Healthy Church Growth – Episode 19 – Anthony Russo

Jesus had a sense of humor, and so should you.

Do Christians need to lighten up? Anthony Russo, the creator of ‘The Bible is Funny’ and a Director of Online Ministries at Calvary Baptist Church discusses how laughter can be a form of worship and the challenges of Christian comedic acceptance. 

On Instagram: @thebibleisfunny, @isaacimprov


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage
Well, welcome to the healthy church growth podcast. We’re so glad that you are here. And we have an incredible guest today. Someone that I’m very excited to talk to. He is the creator of the Bible is Funny Instagram account and podcast, as well as the director of online ministries at a pretty prominent church in the Tampa Bay area of Calvary Baptist. We have Anthony Russo with us, Anthony, thank you so much for joining us.

Anthony Russo
Thank you guys for having me. It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you guys today.

Mike Mage
Awesome. Well, Justin, you and I were talking a little bit before this with Anthony. And it says here on the zoom account, your you know, everybody does everything over zoom. Because that’s the society we live in now. And everybody puts their names in and all that kind of stuff. And Anthony, you actually, your name is Tone balone. And I would love your talking a little bit before about the use of this name. And we said the same. Let’s save it for the podcast. So please, would you please give us a little rundown on where that name is?

Anthony Russo
Yeah, I’m happy to there’s that. Like Tone Balone is kind of like just a byproduct of this thing that I was born into. So you guys are named like Justin and Mike. So yeah, pretty. Like there’s some names that you could be you know, when you’re from when you’re born to what you might be called as an adult and a teenager and things like that. But Anthony can really like the flowchart can go like 25 different ways like you can be Anthony you can be Antony, you can be anfernee you can be Antwan, you can be like Tony, you can be Tone Balone. There’s just so many things that people will call it then you have like the normal things where somebody calls you by your last name or things like that. So I just felt like, I it’s just a thing that I love about my name is people are always like, what do you prefer to be called, and I’ve just never had a preference whatsoever. I’ve had whole, my entire high school called me, Tony. And I felt nothing about it. My family calls me and I had a guy that I worked with at a church I was serving at they called me Andrew for several years. And, whatever you say I am. I know that just keeps on going

Mike Mage
Man, that’s nowhere close.

Unknown Speaker
I didn’t have the heart to tell him. This facility guys, we just got in his name, oddly enough was Ted Williams, which I’ll never forget. Ted Williams, that’s funny. And so we chatted one of my first days. And then second day I was walking in we’re kind of far in the parking lot. But he’s like, hey, Andrew, good morning. And I was like, Ah, okay. And then I just went in and was didn’t think much of it the rest of the week, rest of the month. And I’m at what point do I break this man’s heart and say, caught me the wrong name this whole time?

Justin Price
You know, I’ve been I’ve been following Anthony. And we’ve gotten a chance to work together in the past. And I feel like you Anthony. That story so well describes your heart and your personality. Like just just what? Just what a genuinely great, nice guy. You are. The like, if that was Mike or I, we would have been like correcting them right away.

Mike Mage
I don’t know,

Justin Price
The 8 in Mike would have

Mike Mage
Well, yeah, probably eventually. I feel like it would have been upset about it. But the nine in me would have said like I don’t we just let’s be cool. That’s fine. You can call me whatever you want to call me. I wouldn’t be happy about it. Yeah. But I totally like there’s, there’s a point at like it What is it? After like a week or two where you can’t you’re set? Right? It’s set in concrete. And you’re Andrew. And that’s that’s who you are

Unknown Speaker
The same thing like so when you’re younger? Maybe you’re like introducing, you’re meeting people. It’s all like a little bit more formal. But if you’re like when you’re an adult, and you frequent the same space as other adults, if you don’t catch their name gets real odd real felt, right. Like we’ve now interacted five times. I don’t know when I can casually say yep, he’s sorry. What’s your name?

Mike Mage
Oh, totally. It’s so odd. there’s a there’s a guy who plays on our worship team. He’s incredible. He shows up every week prepared. I mean, he is he’s a professional musician. I mean, he’s amazing. And he I have no idea what he does for a living. And I’ve known him for five years now. And so several people have asked me they’re like, what is what does he do for a living and said, I can’t ask like that’s I we are way past the statue limitations, right? Yeah. way past it.

Justin Price
Yeah, there’s one. There’s a great trick. You just need to introduce them to somebody new Yeah. Yep. And yeah. You just need to be able to get that introduction in.

Mike Mage
That’s maturity, because you just figure out ways to not make things so awkward with other people.

Justin Price
Yes.

Anthony Russo
My wife that she gets she gets lead out like the lamb to slaughter. Somebody she’s like, I already know this person. I’m like, no, no. I am. This is my wife, Rachel.

Mike Mage
Someone’s got to be the sacrifice, you know, it just, it’s gonna help out everybody.

