Healthy Church Growth -Episode 10 – Justin Price

How to pivot.

 

Hosts Mike Mage and Justin Price discuss practical steps on how to pivot and reimagine what your church or non-profit could look like in the wake of a new reality.

 >> Episode 9: Kevin Ely

 


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:
Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast.

(Intro Music)

Mike Mage:
Well, welcome to the healthy Church growth podcast, where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. I’m one of your hosts, Mike Mage. We just really want to continue our conversation as we’re going through this Coronavirus crisis. Ah, and just I wanted to have a conversation with Justin Price, who’s our other co-host, and really just talk some or about things that we can do things that we’ve seen, things that we’re inspired by. Just maybe as an encouragement for you, our audience and maybe just to get some more ideas, maybe just to kind of feel like this whole thing is not trending downwards into nothing that people are really, um, you know, taking up the mantle and trying to be as resourceful and creative as possible. And for us is church creatives just like, you know, in this past podcast we have with Stephen Brewster. Um, and he said something that has struck with me over the past week or so. But church is not closed, just our buildings are, and that is something really, really good to remember. And that’s something we need to continue to, um, cultivate as you know, the thing that we have been doing for so long looks so so differently. So, like I said, I want to bring Justin on and for us to have a conversation because he is the head of a creative agency Vers Creative which deals mostly with non-profits and in the commercial sector. And so, Justin, I just wanted to ask you how have you guys been able to sort of pivot or re-imagine how you guys do your work in this really weird and strange time?

Justin Price:
Mike thinks it’s gonna be a fun podcast. I’m really, really looking forward to unpacking a couple of these things with you talking about the church, talking about some of the non-profits and some of the for-profits. Uh, and what is what we’re seeing happening. It’s gonna be a good a good time.

Mike Mage:
Totally.

Justin Price:
So you’re good.

Mike Mage:
I’m great.

Justin Price:
I love doing these podcasts with you. Can I just get that out there? Just thank you. You’re my favorite podcast host.

Mike Mage:
That’s good. I hope that gets some traction.

Justin Price:
Of all the co-hosts I’ve done podcasts with, you’re my top.

Mike Mage:
I’m writing that down. I know. I’m writing that down in my journal

Justin Price:
For today. Ah, man, there’s so many cool things to talk about. First of all, uh, somebody told me the other day she was like, Man, you know, I’ve been sensing a like I’ve been hearing God’s voice saying like, Hey, there’s a revival coming and she’s like and I’ve been excited about it and I’ve been like saying like, man, like our country specifically, obviously, we know this is bigger than our country, but our country’s in need of a revival. Yeah, it hit her as we were talking this week, she was like, Man, um, I forgot that one of the biggest catalysts for a revival is a crisis like this. And we look at the history of our country. In the last couple 100 years, we can see, like our country’s best revivals have come out of crisis. And she was like, Man, it just kind of, it sucks to be in it right now, but it’s also incredible as a Christian to be in it. If you can see it through the lens, that there’s a sovereign God who has, uh, who loves us and who is looking out for us and who has a plan to come out of all of this. There is so much hope, and I would just say, like, this has been. This has definitely been in its own way, you know, for me, you know, we’re not a massive company, but, you know, we, um we’ve got 16 employees and we have, ah, about that many contractors that we employ as well. And we’ve had to pause a lot of projects. It’s been awful. I mean, just thinking about every single, every single person we have had to say. Hey, you know, we’ve got to pause you right now has been a phone call I have made. That is, that is not fun at all. And so, like, it’s in the midst of that happening. I still get to see God doing incredible things every day. Maybe that’s just the hope of Christ. Like, maybe that is just that’s, that’s the thing. Like, that’s it. Is that he gives us hope and he gives us just enough each day like, no matter what we’re fighting through, whatever we’re dealing with, Ah, he does that. But, man, I would love to unpack a couple of the really cool things that we’re seeing. I’d love to inspire our listeners. With some of the cool things that God is doing and ways in which, you know, we could sit around and, like, talk about like, uh, how to capitalize on the Coronavirus, which even just even having that come in on that sounded wrong. Please cut that out.

Mike Mage:
No, I’m not going to because, like, I think that you’re right. I have seen too many, already, I’ve seen too many messages, sermons. So I saw one message series that said “I tested positive” and the tagline was “but not for the Coronavirus”. And like, you can’t do that. You can’t do that.

Justin Price:
No. That came from a good place. Like it came from somebody trying to be culturally relevant. Which that’s step one is to acknowledge what’s happening.

Mike Mage:
You have to

Justin Price:
But. So you know, Vers, we kind of work, we partner with non-profits and for-profits, and we come alongside of them as their advertising agency, as their branding agency, and as their marketing agency. We have kind of combined it to be a strategic agency, which really focuses on bringing value to them. We cover all three of those areas because we can integrate all of our services at much more cost-effective way and help them actually grow and help them reach their fullest potential while spending a whole lot less money. Um, and so that gives us a pretty big breadth of the kind of work we do. And it gives us a lot of variety with the kind of people we get to work with. And, you know, as we were preparing for this, you know, I thought, maybe there’s, like, three kind of cases that we can unpack and my hope and my heart here, Mike, pick any of these things apart, ask questions. I’m happy to share whatever I can. But, I wanted to start with, like, maybe the most difficult situation to be in the heaviest and then, like, work our way up lighter. That sound good?

Mike Mage:
Yeah, absolutely.

