bit of a perversion of what you’re talking about, Justin, where it’s like this empowerment, yes, but also, like for what purpose. You know. So it’s almost like you need your pastor to empower you. But also, like really, drive the purpose behind it too to make anything useful.

Justin Price:

Yeah, that’s a big deal. I mean, having even, you know, some people feel like, I will say that some people feel like their pastor doesn’t inspire them to be creative. As creatives, sometimes we a have rough spot in our relationship with the lead pastor, and it’s tough to overcome that. And the reality is, like, our senior ministers are under a ton of pressure and they are people, they’re not perfect, and most of them would be ecstatic if you could approach them with a way that they could lead you better. And I think this episode has a lot of cool, tangible ways that people could, people could take some specific things from Matthew and hear some things and go “Wow, I could suggest these things and I could position it in a way where I could present it to my pastor to see if if we could start to work in this way to strengthen our relationship and have a much better outcome for our church.”

Mike Mage:

Cool. Well, Matthew Hartsfield is, like I’ve said before, an incredible pastor to work with. He is the lead pastor of Bay Hope Church in Tampa, Florida and he is a gifted communicator, an incredible leader. Bay Hope Church has been around for around 30 years, and Matthew has been the pastor of it for almost 25, or right at 25 years. And, you know, Bay Hope worships about 22 to 2500 a weekend over multiple services, multiple campuses. And I am so excited about this conversation. We get into some really, really good stuff. Jason, and I actually host this episode together, where we get to interview Pastor Matthew Hartsfield of Bay Hope Church. So I hope you enjoy this episode.

(music)

Matthew Hartsfield:

For me, the number one ingredient is mutual trust. Do we trust each other? You know, do we have each other’s back? You know, are we experiencing that kind of honesty and transparency                

with each other? 

Mike Mage:

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. This is Mike, and we have Jason with this again. Jason, say hello. 

Jason Smithers:

Hey, guys. 

Mike Mage:

And today, with us in the podcast, we have Pastor Matthew Hartsfield of Bay Hope Church. Matthew, how’s it going?

Matthew Hartsfield:                 

It’s going great. Mike. Jason. Good to be with you guys.

Mike Mage:                

Yes, Thank you so much for taking time out of your crazy pastor life to do this with us. So, Matthew, I kind of wanted to just start off a little bit, and we rib you a little bit about the things that you eat and, you know, your lifestyle. So what, is I just I figured I’d be a fun thing to start off the podcast with. What are you having for lunch today?

Matthew Hartsfield:                 

Well, you know, people say that I eat tree bark and crickets and all that kind of crazy stuff, but yeah, you know, I do have a pretty defined diet. I do eat clean stuff. Not a lot of crap and junk. You know, I do have some pretty set routines about my physical workout as well as my diet. People call me boring. I say self discipline. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah, absolutely.

Matthew Hartsfield:

Sounds a lot better.

Mike Mage:

What led you to, sort of, this healthy lifestyle, you know, cause I don’t think that you’ve been doing it for forever. You know? Like, I know it’s been not a recent thing, but a relatively recent thing, right?

Matthew Hartsfield:               

Yeah. Well, you know, I have been doing forever the physical part. 

Mike Mage:

Okay. 

Matthew Hartsfield:

What I’ve done more recently over the past five to six years is a lot more than clean eating, you know, like avocados and nuts for lunch. You know, things like that. But, you know, the primary reason is number one, selfish. I feel better. I have more energy. I sleep better. I’m more focused. So part of it’s just selfish. You know, the second reason is I want to be doing this ministry gig full throttle for the long haul, and so I need to be taken care of, what Scripture calls “the temple.” You know, my body if I’m going to do that, and then I have a lot more motivation. As of the past 20 months, because of my 20-month-old granddaughter, Joey. I want to be able to keep up with her, play with her, grow with her and any other grandkids that come along. So grandkids have created a whole new motivation for staying in shape and staying healthy.