Justin Price
That’s right, Anthony, you’ve been working in the creative world for a long time inside of the church. And one of the one of the things that I thought is so cool about your story is that you have always done like side hustles, while working at churches, you ran a really, really great comedy group, an improv comedy group, and you have had a long history in the what I would consider is like a very difficult market, which is like, entertainment, comedy side of church culture, yeah, and Christian culture. And then, you know, you have been successfully kind of thing inside of the church the whole time, as well, you know, working on staffs and things like that. Tell us a little bit about what that process was like for developing, you know, going from like the event stuff, which to actually like a whole channel like the Bible is Funny. Give us a little bit of background about what that has been like.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, oh, man, there’s so much interesting stuff in there. So this, like church comedies fear is, has like a pretty clear line of progression. So it’s like this. It was this kind of blazed trail of people that we had acknowledged that this was an important thing that we get together and laugh and have fun and do these things. It had sort of broken through, because music and teaching has always been welcomed. Certain certain communities will welcome other artistic expressions of a comedy has had a little bit of a different road because it can feel like what’s not important. We don’t we don’t have like a lot of biblical precedent of people setting out with just the goal of making other people laugh. Sure. Whereas we have some precedent on the other ones. So that’s definitely like a unique circle, people that do that thing. But I started doing that I started traveling and doing comedy. I went on my first nationwide tour when I was 16. I went from Florida, and traveled all the way out to California, did shows along the way, did some camps in California, and then came back. And I’ve been doing it ever since. I mean, pre pre this pandemic were in. We were still traveling and doing things obviously. I’m not as young as I was back then you listeners can’t see exactly how bald I am. But I am bald. So it’s. So it’s a little bit you know, there was a time where it was like it felt like I was around like high school kids. And I was like, I’m cool. Right now. You’re just like, oh, gosh, I am older than all of you by quite a bit. But we still have it’s still really fun. We still love doing it. We’ve now we’ve worked with colleges more we’ve done some work with nonprofits. We’ll do like volunteer appreciation, banquet, that kind of thing. So the so the work we’ve done has sort of morphed, we actually did some trainings too, which was super fun. But then the transition into the some of the Bible is Funny specifically, like there’s a man, there’s a lot that went into that. But some of the motivators were, you know, when you’re younger, you traveling is like really appealing and really like this thing that you’re like, I want to travel, I want to see all this stuff. And then I got married, and we had kids and me and Tim, the guy I was traveling with and it just kind of became like harder, because you’re like, oh, man, I’m spending time away from my family now like, yeah, I this is just a harder thing. Do I really want to be on the road? All the time, that man Oh, I get that. So it had we’re living through some of those tensions wanted to find some ways that we could continue to express ourselves creatively. And not maybe have to be away from home quite as much. So then started doing some videos that we were doing on YouTube. And then the Bible was funny was a project that was born out of that time. I love writing. And I love reading the Bible. And I love comedy. So it was this sort of really fun combination of all those three things coming together yet

Mike Mage
So obviously, if anybody is familiar with the Bible, is Funny, you would know that it’s I mean, it’s got a pretty big following. And if you’re listening and you haven’t checked out the Bible’s funny yet, please go to Instagram and check it out. Because it’s actually very funny. It’s a perfect brand. It’s a perfect brand name. But I’d love to know, like, at what point did it sort of explode? Or was there a point or has it just been this sort of slow growing following over the years?

Anthony Russo
I feel like this particular project did have a moment. And it’s a it’s a, it’s a it’s a really a sad story on my own my own account. So I started the project. And I was writing books, and I was like 10 years late to the blog game, but I was I was writing blogs. So again, I like to do is I like to write and then I was doing Instagram posts because I thought I need to keep like content going like I need to stay on people’s mind between blog posts and I can’t turn a blog post out every day. But I was like, I am not a meme page. I am not a meme page. I am better than all the media pages, though that is nice. That has value. There’s they are crass. Yeah. Low brow. Yeah, exactly. And they accent just comes when you start talking like that, right? And then I actually had what’s become a friend of mine. Now she runs an account called the normal Pentecostal. Yeah. She reached out to me and said, Hey, your stuff is really good, but like, people don’t know how to find it or what to do with it, you should just make these into memes. Because I was like, making it the the post of the verse than the caption was a joke. And I was literally making memes guys, I was making me, but I was like, I’m not a meme page. And then she was, you know, of course, it’s outside perspective, she was just like, your content. So good, you should just, you should just make these into memes. And this is probably four years into the project three years in. And I was like, I’ll try it, like I’m ragging on this is gonna crash and burn. And you guys are all gonna be sorry. And so I only, I only will say that that was like a kind of take off moment for the project. Because finally it was in a pipeline of content that people were actually looking for, like, people actually like to look at memes on the internet. And so you were you were, the content was now addressing people where they were. And so from that on out, it really caught a lot of ground. And it has been really fun ever since. But that was like a very tough, it’s that’s been everything with this guys. I mean, the podcast, Rachel, my wife was on me for like two years about a podcast. And I was like, No, no, no, I’m not gonna do a podcast, and I can do it by what am I gonna say? Yeah, and then they did the podcast. And that’s been really fun and been a really great thing.

Mike Mage
It’s super cool. Well, I love the, you know, taking this back to, you know, the church, and you know, maybe somebody’s in a creative position at a church, there’s so many times where we get stuck in the method of how we’re doing things. And thinking that like, the method is the thing that is really driving it when it’s really like it was your content that was very funny and was effective. And like, regardless of how it’s packaged, like you’re still going, you are ultimately communicating it in a way that more people can get to it. And that is isn’t that the ultimate goal is to actually get it out. And I feel like I’ve fallen into that trap so many times being like, I’m never gonna do this song ever, or whatever, you know, as a worship leader. So I it’s not, you know, artistically creative enough or whatever, right? And then the one time I do it is the time people, like, finally meet Jesus. I don’t know.