Justin Price:
All right. So the heaviest one of all our client groups are our clients that are in product manufacturing. Who are not deemed a necessary business right now. And so there’s two issues with it is the stores they’re selling to are closed because they’re not necessary business. The kind of company who makes something like an art instrument like a paint brush, right? And so, ah, paint supply store. Ah, paintbrush. The arts and crafts store is not necessary to stay open in most states, and so the store’s closed down the store can’t buy more and the supply chain looks like this. Like they have an inventory at their warehouse that is full. And if the store doesn’t sell them, the warehouse doesn’t have to ship it out to the specific store. And so they don’t make this month’s order back to our client, the manufacturer of the paintbrush. And so you’ve got maybe a, factory with a couple 100 people who make paintbrushes and they supply. You know, maybe they’re one or two of the largest paintbrush suppliers around the world. And what happened was back in February, their order from China slowed down. So with us, they said, Hey, um, we need a little bit of help. We’re gonna need to slow a couple of things down because we just had a $1,000,000 order just not come in from China. But it’s OK because you know that $1,000,000 was only like, 5% of our global sales. But then Italy got hit and so within a month, ah, Europe, the Europe market was dry and not making orders. And then the U. S. Market, the North American market followed suit. And so the three biggest markets that they have Asia, Europe, and North America completely shut down the stores, distribution. They can’t ship, but even if they could ship to these places, they can actually get those orders because they’re not selling them anywhere. And so what you’ve got is basically an entire factory completely laid off. You have ah, any of the internal marketing people, the sales people, like, what are they going to sell? Yeah, um you don’t think about, like, just the whole impact of this. And this is the reason why I wanted unpack this is because the reality is is like that paintbrush company still has a little bit of responsibility to keep some marketing going in the lights on online. So insert Vers.So now all of these people who work for this company are not getting a paycheck. They’ve been laid off and we’re still getting a paycheck. The weight that just shifted on our plates, like the VP’s who are not going to get a bonus. The people that are way smarter, way more important than us are not getting paid. And ah, and the little bit of work that has to be done is in our court, it’s our responsibility right now. So for manufacturing clients like that ah, and product, you know, clients that are selling products that are not necessary, or anybody who’s not staying open right now who made a product like that. Serving them at this point and being a good partner for them means we’re basically, uh, cutting our costs down the like, 90% helping them keep their lights on and then looking at every opportunity to reposition them to either make something out of this time or not. And so, um, you know, one of the things that that has done is it’s just caused us to say we have access to people like we’ve never had before. You know, uh, people were too busy, but we could potentially make actual sales call on behalf of the account to a distributor who was not available three months ago. But now that person sitting at home, we can negotiate new contracts. We can work on product videos in a studio right now. Um, and we can do crazy things with the extra time we’ve got in preparation to launch a new product. We can also refine the product. We could do product development. Um, we can reposition, Um, what the usage of the product is, you know? I mean, one of the things that’s gonna come out of this is people just being a little leaner, a little bit scrappier and so it’s like man, let’s just go back to the paintbrush analogy, but like, a smart manufacturing company is now going to focus in on their most, uh, their product with the most viability and the safest purchase. You know, experience. And so this is the idea that, like a let’s focus in on, like, really pushing our product, that maybe isn’t our newest product, but it is. Ah, it’s our best seller. It’s like it’s the trustee faithful product. And in a time of crisis, people need to go back to something a bit more reliable. Well, it’s safer.

Mike Mage:
So talking about this company and, um, you know, with a large business manufacturing business like this, you kind of said that, you know, you you got to get back to whatever. Your people have to get leaner, you gotta focus in on maybe something that’s a little bit more reliable. So what is from you as like a creative agency, Um and really, I mean, we could make this this tied to, like, a church creative department as well. Um, I honestly, I don’t feel like it is too different what you do and what a church creative department does, anyway. It’s just the product that a church is, um, marketing is the church. It’s the mission of Jesus, obviously. So, like in this time for your creative agency, what is like your lean focus? What’s the thing that you feel is the most reliable thing that you guys can sort of, um, I guess lean on if that… it’s a terrible usage of words there. But, um, what’s like the most reliable thing a creative agency that you can sort of fall back into?

Justin Price:
That’s a great question. So you’re asking, like, how did we get lean? What did you do? Well, so immediately when we saw our budgets starting to shift. We had, you know, manufacturing clients say “hey, it looks like we won’t be able to pay next month”. It looks like you guys could potentially, you know, a lot of the projects you have been working on. May be the last production we’re able to do for a quarter or two, so be smart. We finished those things up. We had to be very, very quick on our feet, I think. One of the things. So, you know, I spent 10 years as a creative director in the church. I was very reactionary in the church. It was just kind of like when the chips fell, then we would respond. I don’t as the with thinking about, like, 16 families relying solely from our staff on Vers staying open. I don’t feel like I have the opportunity. If I see one chip starting to tip a little bit, I need to be ready and prepared and I need to be thinking about the runway we have. And I started being lean and so I mean, there was purchases that we you know, we spend a few $100,000 a month as an agency, and so there was purchases that immediately I just said, hey, let’s be lean right now on purchases. And it’s amazing, we were able to produce just the same amount of work. And just as good of work. Um, we just we held off on a couple of purchases. So just immediately just looking and evaluating at the necessity of, purchases, we quickly shifted there before we lost any kind of work or anything was paused. Um, the other thing that we have tried to do as an agency is work really hard to contract work out that is not stable, long term work. And so you know, we have already had 20 – 50% of the work force we had working on a contract basis. And so if those contracts dried up, that part of the workforce, you know, didn’t have any work to do we weren’t on the hook. And so I think that’s a big thing for churches to take away from this is like, man, how big of a staff do you really have to hold? Like you really need to have three video guys on all the time? You probably can keep them busy, but do you need it? And, ah, is there a more efficient way? And is there some contractors that you could be using or some people you can outsource to, um, and maybe even be saving money and maybe have less overhead so that if, if your church was to be hit, that you’re able to kind of shift quickly and go, OK, well, that’s just a luxury we don’t have right now.Totally. So a question I wanted to ask you is coming out of sort of, that whole thing. Was, how do you as like a creative director, as someone who manages people, as someone who is taking a organization of some sort and moving forward. So, how do you become more proactive as opposed to just reactive? Like what are some steps that you can, sort of, begin to train yourself in doing to become more proactive, as opposed to reactive?That’s great. Um so one of the things that we do is every Monday, the first meeting of our week, we actually forecast. So, we forecast the projects we need to be working on. So we’re not daily micromanaging, ah, how to be proactive. But, we look at every account. We look at every project, and the project managers have the responsibility of calling out and flagging, ah, potential issue. And so how we’ve been proactive is it has been just burned into all of our account management and project management roles that it is their job, they’re the only ones with eyes on the whole field. And if they see something starting to go south, so if they catch, they, some of it is just like being, aware and intuitive of about what’s happening around you. And that takes a little bit of training to say, like, man, I noticed, you know, I started to look at the trend and say I noticed X, Y, and Z. So and so has been asking more questions lately. Well, that’s usually a sign of distrust. It’s usually, people don’t just ask questions because they get curious. They start asking more questions and wanting more explanation when they don’t trust you to do it on your own

Justin Price:
That’s like a super small example of something that we might say, like, hey, what caused the disparity in trust? And what can we do to rebuild that? What can we do to surprise and delight them? And so as soon as something gets flagged, they get put into a category of accounts that need special attention, so that just might mean a phone call. So how do you be proactive with your main income source? Um, you leverage what you have, your relationships, the work you do, the value you bring. And sometimes people just need to be reminded of that. Sometimes people just need to see that in a way that they maybe haven’t seen in a while. So sometimes you have to rethink what you’re doing for that relationship. So, um, you know this is a great the way I translate this to church is like if your church is not responding to the new thing that you’re trying to do and people are not really engaging it. You can’t just be reactive and wait till people stop coming to church. Right? You have to actually talk to people at church. You can’t live in a production bubble. You have to actually talk to your congregation. You have to actually, and I’m not talking about your little group of friends, I’m talking about, talk to the people who you’re the furthest away from demographically, um, talk to people who are completely different space than you. Um, talk to people who challenge you and complain about the things that you do. Listen, to why they’re complaining and stop thinking you’re so above them because when they leave and they stop supporting your ministry, you’re going to maybe say, like, there may have been some of those people that actually had something pretty valid. Think how you can be proactive and not reactive. It really starts with humility and listening to the people that you’re serving and that you’re around.