Mike Mage:                

Obviously, you know, when you said it too, you’re a self disciplined person. I would say that you are a very intentional person. I was actually, I was asking my wife, I was like, “What do you think are some things about Matthew that we should talk about?” And she goes, “He seems like he’s very intentional.” 

Matthew Hartsfield:                 

I like that. Intentional sounds better than boring. My wife says boring.

Mike Mage:                 

I’m sure you have a weekly schedule of how you’re working out and all that kind of stuff, right. 

Matthew Hartsfield:

You know, I do. In fact, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, are strength days in the gym, and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturdays are running days outside because I can’t stand the treadmill. And then it’s even very defined at the gym. Monday is pushing day. Wednesday is pulling day, and then Friday is shoulders and legs. So it’s pretty basic straight ahead stuff.

Mike Mage:              

Sure. And then Sunday is nap day.

Matthew Hartsfield:                 

Oh, yes. The Sunday afternoon coma. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah. 

Jason Smithers:

Well, can we talk real quick, about what is cricket powder? I heard Mike mention that you consume large amounts of crickets. Is that right?

Matthew Hartsfield:

Well, I experimented a while back with cricket protein bars. 

Jason Smithers:

As we all have.

Matthew Hartsfield:

And they’re really like regular bars. You know, dates, almonds, stuff like that. But they have a cricket flour, just crickets that have been ground into a flour. And it’s cricket protein. So, you know, I’m crazy. I’m weird. I’ll try anything.

Mike Mage:                 

It was funny. He came into my office a couple days ago, was it yesterday, two days ago, and first he threw a Hostess Ding Dong at me. And then he, but then he gave me this, like, wagyu. Is that how you say it? “Wagyu?” Like beef jerky strip, and that was much better than the hostess cupcakes. 

Matthew Hartsfield:

Oh yeah, grass fed. No hormones and antibiotics. All that kind of stuff.

Mike Mage:               

At least it felt better to eat because then I ate the Ding Dong too. So, you know.

Matthew Hartsfield:               

Which, by the way, I do cheat. 

Mike Mage:

Sure. Oh come on. No, you don’t.

Matthew Hartsfield:

I do cheat. The thing is, you feel better about your cheat day or your cheat meal, you know when you’ve actually had a routine. 

Mike Mage:

Sure.

Matthew Hartsfield:

It feels like you’ve earned it.                 

Mike Mage:

Right. Exactly.

Jason Smithers:                

Cheat days more, like, cheat days look like lady bug powder, or is it more… 

Matthew Hartsfield:

I love, see, my Holy Trinity is this. It’s not Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Krispy Kreme. So I believe in a good donut. Mike knows that he eats two and three-day-old donuts.

Mike Mage:              

Well, my philosophy is, you know, it’s always gonna be better with a donut as long as it nothing is growing or on it or eating it. You know, I think any donut is better than no donut. 

Cool, well, Matthew, I’d love to sort of just get into maybe a little bit of your background. Like, how did you end up, not even necessarily at Bay Hope Church. I know, sort of a little bit about your family history even, but, like, how did you end up even becoming a pastor? Why, did you become a pastor?

Matthew Hartsfield:                 

Well, you know, the truth is that my father, grandfather and great grandfather were all Methodist pastors right here in Florida. And my brother is too, my middle brother out of the three of us. So you might call it either a family blessing or a family curse. But I did discern God’s call in my life to ministry when I was a junior in college. I was all set to go as a psychology major. I was going to head to the University of Florida PhD in clinical and counseling psychology when I discern God’s call in my life, and so shifted gears, began to talk to people, went through a discernment process and felt that God was calling me to ministry even if it was a counseling ministry. I wanted to go to seminary first. And so pursued that process and just discerned more and more overtime, especially when I got out of seminary and had to serve two years anyway in a local church, just for my ordination process, that I fell in love with a local church and sense God’s, you know, kind of favor on that. And it’s been 32 years now, and it’s been a great, great run. I’ve loved it.