Anthony Russo
It’s so is painfully true. Yeah, no, Justin has become a really good friend the last year or so. And he is very surgical about this particular topic, I think about pointing out like, like, he would say things we’ve talked about ideas in the past. And he would say something like, nobody cares about that. And it’s very, like, it’s very, like I say, surgical. When you first hear it, you’re very like, oh, that hurts my feelings, though. Oh, no, wait, that’s great, though. Nobody does care about that. I am so focused on this thing. And it not being means and they’re not means that like when somebody presents is such a logical like, but you know, people actually want memes. Nobody wants what you’re doing right now. But they want memes. Why don’t you do that? Yeah. And that and that has been something man. Talk about that has been a lesson for me in the church world too. Because we know how important this is. We know how valuable these messages are. The Bible is all of these discipleship, sanctification, all these things, but until we present it to people in terms that they’re like, Oh, I want that or Oh, I was looking for that. Yep. They they don’t know they don’t like you said the content can be great. But if Yeah, if you’re if you’re not putting it, where it needs to be in the language needs to be said then no one’s gonna see it.

Justin Price
Totally. Did you? Do you feel like it was hard to come up with the the format for it? Because sometimes, it’s funny like that. It feels like it’s a little bit different than a normal meme. Because sometimes I think your captions like your your description on the post is the thing that makes me laugh the most. And then sometimes I laugh like at the actual game itself, but like I was looking at there was one I was trying to find it. I think it’s it was this one me to my kid. Hey, people are kind of on edge right now. So be cool. walks in the restaurant, like if the asterisk From Second Kings for 35 cents, then the child sneeze sevens. That was really funny. And then then I thought that the caption underneath it was really funny like your, I guess you call it the description or the write the caption there, but it was like it euro boy has allergies are really acting up. Said he said loudly to no one and just like thinking about I don’t know why that one got me but it was just like, because I think you know that that subject, obviously is so relevant. And I feel I feel like I’m just shunned if I don’t have a full grade mask on, and I cough or cheap, sneeze or whatever, it’s just so right.

Anthony Russo
And we’re aware of that. But the kids are not in the kids know, I mean, sneeze, like rubbing their nose. And you’re just like, I don’t, buddy, we’re gonna literally get kicked out of here. That’s a thing.

Justin Price
Yeah. Um, so anyways, sometimes that that is like your funniest part, sometimes the mean itself is the funniest thing. Do you have a formula formula? or How did this all kind of come about?

Unknown Speaker
Um, you know, it’s, it’s gone through a process. And like, he said, I think like, that was one of the big things was when I, when I made that that subtle transition, which was more of a mental shift for me than it was for anyone that it was, you know, the for, like the people following the account. You have like, parameters now by which that you’re playing and the whole Internet has agreed to like these rules that you’re now playing by, and you can do fun things with them. So, you know, I think to me, and the lesson that I took away from that moment, with all projects going forward, and really what like, I think led to the podcast being the way it is now to is it’s like, I’m still as a creative like, or a creator of this stuff. You’re the one doing the thing, like even if it’s like, oh, it just means like, Okay, well, this is you making memes. So it will be different than some of these other people is just a podcast. Well, it’s you doing the podcast. So you’re gonna do this a little bit different than other people do. So yeah, I would say it’s funny. You do ask that though, Justin. Because like, that has taken different shapes. Like at one point, I was going through the Bible and writing a joke that somehow connected to every verse. And that was like a mess. So no one has seen that. But the process by which I do it has changed. Kind of the formula. Yeah, it’s it’s the the meme process that a lot of other people do. But yea

Justin Price
Even the title, the even the title is great, because I don’t think anyone thinks the Bible is funny.

Anthony Russo
Right, right.

Justin Price
I mean, the whole the whole concept, and I think, and this is one of the things that I respect and think you’re a genius for is I this is so hard. I mean, being funny, is not hard, like being a jerk and making jokes on other people’s expense. That’s my more of my wheelhouse. Like, that’s, that’s easy. This is hardly being smart in coming up with jokes, and, and then delivering them through a meme like that. I tried. By the way, I tried to write some memes. I never sent them to you, Anthony, you know, we should

Mike Mage
we should get

Justin Price
I tried to write meme We’ll put we’ll put it in the show notes. Yeah. And in our staff, they totally rip them up. Like they were like, these are funny. I don’t get it. Like, I’m not sure this was like two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I was like, would this be a good thing for us to put on our social media? And they were like, absolutely not. I just want you to know, I think this is so impressive. Like, it’s so hard to do. And it’s funny, because I don’t think it gets the credit. You know, like I don’t, if you’re like, Oh, I’m a Christian comedian, saying, Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of jokes about that. Those two words together.

Unknown Speaker
We use to get that all the time when we were traveling, we would do a show and afterwards, he would be like, Oh, that was like really funny. I mean, I hope so

Mike Mage
They definitely were not expecting it to be. Yeah. So I just mean culture is now like a thing. You know, like it is very much. And I mean, I personally like I very much and I may have sort of said it earlier, but like I very much relate to this idea that this thing is happening. A lot of people are doing it. I want to do something different. I don’t want to be a part of this culture at all come up. But like I I remember on my like our iPhones, I guess when you know, like, you can search for gifts or gifts. As a main creator, is it GIF or GIF? What is it? It’s GIF. It’s GIF. Okay, let’s see, that doesn’t feel doesn’t sit right with me. It’s fine. I’ll say it. I’ll say it that way. I’ll say it that way. But yeah.