Mike Mage:
Right. Yeah. I just I just wrote down like you have to follow up and ask questions and then follow up some more. Um and yeah, I was I literally wrote down like something about humility or whatever, but because that’s basically what you’re saying in this whole thing is like you have to, you have to get yourself out of the way long enough to hear what someone else has to say about what you’re doing. Okay, well, that’s great. So what are some other, what are some other things maybe that you guys were doing in your agency?

Justin Price:
Oh, man. So we just talked about the immediate. So we staffed. We built the agency to be flexible, so we immediately we put to action right away, as soon as there was talk, we didn’t wait until we didn’t get an invoice paid. As soon as we acknowledge that, we said, Hey, we have to be smart. And the smarter, the faster we moved, the longer the runway, we maintained for the valuable staff that we have invested a lot of money in training and developing and finding and recruiting and getting on boarded, and all the time that goes into that. When we started the agency, I never could have imagined how long it would take to train and recruit and onboard. All three of those things are just ridiculous. And so I consider everybody that we work with as somebody who we’ve invested a lot into and I want to protect them. It makes us really slow to hire. So that’s been kind of a fundamental part of how we built the business in the first place. So that was very natural for us to react that way. And then the last thing that we did is we kicked in as a strategic agency. Ah, and this is one, maybe, I think that, you know, I’m even. I love doing this. I love talking about it, and I love helping people with it. And so I’ll just throw it out there, If anybody needs help talking through this for half hour, an hour, like, call me. We had to look at every single thing that we were doing, and we had to be accountable for that money to be the best partner that we could be. We had to turn around and we had to change. So for that manufacturing plant, it was like there’s new opportunities for you, even right now, and the little bit of money you’re giving us to keep the lights on, we could take it and we could hoard it and we could do very little for you. Or, we could actually try to get some market growth for you right now. Yeah, there’s still online sales, and people are still spending a little bit of money, and you might still need some paintbrushes while you’re home. Right now, that’s something you can do at home. Instead of letting the heaviness of the event stop you and handicap you, you can look at the event, and I think this is the glory. This is like the the message of the gospel is that, like in its darkness and in sin, is a light that gives us hope in the fact that Jesus is the light is the hope for us. It’s kind of ingrained into our staff as a group of believers that work together at Vers, that like, and there’s no situation that is too dark that doesn’t have something in it. And we, you know, we take it pretty personally as an opportunity for the people we work with that are not Christians, but the clients that are not Christians to be a light. And to find that that thing that is still there, that the good that could still come out of it. That’s what we’ve been doing. We shifted every single strategy. We either pushed pause or shifted the strategy, wherever it made sense.

Mike Mage:
Yeah, instead of you focusing on how much things are changing and how much the thing that you and really prepping yourself to do, you had to pivot, you had to shift. And what you shifted to was how this one thing that you are representing is going to add value to people in sort of a time of crisis. Which it will like, none of that is wrong. You know, and so I think I do think that’s a really good thing for someone in a church to really start to grasp if you haven’t already. Um, but we are way more than just our Sunday services and our buildings being open. And so how can we leverage what we have right in front of us to be able to do that. And there’s plenty of ways to do that.

Justin Price:
It’s amazing to see there is a ton of opportunities where we are watching churches just totally step up. Mik, you’ve been saying that quote a couple of times that ministries like, the church is not closed, the building is. But, there was somebody else who quoted, um that the church has been deployed. Yeah, it’s not been close, has been deployed. And I think I’ve seen the church do so many cool things in the last couple of weeks. That is just like, man, why were we not doing this before?  Why did it take this for us to start acting like the church to our community? Why did it take this for us to, like, speak up and say these issues matter, or we’re gonna be there and support people who are in need. Like there was people in need, like a month ago. Why were we not listening? The last point I wanted to talk about was, uh, such an exciting one, because it has taken a total 180. This is certainly the most challenging account we have. It’s a pregnancy care center. The topic of abortion in the advertising world is like, the most taboo thing. Um, and here I am, like a mid-thirties creative, and we have, we have to write creative that talks to sexually promiscuous 18-year-old girls. So this is a 180 story, and it’s absolutely beautiful. This is how I think God shines in the light of darkness so well. So we work with this pregnancy care center, and I thought it would be like a easy you know, we’ve done tons of ministry. Most of our staff have all worked at churches and been creative directors at churches and things like that in the past. And so I’m like, I take on this pregnancy care center, thinking like this will be great and we can do a lot of the things that we do in the secular market for them. Um, but the thing is like, even if you donate money to a pregnancy care center. You do not want to, like, do any kind of social awareness about it. Like there’s amazing people who are like, yeah, it’s not that I don’t care and I’m happy to give money, but, like, I’m not gonna share your post. I’m not gonna help you with your social campaign. As a donor, I will give my money, but not my voice to a topic as taboo as an abortion clinic. Or an anti-abortion clinic, which is like I’m just, like, paraphrasing like negative, uh, taboo thought around it. And like so that’s the client, right? That’s the situation is, like, very negative it’s very difficult. Like every time we talk about it, we have another ministry that helps single moms. It’s like the easiest ministry in the world to talk about. Everybody wants to help single moms. When in the last 25-30 years has, um, somebody with no money, that typically our demographic, that needs of a free pregnancy care center. Who has an unplanned pregnancy and needs free medical services. A, woman, a young woman. When has she ever had no entertainment available to her. Everything’s shut down. She can’t do anything except make babies. She has, uh, every reason not to go out and, like, you know, to use protection. Um, this scenario that this circumstance is causing is like, um is one of the greatest scenarios that this ministry has to capitalize on. It’s one of the greatest scenarios this ministry has to really live out their mission. And to love and to lead people who are walking in their doors to Christ. And to be able to help them walk through this crisis situation that they’re in. You know with the unplanned pregnancy. When has there ever been a time in the life of this ministry where it was ever more ripe? And so they have massive opportunities. Well, their clinics are deemed emergency necessary clinics that can stay open. They have four clinics in the Tampa Bay area. They’re a great ministry. They have a big staff. And so what we quickly talked about is like, man, you might be able to actually help more people, lead more people to Christ, and save more babies by doing telemedicine right now. And so they shifted, they have to shift, very quickly, into doing telemedicine, opening up only two clinics. One in each county that they’re in. And having people come into those clinics by appointment only. And they can cut their staff down by almost half. They can do more ministry with less right now. They can save more lives right now. And they can leave more people to Christ than they’ve ever had the opportunity to. But they have to quickly put in the technology. And people are willing to actually it behind this. So if you’re a donor and you’re watching all this unplay and the ministry goes, “Hey, we have to shut our doors were closing down our clinics cause our volunteers and our staff don’t want to be exposed” you know? But please keep giving. Are you gonna keep giving? You’re not. So the financial success of this organization is at jeopardy. But if they can be smart enough and they have been and they are, you know, they were amazing. They were jumping on calls, we were talking strategy very quickly, making these shifts. Like they can now go back to their donors and say, “We’re doing more than ever with every dollar that you’re giving.” We’re doing more than ever. And so there’s incentive for more people to give there’s incentive for those people to share about the great salvations that are being made, being had. And babies that are being saved. Every day there is something really cool that we’re seeing where God is clearly at work and he’s doing good. And I’m not saying God caused this. And I’m not saying that God wants this for us But I’m saying that his sovereignty is certainly greater than this virus.