Mike Mage:              

I mean, the United Methodist Church, were your parents, your dad was United Methodist?

Matthew Hartsfield: 

Sure. Dad, you know, grandfather, great grandfather, all that. I love the Wesleyan Methodist tribe and our roots in John and Charles Wesley and that whole revival that swept not only England but the westward expansion of America to find a lot of American spirituality in the beginning days. Because, you know, Methodism can be defined by one primary word. And that’s Grace. Grace upon Grace. And Wesley believed that that should be lived out not just in what he called personal piety, but in social holiness. And by social holiness, he meant in community rich relationships. That’s why Wesley was all about the classes, bands, societies, all these different, strong, encouraging community relationships. And then, of course, the Methodist movement really defined cultural community missional engagement, you know, taking on the the child labor practices in England, taking on literacy in England, taking on so many causes the abolition calls regarding slavery. And so, Methodism kind of defined what cultural, social holiness plus social action and justice means from early on.

Jason Smithers:

Actually, I’m just gonna talk a little bit with the pastoral vocation being one of the highest rates of burnout. And you’ve had 30 plus years and, you know, 20 plus years consistent at the same church. Maybe just talk to us about that. Have you modelled a healthy pace for your staff? How do you avoid burnout? 

Matthew Hartsfield:

Sure. You know, number one is always revisiting your call. I get a lot of calls from pastors or other persons in ministry who are thinking of throwing in the towel. You know, having a meltdown, the breakdown, whatever it is. And the first thing I always say is, “Hey, let’s talk about your call. You know, what was that about? Let’s revisit that. Let’s rekindle that. You know, if God is genuinely giving you a release from that call, well, let’s be open and discerning about that.” But most of us, just to be, need to be reminded, you know, of the”why” behind, you know, doing this again. And then number two, for me, it’s always been about relationships. See, the reason why I believe that I have been in the ministry not just for 32 years, but even 25 of them right here, is not only because I’ve had a healthy relationship with my wife, Maisie, who’s been a source of encouragement. She’s a PK too. She’s a Methodist preachers kid. But because I have been in a covenant group for 28 years now. And these six other pastors, the seven of us have done life together. We do a retreat every spring, every fall where we pray. We pray hard and play hard together. And then every single date, not a day goes by that either all of us in a group, text or individually one off, we’re not contacting each other, talking to each other, texting each other. And so literally, that’s no exaggeration. Not a day goes by that we’re not doing that. And I would say that’s the main thing that’s lacking in most, not just pastors, but any staff member, is they don’t have that band of brothers or sisters. You know, we do life together and most ministry is lived in isolation, and I believe that isolation is the greatest tool the devil can use in a pastor’s life. 

Jason Smithers:

One phrase I’ve heard, “Behind every burnout is a staff or volunteer member, that feels undervalued or underappreciated.” Would you agree with those warning signs? You feel like that’s kind of the the crux of the burnout? 

Matthew Hartsfield:

Oh, totally. Yeah. You know, because not just isolation, but a sense in which, “What am I doing? Does it matter? Is there any value to this?” If they’re getting no feedback about that and they’re getting no external validation, then that’s a formula for disaster. And they’re either gonna burnout and walk away on their own, or they’re gonna self sabotage in a very destructive way for themselves, for the church, and for the Kingdom of God. 

Jason Smithers:

How do you prepare against that for your staff? Like, how are you being proactive to make sure that your staff and volunteers are feeling valued and appreciated? 

Matthew Hartsfield:

Well, number one is just modeling that. I talk very much, I even preach about my covenant group and finding those relationships as well. Let’s talk about my just regular small group at the church in addition to that. So just modeling that, talking about that, but also, you know, creating in the staff culture that sense of, of encouragement, that sense of valuing each other, looking out for the best in each other. You know, we have a set of eight staff values around here that we teach and we talk about it are all staff meetings, and that’s something I believe that has to be clear and intentional and spoken into because a lot of senior leadership simply is too passive about this or they let it happen accidentally. It’s got to be ruthlessly pursued with intentionality.