Anthony Russo
The only way You can call it GIF is if you’re one of these Geoffrey’s that spells your name, Geouf, and then you can call it GIF

Mike Mage
Okay. All right. I’ll say give it a pert. I just want you to know personally, when we do this, I’m gonna say GIF. And it’s gonna be, yeah. Okay. So I remember on our phones, when like, there wasn’t the gift search or whatever, you know, I remember when meme culture was not a thing. So this is sort of like a two pronged question here. How have you seen meme culture change, since you really started doing it over the past couple years, but then specifically this year? Because everybody is living their lives through online in 2020. When we’re recording this, so much of life is, especially the past six months has just been experienced through a screen. Have you seen meme culture shift over the past six months? And then really, you know, in a broader sense over the last three or four years?

Anthony Russo
Yeah, yeah, it’s, um, it I just want to talk about though, for one second, the greatness of the full circle moment that I am now an ambassador for meme culture, when just a couple days ago, I was refusing to be called a meme page. meme, meme culture. I mean, it changes all the time, like it really is, like, if you blink, you know, the, I’m going to get kind of granular listeners hang with your weight kit when you blink. And like the standard by which like, the font is like, it used to be this bold. Forget what that file is called. But it’s a kind of a stencil looking font at the top and the bottom. And that is longer the thing. So if you impact Thank you, Justin, it’s just not a thing anymore. So that’s how big it is anymore. So Justin, there’s these people playing Sinatra. And there’s these big accounts out there that like tank was just even like a pretty big talk show recently. I don’t remember off top my head. But so this is like ascended. In all of these different ways. But yeah, it’s it’s like really changing constantly. As soon as somebody is doing something that’s working, right. What I love about the community, like the larger meme community is it really is just an endless invitation. How do you make this joke? How can you make this joke better? Like you, you take a stab at this joke, we’re all taking stabs at roughly the same joke, which in a in a bigger existential sense, is like this is what comedy has been doing forever. We’re just a lot quicker at it now. So you can like respond to a moment with memes really quickly, because like the second something happens on like, the one that sticks out to me is the the Superbowl halftime show that lady gaga did. If you remember that she did this, like move where she like crossed her arms and jumped off the top of the stadium in Houston. It was made into a meme and like moments after that it was a meme. So it’s like it moves so fast. And it’s like, you really have to like part of you has to be interested in have an affection for the community at large. Or you will be like 12 steps behind and like that meme template is not being used anymore. Like you’re you’re you’re been mulling over your SpongeBob I am going to head out meme. And then you know, two weeks later, no one’s making him anymore. So changes a lot. That was kind of answered the first part of question. The second part, it’s been really interesting, because one thing you’re doing, and I’ll speak from my own perspective, but I think everyone does this, in some sense, is you’re looking around, like at what’s going on. And that’s where you’re pulling inspiration from Sure. And so that’s what’s made this particular season really tough is it’s like, it’s just been like a lot of stuff you don’t want to make jokes about like there’s been, I have I was talking to this other guy meme page recently. And I was saying, let me just start I gotta say this like this is not complaining. People have had very, very difficult during this time. And by no means do I want what I’m about to say to sound like I’m complaining about my spot in this it has it we me and my family have been blessed through this whole thing. But doing the doing the comedy end of it. You just have like weeks where you’re like, I don’t want to do this anymore. Like I’m not anymore. I don’t wanna be dramatic. But you’re like this week what? I don’t feel funny. I look around I don’t see funny stuff. I don’t want to like there’s nothing you know, we had we lost sports, we lost new movies coming out. We lost like production for content shut down. Like that stuff that was on in the news was like you weren’t gonna make jokes about it unless you were like a different type of comedian than I am for sure. So like, it was just weeks of like, and at the same time carrying this sense of like, we have to keep doing this. Like if we stop talking right now. Then the sort of like, dread just wins it all, doesn’t it? Like Don’t we have to make jokes right now like Yep, yeah, as silly as what we do is and how there are p there are nurses and there are teachers and there are people like really making a much bigger impact. It felt both very hard to make comedy on the internet and very important that we were making comedy on the internet. Sure, at the same time, so that’s what I would say about the last six months. It’s been, it’s been a lot of moments of that of your, you’re just like, I gotta, I gotta like, pull from a different Well, right now, which is, which is weird. But

Justin Price
Yeah, that’s been that is it’s a strange thought to think about that in a time where things get really dark. You don’t feel like it’s funny. You’re making a meme page, you’re not monetizing this meme page, like you’re not running ads and things like that. And yet, you still feel this sense of responsibility. Like, I got an I, like, I got to make something light, I got to bring something good to this community. That’s amazing. Talk a little bit more about how you’re fostering the community, you know, like, what are you doing with your community? And, and how do you? I don’t know, what does it look like managing a meme page in that community?