Mike Mage:
I believe I don’t think that God causes these tragedies. I think that we live in a broken world and stuff like this happens. Um, just like Jesus actually died. Um and you know, But like, we serve a resurrecting, restoring, renewing God. And there’s always space, and there’s always a place for that. And so, like, you know, in these in these types of moments, you know, this shakeup that’s happening it’s almost like, um, you know, for you to plant anything of worth, you actually have to, like, disturb the ground a bunch. You know, you have to sew it. You have to dig it up. You have to move it around. You know, for something to grow and like, I really think that that’s part of what’s happening right now. This or that’s maybe that’s a perspective that we can have. Is this crisis is shaking us up, which it is. It is disturbing all of us, which it is. Ah, but like there is incredible opportunity for God’s restoration and renewal, to like take place. And if you are in ministry that’s the one thing that you can, capitalize on is, you know, like and at this point in time, because people are being so shaken up there might actually be more of an opportunity for you as a ministry to change and help people’s lives. Which is incredible because that’s the church’s, the church can do that, you know, right now

Justin Price:
I love it, Mike. So tell me a little bit about what it’s taken for you guys to be successful at Bay Hope. Give us a little bit of insight there because it’s been amazing to watch from the outside.

Mike Mage:
I think the first thing that you have to do is you have to define your reality for whatever is happening and be honest with your situation. Which I don’t think anybody is not being honest, that the fact that, like this is crazy and this is a crisis and this is all really weird. But that has to be a place that you start of of just the self awareness, and then simply asking, “What can you do?” And doing as much as you can within the the resources and abilities and talents that you have, and then trusting that God is going to do, whatever he’s going to do with it. So, like, we’re not called to make an amazing production right now. That’s not what we’re called to do. We’re not called to, you know, the stuff that we were doing six months ago, we’re called to be obedient with what God has given us. And so, we have, we broadcast our services every weekend, and so we just immediately went to this idea of like, Oh my gosh, there’s a lot that we could do online right now. About a year ago, we hired a digital pastor, which happens to be my brother, who did all of the hard work and understood the ins and outs of what it means to, you know, for the broadcast. So he’s been obedient for a year. So now, in just really putting in the hard work so that when a crisis hits, we actually have something in our tool belt to really make something happen. We set up a production schedule and a programming schedule and, we just said, You know, can we do worship every day from Monday through Thursday like, Yeah, we can do that. So that’s something we’ll do every day. What can we do, obviously, we need to have something for kids and for students. Well, let’s put that at 10 o’clock every day. So every day, 10 o’clock, we have some sort of message to students and kids. 12 o’clock is our worship time. At two o’clock, it’s a check-in with any pastor, we have a couple of different pastors on the platform. Or a couple of different pastors who are employed at the church. So that’s a two o’clock and then at four o’clock as we wrap up the day that is our lead pastor. That’s his time to sort of give, like a State of the Union address every, every day at four. So it was this, and then we started, we’ve started to see over time this consistency develop. So it’s almost like whatever you are planning on doing create some sort of consistent schedule because what we’re seeing is engagement through like, through the roof. Just not so much, you know, we’re seeing sort of the same amount of views. But we’re seeing the same people come back and then seeing them move to like deeper levels of engagement and inviting people to come into. So we’re almost seeing this, like exponential growth in engagement because of the consistency that’s happening. So then on top of that dude, and this is the thing that is like the craziest thing of all, is you’re seeing churches and businesses shut down. And you’re seeing people you know, lose their jobs and all that kind of stuff, and it’s terrible. However, our church in the month of March because of all of this stuff that we’re doing, it’s brought in, like, close to 90% of all of the of the money that we would need to keep the lights not, to keep things going, to keep people paid, to continue to do what we’ve been doing. To continue to bring value, and to continue the ministry that we’ve been doing. So we brought in close to 90% of what we needed. So on top of, like, all of our spending cuts, because we’re basically just not trying to spend any money. So on top of that, plus, you know, bringing in that much money, I mean, like, it’s a huge testament to what we’re doing. People are supporting it. People are getting behind it on so many different levels. And so based on that, you know, we’ve created a consistent schedule of programming, but then, you know, then it’s starting to branch out some more. So, like today, we had a home school class, one of our pastors, she homeschooled her kids and so she did an interview with our digital pastor, Andy. Just like an hour long conversation about the trials and the tears of what it means to home school your kids for someone who’s never homeschool before. Setting up prayer lines, setting up, you know, food drives and all that kind of stuff. So but, like, we’re thankfully at Bay Hope Church, we have, like, a relatively large staff, and so, like, it allows us to do, you know, a couple of different things. But, like, it could also allow us just because, like, oh, we have a big staff and we have a bunch of money and reserve like we’re just gonna sit tight and wait this out. You know, like there is very much. Because it’s not easy to try and create whole new schedules and whole new ideas of how you’re doing things and even why you’re doing them, you know, like I’ve come home the past three weeks more tired, and I mean, like, I’m physically in the building as little as I possibly can. Just because, you know, like of all the social distancing rules and all that kind of stuff, and we are very much keeping the six-foot distancing. In one room specifically, there is no more than 10 people. On the campus, I mean, like, we might have 15 people on the campus at it’s height anyway. So, like, you know, like, most of the people are working from home anyway. But, like, I come home every evening, like, more tired than I have been in, like, a long time. Just because we’re working, you’re working harder and like, that’s very much our reality. Right now, if you are a creative person in the middle of this crisis, like you are going to be more tired. And you should be because, like,

Justin Price:
You’re stretching the muscles. Yeah, you’re working out you that creative muscles hard it can.