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I think that that’s good. Again, it’s the intentionality because, like, you know, things get crazy. Like I never thought about now that I have a full time job and away from two kids, like, my college roommates, for example. So, like, basically the same, around the same time that you met your covenant group, you know, I was best friends with my college roommates, and now it’s so hard for us to even get together considering we live in three different spots in the country. But even just to get on the phone with one of them, it’s a hard thing to do, to try and intentionally seek out time where, we’re both our schedules, all three of our schedules are all together. And so, you know, like, I can totally see it. Just sort of falling off if you’re not intentionally tracking that down, because community is important.

Matthew Hartsfield:               

Oh, I agree. See, none of us live in the same city, and yet we drop everything if that caller ID comes on the phone. We drop everything if that, you know, that text comes through because we know that we put each other as a high priority.

Mike Mage:                 

For me personally, like, I think that you’re like an incredible communicator. You are a gifted communicator. I’ve been, I was telling somebody else on staff here at Bay Hope that you have a unique ability to speak for, you know, like, I feel, like, 25 minutes. Twenty to 25 minutes is normally, like, the longest people can go without checking out if someone is like an okay speaker, you know. But like you have, you have a unique ability to, like, go 30 to 35 minutes or whatever, on like a normal weekend, and it not feel like 30 to 35 minutes has passed, which I think is rare. I don’t think a lot of people have that; however, based on, you know, all this stuff we’re talking about sort of intentionality, I feel like you have a fairly healthy prep for your messages for yours, anytime you speak. I mean, you came here today with a manila folder with the questions I sent you, which is wonderful. You know, I feel like you have a healthy preparation. So can you just give us a little bit of, you know, maybe even the ethos behind your preparation. Like, what does your preparation cycle look like, for a normal weekend?

Matthew Hartsfield:                

It’s all a lie. I just stand up and wing it. I am not that good. I do have to prepare and, you know, preparation starts well before any notion of preparing for a particular message. I believe that the foundation of preparation is, each day at 6 a.m., when I’m in God’s word, I believe that every long term, high impact, communicator of God’s word has not been simply going to God’s word to get a message for God’s people, but has been going to God’s word consistently to swim in it, bathing it, marinate in it for personal spiritual formation and development to simply hear God talk to me before I go to the Bible just simply to get a sermon out of it for the church. And so for me, it’s every day reflecting on God’s word, journaling and prayer, and I believe it’s out of that personal spiritual formation that I’m able to create intentionality and the right atmosphere for actual message prep and platform communication. And it’s a very simple thing for me because I believe that you have to say it’s the most important set of appointments for the week. So, for instance, you know my assistant Diana, and you know Diana, Mike she has on my calendar my study sermon writing prep times blocked out, and she guards those ferociously and she knows that I’m either going to sequester myself here on the campus somewhere or I’m gonna go off to my study at the house or Starbucks somewhere, and those are regular, set aside times on the calendar. And where I think that maybe some pastors get into a a bit of a danger zone on that is they think that, well, you know, I’ll be able to, you know, put out all the fires on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and all of a sudden it gets to Thursday or Friday, and and there’s been no time for a message prep, let alone kind of been marinating in what you’ve prepared, and I don’t believe that you know, God in the long run really honors that process because here’s a false notion. There are some pastors well intentioned, though they may be, who believe that, well, I’m just gonna leave it to the Holy Spirit. I trust the Holy Spirit. Well, doesn’t the Holy Spirit work 24/7? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit work in the preparation and planning just as much in the moment of execution? And so Scripture is filled with examples of preparing and planning and getting ready and in both Old and New Testaments. And I believe that it’s a Godly thing to prepare and plan, particularly if you are really passionate about what you feel needs to be heard and needs to be communicated.