Anthony Russo
Well, in the beginning, you made it You guys made a comment earlier about like, the the brand name, the Bible was funny, and a lot of people saying the Bible is not funny. You’d be shocked exactly how many people thought that the Bible’s not funny how dummy? Yeah, shut your page down. And so it’s like, oh, so the community, the process of the community has been like, there’s definitely been a does, is he making fun of the Bible? Does he hate the Bible? There was a lot of comments early on, like about how I was going to hell, and a couple of people pass naturally called Satan. And so there was a lot of that earlier on, as we were like, me and the community were feeling each other out and figuring out like, you know, who are you and who am I? And how am I gonna go? Now, like, the Bible is funny communities. absolutely the best. I love them. They, they, the other day, we they this group of people in the comments did the entire song of Sophia the First like the entire intro song one line at a time? Absolutely love them. Every once in a while, somebody will chime in and say like, you know, that’s not the context of this verse. I always think is so stinking funny, because it’s like, you know, the joke is like, when you forget, you’re like, not muted on your zoom call. And they’ll be like, you know, some of the content. And I’ll be like, I mean, I think we all know that the Bible was not written in relational zoom. But the community will step in and will say like, Oh, you know, you must be new here or something like that. Right? And, and even like, so I could honestly brag about the Bible’s funny community all day. Like they’re not aggressive like they’re not mean about it. It’s very like welcoming like they’re very other Christian comedic accounts are not as lucky. Like they are just, it’s it’s super combative. Our community has been so so kind and so so like, the chatty with each other chiming in. And I think the challenges you asked about engaging the community like the challenges, just remembering that this is fun, this is fun for everybody to do, and you want it like everybody wants to be to be in on the joke, right? Everybody wants to play the game. So we’re just always I’m always looking for ways to like, how do I like let let them play along. So like the other day, I teed up the joke and I let everybody else come up with the verse. I teed up the verse Now that everybody else kind of come up with like, the joke that goes with the verse. And I was sick guys. I was like, really resisting it. I was like, I want to make the joke, though. What if I don’t make the joke? Who am I in this whole process? Right? And then after I did, it was like, so many people jumped in and suggested jokes. And it just was this great. Like, isn’t this more fun? Like, isn’t this more fun when everybody’s playing? They came up with really great stuff. And you’re just like, That’s it? That’s, it’s remembering that like, you know, the stuff we learned in kindergarten, right? Everybody wants a turn. It’s they can’t just always be your turn. And I definitely feel like I fight that, you know, you see an elementary school kid every once in a while. It’s like, okay, watch me do this. Watch me do this. Watch me do this. I hear that in myself every once in a while and you’re like Anthony, you got to let other be other people want to play they want their parents like they want it you if you’re just always asking your community to watch you, everybody watch me do this thing. Your communities, you know, gonna be a bunch of watchers, so they’re gonna be a very passive community. And so the Bible is has been great because they’re super. Yeah, very active and super supportive. And I love them very much.

Justin Price
What do you do with all the haters? I mean, how do you handle that? The criticism?

Anthony Russo
I feel like it’s it’s mostly confusion, like Jerry Seinfeld has this great quote about like, hecklers, or I forget if it was in regards to hecklers or people that just didn’t like his content. And cuz Jerry’s like really meticulous, Jerry writes and performs and like that’s, that’s what he does. And other comedians, myself included, it’s more in the moment. It’s a little like 60% 70% baked and then you want it to like, get With the people in the room and everything. And so Jerry just said like they don’t, I don’t like, don’t you think they don’t like you when they don’t like your content? Don’t you think they don’t like you? And Jerry was like, they don’t know me. Like, they don’t know me. They don’t like they didn’t like what I gave him that day. And sometimes I didn’t do my job the best. So they didn’t like when I gave him that day. But they don’t know me. Like they I’m, I know, I know my value separate from this thing. So my value is not constantly in question with this thing. Yeah. So I think that’s the biggest thing. And then and when you live in that space, you’re able to be super gracious with people. Like, I don’t know how many times we’ve gotten, like, I’m like, you know, ultimately, they think I don’t love the Bible. And as soon as we’re able to clarify, like, I love the Bible, the Bible will never be the butt of the joke on the Bible’s funny. Never, ever, ever. It’s never like the joke is, isn’t this a dumb book? Like, I love this thing. It is a life changing thing for me. So I would never present it in this light. And once they get there, they’re everybody’s cool.