Mike Mage:
Yep. So it is tiring and but like it is also, especially that first week and 1/2 like, you just get that thrill of like, you know, I mean this in, like, the most sensitive way possible. Like, obviously, the world is at a really tough spot. But from like a creative standpoint, like for those of you that get fired up about ministry and for those of you that get fired up about, you know, bringing people Jesus, wherever there at. Which is what we’re actually called to do. And figuring out new, exciting ways to do that and seeing people respond positively to it. Like that’s something that really lights a fire under your butt and makes you want to continue to do it. So, um, yeah, it’s been really cool, to see and to be a part of and to do, um, and super hard.

Justin Price:
I just I love that you guys air not stuck on like we can do our programming on Sundays.  The fact that you’re like offering more programming is really exciting to me. I think I haven’t seen a lot of churches be as aggressive as you guys are. Yeah, and that’s to me. Just super impressive to see how hard you’re working. And I wonder how sustainable it is. I wonder if it’s like, well, this is fun for now, but, like, how would you feel if you were doing this next year?

Mike Mage:
Sure. Yeah, well, and we talked about that, too. Like like we said, Like OK, if we know that we’re doing this and this is, you know, two weeks ago. If we know we’re doing this until Easter, we can keep up this pace. But like, if we have to go further than this, like, how do we make this sustainable? And so we’ve had discussions like that, and, you know, this is for, like, we don’t have a studio. You know, like we’re having to like, make stuff out of, you know, rooms that we have that aren’t being used right now. And, like take pieces of equipment that were in other spots of the church and bring them to certain areas. Thankfully, you know, we have equipment to do that. But like, you know, we started saying like, well, like. Kind of like in the Steven Brewster podcast, like the playing field is being leveled right now. You know, like you’re seeing Justin Bieber do a concert on his phone. You’re seeing you know, Brad Paisley do a concert from his phone. You know, like the production quality is not what people care about right now. Thankfully.

Justin Price:
As creatives who work with a lot of production stuff, I just I want you to say that again because, man, it’s just so hard for us to remember and think about. It’s so painful. It’s just so painful. To think about the money we spend because it’s like, well, that’s the level that it needs to be at. And then to be like, yeah, but if you just deliver the good content on a cellphone, people would be just as happy with that. And it’s just amazing.

Mike Mage:
Well, and it is, it’s doing, because you’re right. Like it’s doing some weird things to our preconceived notions as to like what “good” is anymore and so, like it’s having to. We’re having to redraw the end zones, you know, like the end zone is not this brand new light that I got for $3,500 and it could do this cool, gobo. And, uh, you know, I don’t know, like, if not this brand new guitar that I got that…

Justin Price:
This is coming from the guy who just got a 45 foot led wall in his church. Just for his spotlight shot, just like his A Cam shot.

Mike Mage:
Just for me. But it’s a nice,it is a good check, to like for you to remember that, like those are just tools. Like that does not make the good content that you’re doing. And so you know, and like it honestly. It frees you up to leverage the things that you can do, like, get involved in the comments section, or, you know, have somebody get in on, like, ground level, almost like guerrilla style marketing for your church. And, like, have a share campaign, you know, like, just share this crap wherever you see it. You know, just immediately click that share button. You have no idea who this is going to. So, um, it kind of like Like I said, it’s kind of nice to, like re-evaluate like how you’re doing things because of why you’re doing it.

Justin Price:
It’s amazing. We think about churches, when I think about churches, A lot of people think like, well, churches are scrappy by nature. But some churches have gotten bloated. Like some of us have gotten really spoiled with big budgets. And it’s really cool to see how we’re responding and how we’re able to do more across the board. It’s, also been amazing just to see, you know, some of the inspiration that’s coming out of it. You know, you mentioned some of the shows. I was just thinking about, you know, just the connection It’s gotten us to some of our our favorite talent. You know, um, John Krasinski’s piece has gotten press from everywhere. I mean, he struck the jackpot with piece. Everybody just loves picking that up. He was smart to include his daughter, props to him. His producer was smart… but you know, I mean, I think we all are smiling right now at those good, authentic things that are being produced right now. And I think, what’s interesting, you mentioned about leveling the playing field a little bit. I was thinking like, man authenticity has always leveled the playing field. We just have ignored it. We covered it up. You know, we’ve like we’ve smothered it with bacon and cheddar cheese. You put bacon and cheddar cheese on anything and it’s like you can digest it. It’s my life motto right there.

Mike Mage:
Not anymore, Justin.

Justin Price:
Not anymore. Bacon and cheese no more. But you know what I’m saying? There’s just so much good coming out of this. I hope that anybody who’s listening to this could be inspired. I really, I really do. If you need any help, call Mike, reach out to either of us. My email address is Justin Justin@verscreative.com. Mike what’s your email.

Mike Mage:
My email is MMage@bayhope.com. So just my first initial and my last name at bay hope dot com.

Justin Price:
I’m so glad you got rid of your AOL the sexy guitar player @aol.com.

Mike Mage:
Well, there was so many of them I had to have, like, I had to add, like, three numbers on the back end of it was just it was too much. Too many underscores. Yeah, well, this has been an incredible conversation. Justin, thank you so much for just being willing to talk about this stuff. It’s our goal as healthy church growth and the podcast. To be able to sort of, you know, speak into this time as much as we can about you know what this all looks like for you and just know that you’re not alone. Know that, whatever challenge that you’re facing, we’re all facing together. So be encouraged. Know that God is still moving, and God is still working. We say this a lot in the podcast world and to share and to like and subscribe and rate and all that kind of stuff. But it really does help us. Not necessarily just get more visibility, but allows us to understand what content you are resonating with. And allows us to dive deeper into that. So engage with us, talk with us, rate, share, subscribe. We would love for as many people to be a part of this conversation is possible. So thanks again for listening. And once again here at healthy church growth, we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 9 – Kevin Ely

Is it true? Is it clear? Is it fresh?

Is creativity our highest aim? As creatives, we all have an inclination to push the envelope on everything we do, but sometimes it’s not necessary. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be really clear. Kevin Ely, Creative Director at LifeChurch, challenges us to use our creativity to solve problems.

Stop Being Unbelievably Creative – https://www.sundaymag.tv/unbelievably-creative/


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:               

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(music intro)

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth Podcast, where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. Once again, we are so excited and ecstatic that you’re joining us here for this conversation. Real quick, before we get started, we would absolutely love it if you would, like, subscribe, share, rate this podcast – wherever you get your podcasts. It would help us honestly help you. We want to continue to talk to some amazing people, and more importantly, we want to continue to engage with you in any way that we possibly can. Just so we can sort of, you know, see what needs to be talked about. See, what needs to be addressed and have some great conversations with you, our audience. You know, here at Healthy Church Growth, one of the real reasons that we’re doing this is to help equip you to help equip the church capital C, and you know, creative departments all throughout ministry with healthy growth strategies from ministry experience and commercial expertise. And, you know, it’s just, it’s a blast having these conversations. And we really hope that you’ll be able to glean something from this. Once again, my name’s Mike Mage and I’m one of your hosts here, and I am actually joined today by one of our awesome co-hosts, Justin Price.