Mike Mage:                 

I think it’s super important cause I hear that from worship leaders all the time that you know, they don’t, they don’t prepare their team or they don’t prepare their band because, you know, they want the Holy Spirit to move in the moment. And, you know, like while that can happen and not that it won’t happen, but yeah, it does seem to be a lie. And it’s, I mean, it’s a lazy rationalization, really, when it comes down to it most of the time.

Matthew Hartsfield:              

The more I prepare, the more my team wins, because the more they can prepare knowing where I’m heading and where I’m going. So know, the video team can prepare. You in terms of song selection can prepare better. We can prepare elements in the service or response times, or even little take aways or cards we wanna publish to give people based on something in the message. Everybody gets set up for a win more, the more than I prepare. 

Jason Smithers:

I was just gonna ask, how do you deal with that when, when it does, when you do have to call an audible. So say it, you know, it’s Thursday and it’s just not coming together. It’s just not feeling right in the songs that the band chose, it doesn’t feel right, and you know, they’ve put a lot of preparation into it. But you just feel you’re making the judgment call like, I have to change this and you guys have to roll with me. 

Matthew Hartsfield:

If you’ve created the right kind of culture and they know that that’s going to be the exception rather than the rule, then when you do call an audible if you built the mutual trust, if you built the culture, they’re able to say, “Hey, great!” And even there’s a sense of energy and excitement about it, because there’s an authenticity behind it and they know that they’re not gonna be waiting on pins and needles or have the rug pulled out from them every single week. So for me, it’s about a consistency, leads to a better ability to then break that routine and honestly say that, yes, because the Holy Spirit will intervene and blow some stuff up. And not just that, but something in the news may happen, culturally may happen, that all of a sudden, wow, I need for instance on, you know, 911 I don’t know if there is a single pastor or worship team in the country that kept up with their stewardship series that next weekend, of course, everybody called an audible that weekly. So sometimes it’s just a no brainer.

Mike Mage:                

Alright well, so this is, you know, a podcast for creatives and sort of moving into the creative realm. A creative director of worship leader, you know, a lot of times the creative leader of the church in a lot of churches, you know, they don’t necessarily have a team. If they do, you know, it’s maybe a tech person here. Or maybe their communications person is part time, and, you know, they’re doing, you know, something with social media here, whatever. But for the most part, it’s more than likely one or two people. So what, for you as a lead pastor, what are sort of some healthy expectations you would have of your creative team or creative person? And then what should the creative leader or worship leader, or whatever, expect of their pastor? Does that make sense?

Matthew Hartsfield:            

Yes, and Mike, what I’ve learned from other pastors is that a senior leader needs to lead creatives different than everybody else. And a senior leader needs to lead creatives just like everybody else. And that may seem a contradiction in terms. But if you do set apart creatives way too much like some pastors do, and either give them total free license, or create owners burden on them like no other department in the church, then that’s not serving anybody. For me, the number one ingredient is mutual trust. Do we trust each other? You know, do we have each other’s back? You know, Are we experiencing that kind of honesty and transparency with each other? Because when that’s going on, then we can call some audibles with each other. I think if you’ve set a very clear set of expectations about that and you clearly know your process, then you don’t have to be always stepping on each other’s toes because you’re clear about your expectations. One of things that I think helps is by being very clear about what that term creative means, both for the pastor and for the creative team. Because there’s a difference between imagination and creativity. Creativity actually means you’re creating something. There’s a deliverable there. There’s a date there. There’s a shippable product, if you will, there. And so the pastor is not just continually imagining you know what the message is going to be. I’ve got to actually create and deliver and ship that message by the weekend. And if you create that same atmosphere among the creatives, then they all know, “Hey, you know, we all have to create here.”

Jason Smithers:

In your 30 years of experience, what are a few mistakes that you’ve made along the way in leading creative types?