Mike Mage
Yeah. I think that’s, that’s super important. And something that I really love about kind of how you run, not just your account, but also, you know, you interact with the community is I feel like social media had this moment, like 1012 years ago, where it felt like this thing that was like, Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. Like, everybody has a voice. And, you know, wake, we can post things. And this is wonderful. And obviously, that has changed a lot in the past 10 to 12 years, you know, yeah, it sort of leads me into my next question is like, so you’re running like a very successful Instagram account. And more than that, like you’re getting people involved and engaged in like, I don’t want to try to lead the witness or anything. But like one thing that I really love about what you’re doing, and what you said a little bit ago is about how getting more and more people active is better than just, you know, you sitting there saying like, hey, look at what I’m doing. Look at what I’m doing. And for me like that sort of really intersects with what I try to do with my worship ministry at church is to try and get as many people involved as possible. Like, I can stand up there and lead six songs, you know, if for services or but like, what does that really accomplish outside of people just just creating a community of people like saying, watch me or whatever. So like, how else? Have you seen your Instagram account? Really intersect with what you do as like an online director at your church? Or just other things at church?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, um it’s, it’s, there’s so many different things that come to mind there. But yeah, I think like, just really remembering that those things that we kind of covered a little bit earlier that like, this is a thing, the more that people feel like they can approach this thing, the more that people feel like they want to be a part of this thing. That there’s like, you’re allowing the space for them to like, like, want to play along with you like, yeah, definitely the, you know, the the term that we’re kind of skirting around that a lot of social media people uses engagement. And that’s sure. But I think that’s really interesting, because a lot of what you just mentioned, like the some of that traces back to this engagement chase, right? Like if I post something that 50% of the people love and 50% of the people hate, but 100% of the people feel passionate enough to say something about, like, the little dirty secret of social media is that’s the best content, like that’s what blows up. That’s why your feed looks the way it does. Because the danger, for example, of somebody creating like, comedy, is you might just make someone laugh. And that ultimately is not the best thing to do. But if someone’s just like, oh, that’s funny. That’s not going to like stoke the fires of a social media page. So yeah, it’s just it’s, it’s interesting. It’s about how do you nurture that community? How do you say things that you think are important or necessary, but you deliver it in a way that people like, are looking for that kind of thing? Like one thing I’ll say, is, I’ll back up just a little and say some of the heartbeat behind the Bible is funny is that there’s a couple like things I always trace it back to but one of them is, I think, when adults come to the Bible, like they would didn’t grow up in, in the Bible, they weren’t introduced to like, Jesus loves me, this I know, type of stuff. they they they came to the to have faith experience, like later in life. They’re like, hit by the Bible, like the Bible is like, thrown at them as the like, you shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. You got to stop doing this. And because this book tells us that that’s the things you should be doing. And it’s almost like they just missed that step of like, hey, Jesus loves you. And Jesus loves everybody. And like, let’s start with these like, these things that make kids love the Bible. Here’s these really cool stories, man. There’s like these incredible stories in here. So for me, one of the things about the Bible was funny. It’s like you take this book, which is like a big old book, not originally written in English and very confusing, it’s like, Where am I supposed to start? And like, it’s like we’re not, it’s all different books inside of the one book. And you just make it you give people this little onramp of like, Oh, that’s a funny little verse that that’s in the Bible. That’s an interesting thing. For, at times, I’ve said like, to me that my favorite part about a person is the funny things about that person. Like, there’s a funny thing about everybody, even the most like serious person, you know. And so like, that’s a great way to like, get people to engage or something. He’s like, given this little onramp, that feels good and feels like Oh, I like that. I want to keep doing that. Whereas, like, just at times, especially as the church we’ve led with, like, really tough, hard things. And then I think at times we’re shocked is like, people aren’t warm to that. And sometimes we tuck that under like, well, they’re hard truths, and yada, yada, yada. And I do think there’s a lot of value to that conversation. But I think in other times, we’re just not remembering that people don’t there. People are not as far along in this process as we’ve made them out to be. Why don’t we give more people like onramps to say, Oh, this is a cool way to step into reading my Bible. I’ve because this is an intimidating text to sort of dive into all alone. So with that sort of approachability, I would say if I had to boil it all down to one word, even more than engagement, just approachability. How does somebody like it’s great walk into this thing? And it should feel good when they do? Yeah.

Justin Price
Do you have any thoughts on how you’re how you’re kind of taking this experience of community management and content generation? And now, you know, just in the last six months, you have transitioned into a role as an online pastor? Yeah. How are you? How are you? What are you taking from this and applying to your role at your church, specifically, is in any kind of context that you can share like that, you know, our listeners can apply to their church, from a funny man who maybe they are not that funny. There might be some principles, or some thoughts that you’ve seen, that are really working well, with what you’re doing as an online pastor, which is cultivating community and, you know, nurturing in creating content?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, um, I think the biggest thing for me that I feel like I’m, I’m really trying to transfer as often as possible is the like, applicability of stuff. So when you create content online, most people would really quickly be like, you know, like, there’s this really particular niche thing about my ceiling fan, in that when you wire it, these things, the wires, it’s the wires cross, and it’s the funniest thing. Isn’t that hilarious? No, because nobody has your ceiling fan. So nobody knows what you’re talking about. That’s not good content. And I think everyone would if if, if BuzzFeed came out with like, 10 memes based on the ceiling fan from Dan’s office, we’d be like, what are you doing? BuzzFeed? Nobody cares. Why you’re talking about that. Unfortunately, I think sometimes we forget that piece. And we say like, this has to matter to a lot of people. And this has to like, you have to give it to them in a way that they’re like, Oh, yeah, that’s interesting to me. And that does affect me in some way. And not get so buried in like, particular language and things that you’re like, nobody knows nobody outside of your church knows what you’re talking about right now. Because I think ultimately, like, that’s the big thing is like, we’ve got to continue to figure out ways to reach our communities and to share this incredible message like the gospel and the life changing impact that it can have. And the just all of this that we have, how do we just continue to show people how much they need it in their situation? show people how they’ve been looking for it. I love there’s a text that talks about Paul walking into with all these gods from these people. Forget where he is, for any of you remember, feel free to jump in, but

Mike Mage
He’s in He’s in Greece,

Anthony Russo
Greece smart.

Mike Mage
It’s at Mars Hill? I think.

Anthony Russo
So. And then he approaches like the unknown God, the temporary unknown God, right. It’s this brilliant, like, I’m going to talk to you in language that you know and understand, and that you already mean something to you. And then I’m going to talk about this thing that’s like incredible and life changing and important.

Mike Mage
That’s really good.