Justin Price:

Mike. So stoked to be here. Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to get to talk with you.

Mike Mage:

Always. Always, always. Today we have a really great conversation and one that I really enjoyed having – it’s with Kevin Ely, who is one of the I guess, creative / video directors at Life Church. Um, which Justin? Have you ever heard of Life Church before?

Justin Price:

I think they’re from Australia.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, that’s the wrong one. That’s the wrong giant church.

Justin Price:

It’s the other giant church with more than 30 campuses. Yeah. Okay. This is Life Church from the US.

Mike Mage:

Right? Yeah, like crazy. I mean, from the time that I spoke with Kevin in this interview, they grew from 32 campuses to now they have 34. So just in, like, an instant they went from like…Isn’t that nuts?

Justin Price:

They’re growing faster than chick-fil-a I think right now. I was looking up some stats. They are the fastest-growing Christian organization. Chick-Fil-A is just trailing behind them. 

Mike Mage:

That’s crazy.

Justin Price:

That’s not true. By the way. Audience.

Mike Mage:

Here at Healthy Church Growth, where we just make up stats. 

Justin Price:

We just make up stats. Welcome to marketing – commercial marketing.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, about that. Yeah, that’s really funny. So he, Kevin, has actually been at life church, and we talk about this a bunch. Um, you know, there…

Justin Price:

Since there was two campuses. It’s insane.

Mike Mage:

So which, Let’s see, I’m sure for him, seems like a lifetime ago, which is, you know, 16-17 years. And Justin, I thought that you mentioned something really interesting as we were, sort of, you know, going through this about, you know, the fruits of staying at somewhere a long time. And you know, we were talking about that a little more, and I thought that was interesting, but I guess there’s kind of a flip side to that too. Right? 

Justin Price:

You never really want to be in your first ministry. Uh, only thinking like, man, that could be really tough. But if you came into ministry when you were already at the height of your career, you probably came into a ministry that was a bit more, um, suited for your growth and to kind of take you where you needed to go. But, you know, I had a weird one. Mike, you know, I left my home church, which I got a job at right out of college. And it was a great church. A good mega-church that I grew up at, I was fortunate enough to grow up at, but then I went and did ministry for eight or nine years. And when I decided to move back home, uh, first Sunday, back at church, just trying to regroup, figure out what I wanted to do – they offered me a job as a creative director.

Mike Mage:

Which happens, also happens all the time.

Justin Price:

They were like, “So what are you doing?” And I was like, “I don’t know”, they’re like, “Well, we could use a creative director”. So, uh, there is this, like, thought that you really can’t grow up somewhere and be really effective, I just think that’s not true. There’s so many people super, uh, who have grown up somewhere who have been super effective. I’ve seen guys who grew up in churches be their second pastor, working with an awesome church up in Toledo called Cedar Creek and Ben grew-up at the Church. Like he interned there, he was such a hardcore follower of their founding pastor who grew that church into a megachurch. And it’s really, really exciting to see Ben’s success and what he’s been able to accomplish. And I think some of that did come from being there and being invested for a long time. Back over to Kevin though, man, 16 years is one thing, but 30 campuses, 32 campuses, whatever it is that’s insane to think about, like that kind of growth and, ah, the sustainability of what that means. And for him to now, be directing, you know, to be the lead creative director for all things video is awesome. So shout out to all of our video guys who are listening. There’s a ton of you. There’s a lot of video work in the church world, and there’s not a ton of church resources for video. Kevin, I think, is an incredible resource somebody who came out of, you know, news broadcast television into the church world. And has been in the thick of this at one of the best-resourced churches who is also coincidentally resourcing the church capital “C” church in ah, in such a big way with open.church. He talks about that in this interview. He says so many great things. But before getting the interview, Mike, I have one question for you.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, what is that?

Justin Price:

Um, I was told, I know kind of the area that you live in. There’s some freshwater and some brackish water springs, Ah, rivers and things like that and that there’s a high manatee population. And I just want to know, have you ever ridden a manatee?

Mike Mage:

Um, more than that…

Justin Price:

AKA Sea Cow

Mike Mage:

More than have I ever ridden a manatee, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question before. So, uh, um, the answer’s no. But why? Why do you ask?

Justin Price:

No reason, really. But I think it’s probably, you know, our listeners would love to get into the interview, so let’s get on with it.

Mike Mage:

Yes, this is Kevin Ely, one of the creative directors at Life Church. 

(music)

Joining us today we have Kevin Ely from Life Church, a tiny church, only in – how many locations now?

Kevin Ely:

32 at the moment.

Mike Mage:

32. Good gracious all over the country. And you guys, you’re at, like, the central campus. Do you call it central?

Kevin Ely:

Yeah. So we call it Central, So we have a central office in Edmond, Oklahoma. That’s part of our Edmond campus as well. It’s right there in Edmund just north of Oklahoma City.

Mike Mage:

I got you. So we’re gonna be diving in here for you about, you know, So what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But first questions first, since this is the healthy church growth podcast and there’s no, there’s no better sign of healthy growth in a church than your lead pastor, Craig Groeschel’s biceps. So we kind of got to get this out of the way here upfront. But, uh, what’s your church’s policy on working out during the actual workday?

Kevin Ely:

I’m not sure exactly what his schedule is, but I know he’s the first one here every day. So if, like in the afternoon, if I don’t see him in his office. I’m usually not gonna question where he is. I will say I’ve never had that. I’ve never had to test that policy myself. So yeah, that’s not a big threat for me. To have to leave to go work out. But he makes up for all of us.

Mike Mage:

It’s so funny. I have seen him speak a bunch at like Global Leadership Summit and different things like that. But that dude is massive. He is so massive. It’s crazy.

Kevin Ely:

I know. It’s like working with Batman, like the most focused, physically, mentally, spiritually fit guy I’ve ever met.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, well, now that we got that on the way, that’s the biggest answer. We were looking for on this podcast. So I know you’ve been at Life Church for 16+ years now, and you’ve been involved with creating content for videos and being a producer. But now you sort of have moved into a different role as one of the creative directors at Life Church. So how did that transition go? Just from sort of being one of the video guys to now, you’re like one of the creative directors. How is that transition? When did that happen?