Matthew Hartsfield:

Being way too passive. Just kind of thinking, “Well, this thing will all kind of work itself out.” And I’ve learned that I have to be very intentional about, you know, “how’s it going?” Showing up at the production meetings every week. Let’s be clear. What am I doing that’s helping you? What am I doing this hindering you? And being very clear about the feedback to the creative team as well. “Hey, can you explain this to me? This didn’t seem to go as I know, we typically do. What was happening there?” And so I have learned to move from passivity to intentionality with the creative team.

Mike Mage:                 

You know, I can speak from personal experience, obviously working with you, but, having, you know, every Monday, we have our production meeting where we discuss what has happened the weekend before. There is enough mutual trust that happens between lead pastor, tech team, worship team, creative team in general, to where we can discuss what are the wins. What were the things that didn’t work out so well? What can we change? Then discussing, you know, the weeks ahead to know that we’re in the trenches together. It helps the build even more trust, which I think is so helpful for a creative person who, half the time in la la land to begin with. So, maybe more than half.

Matthew Hartsfield:              

You know, there’s three things about that in terms of healthy expectations and culture creation on both sides of the equation. Number one is lead with questions, instead of accusations or statements. In other words, “Help me understand why that happened. Help me understand, you know, what that was about?” And it invites conversation rather than shutting down conversation. If you’re leading with questions. And the number two is to be “hot.” I always say I need a hot staff, and, Mike, you’re hot. What I mean by that is “H-O-T: Humble, Open and Teachable.” Are we all humble? Are we all open? Are we all teachable even when it nicks, and dings, and hurts sometimes. And then, number three is never let things go underground. Communicate, over communicate, triple over communicate. And I don’t always do that well. But those are, you know, three things that I found to be very helpful in the process. And so lead with questions instead of accusations. Be humble, open, teachable- hot, in other words. And never let things go underground.

Mike Mage:               

And I think that that goes to help cultivate, you know, the healthy culture. It helps, I guess, breed growth, you know, and we’re hitting a little bit on, you know, that “How did leaders cultivate a healthy culture that allows people to thrive and grow?” I mean, do you have anything else to say on that, Matthew? I mean, I think that all that is really good.

Matthew Hartsfield:               

Well, we remember what at least it’s attributed to Peter Drucker, who said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And so if we’ve learned anything from him or especially say, William Vanderbloemen, who has just written a book about you know culture, it’s that, you know, culture is what will, in the end, define and prevail or sink the whole ship, no matter how strategic you thought you were. And so it’s about being clear on mission and vision and values and being very clear about the chemistry that you’re setting in the culture and as a senior leader, it is a trickle down effect. You know, you do inject into the culture, you know, for good or for bad. You know what that place feels like and acts like and I’ve simply created in my head sort of an algebra, if you will, of culture. And that is: humility, plus encouragement, minus fear, equals healthy culture. Let me say that again. Here’s culture, math: humility, plus encouragement, minus fear, equals healthy culture.

Mike Mage:                 

That’s great. I know. For me, this is the first church that I feel like I’ve worked in, and granted I  haven’t worked at a lot of them, but I do feel like we have a culture around here, and granted , we’re all people and people run churches for the most part, and people are messed up, and so, you know, there’s always gonna be issues with any place that you work. I do feel like you do a good job with that, creating…

Matthew Hartsfield:               

We’re all codependent dysfunctional.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah. So, Matthew, you know, you’ve been here at Bay Hope for 25 years now. We’re going on your 26th year.

Matthew Hartsfield:              

Well, yes. Labor Day weekend will be 25 years.

Mike Mage:               

Wow! That’s crazy. Crazy. So what are, you know, two to three things that you have learned from, you know, growing this church? What are two to three things that you’ve learned to help make you a better you?