Anthony Russo
But if we don’t take that step and say, like, let me use the language let me use the imagery. I mean, Jesus, his stories are all agrarian like, for us today. It does not mean very much like right. Like I love picturing the idea of today, Jesus, like all these crowds gathered in Jesus telling the story of like, so a guy threw some seeds out, some of them took some of them. Thank you guys for coming. We’ll see you next week. Like we would, it would just be like, it doesn’t hit the same way. And obviously we have the we have the blessing of people interpreting and all kinds of great things that we have today. But this is language for them at their time. They didn’t need anything else to understand the imagery that was being used. I love stuff like that and The thing I just want to continue to say like where can we step into situations, right? Like, where can we offer this good news in the way that people are like, Oh, man, I’d been looking for that. And there it is.

Justin Price
I love that philosophy. Is there any? Is there any tangible things that you guys have started to do? Yeah, I mean, I know that you’re still still easing into the role. And it’s, it’s even, maybe it looks a little different for the church. But I’m kind of curious, is there anything that you guys have any, like practical things that you’ve started to do? Are you chipping away at actually reaching the community? Like reaching, you know, your local city? Yeah. Are you still just kind of getting in there? getting comfortable before you do anything kind of crazy?

Anthony Russo
Well, I hope I hope we’re, I hope we’re doing something good. But the one thing that has been big for me early was, I think we all were faced with a question of like, what does an online community do? Like even as much as like when it came to worship? We weren’t gathering for worship? Are they singing along at home, we used to be able to have some sort of gauge they were singing, they’re raising their hands or doing something. Now, what can they do? And I think that that’s a good question to continue asking, and asking, like, what’s a good like, reasonable thing to ask him to do? So that’s something we’ve done is one of them. First thing is like super low stakes. So here’s where it’ll get like real tactile and granular so on our, on our, the online service that we were doing, and I host every week, it was just like, give them like a little, a little easy, low cost engagement question. At first. It’s, it’s just like, instead of just saying, hey, jump in the chat and say, Hello, well, you’re putting a lot of onus on them, like they have to now maybe I’m an introvert and I don’t run a just jump in and say, like, there’s someone in that audience who’s gonna put Hi, no, I don’t like that, hey, now we do this. But if you’re like later, like last week, the bucks and the lightning and the raise we’re all playing on the same day, so we’re like, shout out one of the Tampa Bay teams go Bucs go raise cobalt, set up very, like clear boundaries. Here’s how you play this game. There’s three options, pick one, drop it in the chat. Now you’ve created this, like really low level, like, Oh, I can do that. I can engage in those in that. So what you’ve done is like, it seems really trivial, right? A bunch of people say no molds. But in reality, somebody engaged in a worship service like, right, somebody that maybe hadn’t engaged in a worship service before. And if you go as low as you can, that barrier of entry, the better. I feel like, this applies to so many church levels. We’re always like, Man mission. And the first time we talked about missions is like, oh, here’s so and so in Africa, who lives here, translating a Bible different language? Well, like, pee in your church is like, well, Michigan? Me? I can’t do that. That seems like a lot of stuff.

Justin Price
We’re like, no offense. P no offense T. offense at all. Yeah. Right. It’s so good, man

Mike Mage
It’s great.

Justin Price
So good. I, you know, the first thought I had when I was thinking about online community was, we were working with this ministry that put up a prayer wall. And it was like, confess your deepest, darkest sins on our prayer.

Mike Mage
What’s so weird?

Justin Price
I just think like, you know, there’s so many times when we’re just like, well, we want to jump we want to use technology to jump to the the final thing we want, which is I think, there’s so much value in obviously, it’s scriptural for us to confess our sins to one another. And so it’s great that they want that I don’t there’s nothing wrong with with wanting that. But man, I that’s a that’s a really profound thought, Anthony. And I hope that our listeners will take this to heart. Because you are funny, but that’s a really serious thought that the best thing you might be able to do for your online community is lower the freaking bar.

Mike Mage
Yeah, that’s great.

Justin Price
Um, it’s tough asking so much of somebody who has just stepped into your front door. You know, if you were coming to my house, I would like I would want to offer you the best drink. I had, like, Oh, can I use my best glass? And can I, you know, if I have something else I can look, what do you what would you like, I would be asking you, you know, I would want to serve you. And I would want to you to be able to sit down in the best view and the best seat in my house and we would hang out and now would want to put on music that you would like and makes you feel super comfortable. And yet for some reason. We feel like on this online experience with the churches like how fast can we get them to donate?

Mike Mage
If you can you guys that’s the reason. Yep.

Anthony Russo
Or just put yourself Yeah, it’s the hard job of putting yourself in their seat. Even the example you just use, which I think is so great. What if you know someone was like, Hey, I like Justin and Justin for a while I want to cover justice. And then they were like, cool. Can you come every week? At the same time? here for dinner with me? And you’re like,

Justin Price
Also, do you have any friends? Like, just just 10 percent of your income?

Anthony Russo
Also do Yeah, that’s all and never. I believe in this thing. But just hear how you’re saying it and hear that, that somebody’s gonna be like, Oh, man, I don’t know. I mean, I just the one time I thought I’d come over for dinner, ready to commit to like, every week, my life yet?

Justin Price
Were you thinking about that ahead of time that that was like an actual thing, like a principle?