Matthew Hartsfield:               

Oh, I’m very clear about these three things. And it’s number one. Relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s all about relationships. That’s the glue. That’s the lubricant. That’s whatever metaphor you want to use, that makes everything better. And even if something went off the rails, if the relationship is there prior to that, then we know that we can reestablish. We can get it back on tracks again. Number two, I have learned from Sean Lovejoy, another pastor, coach and consultant now from his book title that he wrote several years ago. And that title was “Be Mean About the Vision” and be mean about the vision. And that’s just a hyperbole of saying: Be laser focused about the vision and be in a good way ruthless and laser focused about the vision because every body and everything will want to take that in a totally different direction, if you’re not quote unquote “mean about the vision.” And then number three, dream a lot bigger by believing in a bigger God. That has been probably the number one source of my growing fuel. And now that I’m in this 32 years, I’m even more excited than Day one because I’m just now learning how to have faith in God. I’m just now at the age of 55 learning to believe God, trust God for bigger things. And that’s why my life verse is Ephesians, Chapter three, Verse 20. You hear it all the time. I preach it all the time you know where Paul says to the followers at the church and Ephesus, “Now all glory to God, who is able, by his mighty power, work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ever ask or hope or dream or imagine.”And so God’s always wanted to do something bigger than I’m ever wanting to do. So I have learned that I put in little boxes what God wants to blow up and even bigger realities.

Mike Mage:                 

Last thing here, in the next five to seven years, where do you see the church going? Talk about Bay Hope Church, for sure. But maybe even like, Big Church stuff as well. So the Big C Church.

Matthew Hartsfield:                

Well, in terms of the Big C church, I think that we’re getting a lot greater clarity in this culture because Christendom is over in any sense of you know, “Hey, well, we just kind of assume Christianity now in America or Western culture.” Those days are over now. Some might whine or bemoan that or say oh whoa is me or decide to put their heads in the sand about that. I believe this is the greatest opportunity. This is a golden moment for the church because you have to be very clear about the gospel now. And you have to be very compelling with the gospel. And you have to be engaging with this culture about the gospel. You can’t just assume if you build it, they will come. If you open the doors, people will come into your church. I believe the church with a Capital C has a great opportunity to be seen in a whole new, authentic, culturally engaging way. And not just the assumed cultural Christianity that we had developing here over the past century in Western culture, and for Bay Hope, in a very specific way, living that out. Mike, as you know, that means “3 M’s.” That we’re gonna maximize, multiply and mobilize. We’re gonna maximize this original campus that God has given us to its fullest, redemptive potential. While we multiply other campuses all over Tampa Bay to create in every neighborhood an opportunity to fulfill our mission. And that’s to connect people to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. And we do all of that to get to the third “M” of the “3 M’s” which is mobilize. We wanna mobilize in Mission 30,000 disciples of Jesus Christ in Tampa Bay by the year 2030. We call that 30 by 30. So maximizing our campus is not the goal. Multiplying other campuses multi-siding. That’s not the goal. Those are just means to an end. The real goal is mobilizing disciples admission. So we want to do that again, by dreaming bigger, thinking bigger, having faith in a bigger God. And that’s why we want to have this 30 by 30 vision.

Mike Mage:                

Matthew, thank you so much for being a part of this. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for maybe anybody that’s listening?

Matthew Hartsfield:                

Listen to everything Mike and Jason tell you to do. That will serve you well.

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I can’t think of any better healthy advice. So, Matthew, thank you so much for joining us. We really, really appreciate it. Hope to have you on again at some point. 

Matthew Hartsfield:                

Thank you, Mike. Jason.

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I really hope that you enjoyed that conversation with Matthew Hartsfield. I know I did. I honestly, it was such a joy. Such really cool experience. He’s such a cool guy. 

If you want to follow Matthew on any social media platforms, he’s on Instagram and his tag there is just his name, Matthew Hartsfield. And he’s also on Twitter @MHartsfield so you can follow all the things he’s got going on with his life. All the things going on with the life of the church. Really, really a great follow. 

If you liked this podcast and want to hear more, we would absolutely love if you could share this on social media, with your creative team at church, or just simply leave us a review in your podcast app or wherever you download your podcasts, it would mean the world to us. And once again, I’m Mike Mage and remember that healthy things grow and growth means life. Thanks so much.