Unknown Speaker
Dude, I, I just can’t even I’m going to talk for just a second. I’m sorry if you guys have to run. But like Justin, the stuff that just like I’ve learned from working with you and talking with you and stuff, like I just feel like it is just so missing from church conversations and like, like this stuff. So the the terms that we would use it at Vers is like, you would walk through this discovery, and you would get these companies to a place where spending $180,000 made sense to them. And for me, I just feel like being back in the church world, having the lens having the tools, having the language I got for my time at Vers is you’re just like, you guys are like, you’re starting with everyone walks in the door, and you hand them an unsigned contract for $180,000. And like, what do you guys think? What do you guys think? What are yours? And some, some people sign it. And they’re like, great, isn’t that great? And but if any more people like that, there’s a way to do this. That is like moving people there. And they feel like they because the thing about the way that Vers we do things versus it’s like, when they got to the scene, the number they were like, that makes sense. I know what I’m getting with that. I know why that number is the way it is. I know. I know all these things. So that makes sense that asked makes sense. And so I just feel like so many times you bring up these different topics, and they’re like to get this great idea for 74 week discipleship program got to be there every week. And they get to be cool. We’ll see how many people do it and it’s like, no one’s gonna sign up for it. I mean, you’re welcome to do it. That that’s I feel like the time like, dude, you can ask you can Yeah, no one’s gonna say Just don’t be sad. We’re no inside. his fans, you didn’t ask you didn’t think what did they want? What did they need? How do I connect them to this through language? They know you asked for what you wanted? And what would be awesome. If you got and you go fishing that way. And like it’s Yeah, it’s it’s really, it’s going to be a conversation churches got to keep having because more and more they’re going to interact with people that have no idea what they’re talking about, like, we talked about the Bible and faith and we assume there’s a faith background and there’s more and more. There’s not going to be so we’re gonna have to be able to talk about this better and explain why do you meet Sunday mornings? What do you guys do it on Sunday morning, like, the cultural familiarity with the whole idea is gone. And the sooner we get around that the more we realize like I have to be ease back into this thing. I can’t just keep doing

Mike Mage
Well, this has been this has been incredible. For real. I mean, this is you know what, Anthony, you’re actually very funny.

Anthony Russo
With your words, dun

Justin Price
Anthony, do you ever get put this is my last question. So do you ever get put it on the spot to just be like, hey, funny, man. Tell me a joke.

Anthony Russo
Yeah, all the time. I’ve gone through like a gamut of responses to like I would say like, Why don’t have a microphone, so I can’t tell you jokes. I’m gonna get I’m gonna botch this quote, but somebody one of the improv Olympic people in Chicago I believe was the one that was like every time they got said they got asked that question. They said belly buddy. Word to me belly. Funny. That’s pretty funny. I’m gonna say belly button

Mike Mage
Have you ever seen is a funny word? This tiny follow up? Have you ever like actually gone with it? You know? And then you told a joke or whatever. And someone just went like, That’s not funny.

Anthony Russo
And that’s exactly that’s exactly why like,

Mike Mage
yeah, cuz that’s what what happened?

Anthony Russo
What am I gonna deliver you in this moment? is so funny. That, like, it’s very, it’s very weird. It’s very, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a music equivalent for that Mike. Like, I don’t imagine that you’re just ever walking out and someone’s like, Oh, you can sing Sing me a song right now.

Mike Mage
So that guy? Well, very cool. Well, Anthony, Where can the healthy church growth people? Where can they find you on the internet outside of the Bible is funny, or is that the only place you want to put people to

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, that’s the best place. I add. The Bible is Funny. And the podcast is on all major platform places. And you can just search the Bible is Funny. It’s called the Bible. It’s funny podcasts because I don’t like naming things more than once.

Justin Price
The word on the street is though that there is actually something else that people can get from you sometime in the future. There is this. Are these rumors true?

Unknown Speaker
It is true. I haven’t talked about this. I haven’t talked about this anywhere. So oh my gosh, this is a breaking this is a news break. But I am working on a book by was funny book. So Wow. That’s been a new adventure series. A lot of questions running through my head right now

Justin Price
Is this a book where you print out your Instagram? and publish it? That’s it.

Anthony Russo
That’s it? No, it will be alien. It will be like a it’ll be like a proper book. I don’t know. I don’t know. I this is weird, guys. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about things and not say about things.

Justin Price
And so this is so under wraps. Right now.

Anthony Russo
I don’t I probably don’t sound super excited. But it is really an unbelievable opportunity. I’m like crazy grateful for it. And it’s been. It’s been really, really fun to work on.

Justin Price
Anthony, it’s it’s super, super exciting. And I know you can’t tell us any more details. But we’ll keep probing about them. I’m just kidding. We will we will stay and listening and tuned. Maybe we can even have you back when you can tell us more about the funny. The funny book that you’re writing about the Bible is funny or not writing about the Bible is funny, whatever it may or may not be. Exactly. But that’s dude. Honestly, congrats, man. That’s I’m so stoked for you and, and excited. Can’t wait to see what the next chapter looks like. And also really just excited to see to how how the online community, you know, goes you you’re working at a great church with a great staff and a great community and so kind of kind of just excited to see how you develop that position there.

Mike Mage
Yeah, it’s awesome, man. Thanks so much for coming on.

Anthony Russo
Thank you guys so much. I love what you guys are doing here with healthy church growth. I’ve been following along longtime listener first time caller. Thanks so much for having me/

Mike Mage
Absolutely. Dude is incredible. Really, really good.

Justin Price
I know we we dragged on some of the like, really getting into the details of the Bible is Funny like that. We we kept probing into that. But man, you really do free to drop the bomb at the end there. Anthony. That was awesome.

Mike Mage
Lay that a very good play. Good.

Anthony Russo
Well, thank you.

Justin Price
Were you prepared for that? Or did you was that off the cuff?