Kevin Ely:

Yes, I started in 2002. We were two campuses at the time. And it just kind of started that within the year. Ah, and I was the second video person on staff. So they had started with Mark Dawson, who originally started, you know, just doing, like, broadcast and making some videos for the services and stuff. And when they decided, we really need to think about how we use video to do multi-campus stuff. They, um, called me up. I was working in TV news at the time, and ah, had never thought about working for a church. You know, Life Church was my church, but I didn’t really, you know, at the time, like video people working for churches other than doing broadcast on TV really wasn’t much of a thing. So for eight years, I just did whatever videos needed to be done. I did a lot of kid’s curriculum, series promos, training videos, just, you know, trying to do all kinds of different things. Then we grew over time. So by around 2009-10 we were needing to kind of, um, add to leadership as far as just oversight, span of care of the video producing team so that Mark could more focus on, you know, working on Craig with the weekends and things like that. So I was kind of the senior guy. So, um, I started being like a player-coach kind of role where I was making videos half the time and, you know, leading other video producers other times. And around the same time, you know, we started getting applications from people who went to school with, the idea that when they got out of college, they wanted to go work for a church in video, you know, which like going from, you know, what does it even mean to be a video person working for a church? And then now there’s people who are like, you know, that’s what I want to do with my life is quite a change. And so these people were, you know, pretty much going to be better than me at my job. So I figured I just need to get out the way, Um and then at the same time I realized that as I grew up, even though film is what I love and I still love making videos, I love editing, I realized that like what I really loved wasn’t so much the actual making the videos, it was the storytelling. It was the creative process. So around that same time, it’s like God kind of just worked all the circumstances in the right way to make me sort of realize that what I really love was helping people, you know, create things. It wasn’t even so much making the things myself. That was a secondary love and so around the time this crop of people start to come up that were really gonna be the future of the team we just realized it was time to make a change. But, you know, going from someone who makes stuff to going someone who helps people make stuff is like a big-time shift in your mind. You know, and a lot of it’s like you’ve got to be really straight with, like where your value comes from and what you get your identity from, because, you know, I started out in TV news where you’re making something every day and then working in church. You know, every, you know, weekend you’d go out and see. You know, I made that this week. I got to see that. I got to see people see it. I got to see the result. You had a tangible thing you could grab hold of and say I did that today. And when you go into more leadership, like creative direction stuff you really are more of like, I had a really great meeting today, but that tangible thing of your success, you know, isn’t there and so like it took a while to kind of release myself from being like, I need to be making things to, you know, to feel my worth. You know, and a lot of that’s just getting straight with God, where he’s got you and, you know, and making sure your identity is not coming from your work, which is really hard when you’re working in ministry sometimes.

Mike Mage:

Right. Right, and especially in the creative world, when a lot of this is judged on delivering and, you know, I can imagine it’s gotta be a huge shift. And I love what you’re saying because you’re defining your win by helping other people create things. And I feel like, you know, we talked with Todd Henry, who has the book Herding Tigers. Yeah, it’s so incredible. Yeah, it’s creative management, basically, and one of the things that really stuck with me is he said, it’s such a fundamentally different job to help people create than it is to actually create. And I don’t think that people understand that. When do you think that you know, you sort of were able to move into that role? Or when do you think you were able to define that as your win?

Kevin Ely:

Man. It was a couple of years, um, and partially because I, you know, because I did a player-coach type role for a while where I was making things and overseeing things. So I kind of got my fix both ways. And then it was probably It was 2012 when I actually finally left it behind and said, you know, you’re no longer going to be a filmmaker, and, um, you know, it was probably a year, year and a half before I really felt okay with it and because I always felt like well but I still gotta, you know, every once in awhile, I just want to make one thing, you know, And then I’d be making it and would be completely stressed because I didn’t have time for it and, you know, would always be regretting it. And then, you know, some of my fellow leaders and stuff would be like. You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself. You know, you just need to accept what your job is. Yeah. So it took a while. You know, I wish I had that book then because, uh, you know that Herding Tigers book and Todd Henry’s like one of my gurus, Accidental Creative was something that really helped me a lot around that time. And that Herding Tigers book is I would recommend it to anybody who’s transitioning from being a producer, role, a contributor, role to being a leader. It just nails so many lessons that took years to learn. You know, I wish I had had it then, um and we just went through that as a leadership group in our creative team this year. It’s a lot of like, really learning to be unselfish about, um what you’re doing and really like getting your – seeing satisfaction from seeing other people win. And that could be just for me. Now. That’s even more enjoyable than anything that I would do on my own. I make very few things myself, and occasionally my friends will be like, Well, why don’t you make things anymore? And I’m like, I do It’s just I get other people to actually do the work. So I get to sit back and watch, you know?

Mike Mage:

Yeah, well, speaking of unselfish in sort of preparing for this interview, I came across an article that you wrote, probably like four and a half years ago, entitled “Stop Being Unbelievably Creative” and we’ll put a link to It in the show notes. You have some incredible wisdom about sort of what we should create and why, that I honestly think is more relevant now then, even when it was when you wrote it, just with the onset of how many thousands of shows do we have on Netflix and that no one really even watches. There’s so much content all the time. But I would love if you could just explain the inspiration of the article. Um, with the manatee and the Eagle Scout.

Kevin Ely:

Right, it’s a true story. So it was an article, um, that Jonathan Malm has the magazine Sundaymag.tv and he was sort of looking around for people to write articles. So the topic he had he had given me the topic of just that phrase unbelievably creative. Stop being unbelievably creative and what does that mean? And the first thing I thought of – this story had just happened. So the story is basically we’re doing like, a simple promo for the church. Um, you know, life church’s, many locations, but it’s always funny to us. You know, when you’re inside the bubble of being on staff and inside, you know, backstage in the kitchen of the church, um, you kind of take for granted the vision. And so we were sort of recognizing that, you know, every once in a while why we just sort of need to remind people, What does it mean to be a multi-site church? What does it mean to be, you know, one church in many locations and you know that your campus is your community, but there’s other communities like you around there that you’re connected to. You know, we said we’ll just do this promo. And so I went to one of my filmmakers. That was one of our most creative people on the team at the time, and I and I was like, here’s this thing, to us it’s very old hat, you know, it’s ah, how many different ways can you say it? So I want you to come up with some really creative and just go for it. Like a little while later, I went into his office and saw this screengrab of a shot of outer space. And it’s in the article if you look it up in. It’s a manatee with a guy dressed as an Eagle Scout writing the manatee through space. And I was like, What is that? And he’s like, Oh, that’s the new multi-site promo And I was I just was gobsmacked. I was like, I don’t what What does this have to do with anything? Like what? You know, And I don’t remember the details of what it was, but it was basically they just decide to be super wacky. Um, he was like, Well, you said like, you know, make it interesting and so in his mind, he’s like, Well, this is a This is old hat to us. This, You know, this is saying the same old thing over and over. We need to do something to get their attention. So I couldn’t really fault him for that. But I was like, but we’re clearly not gonna show this. Um, so we went back into something a little more traditional, but, um, to this day, we still kind of talk about when you do something for creativity sake and kind of forget what you’re doing it for. We can we call it riding the manatee sometimes And and I kind of like was Okay, well, that was, you know, bullet dodged or whatever, and move on. But then when I get asked to write the article, it made me really think about while that’s a really great example and what were the things that, um, number one led to that thinking? You know what? Not just, you know, the creative process, but also, like, what are the things that compel us to want to do things like that? You know, just how do you balance that between what you’re trying to say and in trying to be, you know, it grabs attention and things like that. So the article really writing the article really helped clarify a lot of things in my mind. Um, that And in what questions should we ask on the front end? Um, you know, because there are times when you do want to really get outside the box and, um, and try something new or try something that’s just there to grab attention and then that other times where it’s like, you just need to really clear. Um And so in writing the article, I’d come up with some questions to ask, which is Is it true? Is it clear? And is it fresh? And it’s kind of like in that order like it Absolutely. Everything you say has to have truth in it with this biblical truth or just, you know, accurate information. If it doesn’t do that, then, um you know, you’re just you’re wasting time, and then is it clear? Um, you know, art can’t is what you’re doing. Going to get muddled. Is it open for the wrong interpretation? Um, you know, are you creating confusion or introducing confusion and then is it fresh. Are you saying it in a new way that makes people go? Ah-ha! You know, do you lead them to an ah-ha moment? Are you presenting something in a new way? Um, but that can’t come before the 1st 2 You know, you have to make sure you cover those bases and then you can think about grabbing the attention or whatever. In a lot of times, doing that work on the front end helps you decide what would make this fresh. You know, because if you’re clearer about how have we you know, we’re doing a marriage? Siri’s again. How have we done that in the past? Well, the first thing to do is make sure that we’re really clear about what we’re talking about, Uhm, and who were who were trying to communicate with on top of that, then you have a really it helps you decide what you need to do to be fresh because you’re the more you can do to build the foundation. It gives you a clear idea where, like the playroom is.

Mike Mage:

But I absolutely love how practical all that is like a lot, A lot of times this stuff never seems super practical. Um, and you know, I know that that that Ah, that article was written a couple of years ago. But I do. I think that I do think that it is just as important then as it is today. Ah, and so I wonder if where is sort of this creative process going? What sort of questions are you asking now? As it stands in 2019 how do we continue to make things clear?

Kevin Ely:

Um, I think, Well, one thing. I like my boss, Beth, who leads our entire creative group, all the aspects of it, from curriculum to design and everything. Um, she gave us a list of questions earlier last year that we’re like, These are questions that I’d wish I had asked in the past and one of the questions. Um, there was a great list of questions, but one of the questions that really stuck out to me was Is this something we should use to push ourselves? Or is this something where we should conserve our energy? Um, and run an established play and I remember exactly how she phrased it, but but it’s basically like with every project you have every opportunity you have to create something. It’s good to ask yourself because a lot of times, if you’re a creative person, you’re gonna want to push the envelope on everything you d’oh, and a lot of your most talented people that you have on your team. That’s gonna be their compulsion, is how can I? How can I break the box and how can I, you know, like, how can I take this to a new place? And sometimes you don’t need to do that, and and sometimes the best thing you can do is just be really clear.

Mike Mage:

So it’s almost like there’s this tension and I feel like that’s the tension that we have been doing is creatives, and you know it. So, speaking of tension, I know that you have people underneath you, and how do you lead through disagreements, especially in a creative sense which could be super technical? Um, but when you see like a project is not where it should be or it’s definitely not the direction that you want to be going. How do you sort of lead through that? The creative process.

Kevin Ely:

I think a lot of that is just laying the groundwork in the culture right off the bat. Um, so when someone’s coming onto the team or even if you have a volunteer, an intern or something like that, um, setting the groundwork for Hey, this is how we work. Um, so that nothing’s ever surprised. You know, we tell people right off the bat, even when they’re interviewing, um for a role Or, um, if someone’s coming on as a contractor or volunteer or, you know, any kind of role is we use the phrase were high feedback culture and what that’s what that is built on is I trust you have to have the trust. Um, so we talked about freely extending trust off the bat. Everyone starts with, like, a full bank of equity of like, you know, everyone’s given. You know, the reason that we’re working with you is because we believe in you. And because you are the trust is there for you to lose, not free. Not that I’m holding onto it for you to build up. So because of that, we’re gonna be really straight with you, and we’re gonna be really honest about what we see. The other thing is that we’re all here for the same reasons were mission-driven. So we know that everyone here is here for to reach people for Christ and and and And this an opportunity that we have to do that. So if we know that we’re all heading in the same direction, it makes a lot easier to say like, Hey, you’re a little of the left. Little the right, You know, you’re not coming at each other. That’s probably the ground. You know, the groundwork for that, and that takes care of 90% of conflict, really. And then the other part would be being really specific about your feedback, the compliment sandwich kind of thing. You know, things like that, where they’ll teach you of, like, you know, lead with a positive and then give the Christian you know, things like that. That’s really good from interpersonal relationship standpoint, but we also just try to be really specific about those things. Here’s what’s working, and here’s what we feel needs to change. So, um, you know, very rarely will we talk to someone and just say oh, that was just a miss. I always look at created creativity as problem-solving, So I get really excited about having a problem to solve. And so the more details I can fill in, like if it’s a math equation. I mean, creativity is math, but I would like to think of this like, you know, you have variables and you have givens and you have things that you know and things you don’t. And the more things that you know help you figure out the things that you don’t. So when I’m starting a creative process with a team I always try to like, give them as many givens as possible to make the unknowns exciting. So we need to figure out how to motivate people to ah, stop going to our most crowded service and start going to our least attended. Service is, but we’re probably only going to be able to do that in a :15 video because we don’t want it to take away from, like, serious promotion and the high you know, the things that we really want to focus on at the end of a service. Um, and so from a problem, a lot of perspective. Like casting a problem in a way that’s exciting to solve, like helps them sure come up with really great ideas. And then when you’re giving feedback, you can really focus on those variables because then you can say, OK, well, you disregarded this thing that I told you was a given and that that took you off path or, you know so that we could be really specific. And when you’re really specific about things, it’s not about them. Um and it’s less likely for them to feel that as like, Oh, you don’t like my work.

Mike Mage:

Well, especially. And if you build in that trust culture from the Geico, you’re right. A lot of that stuff seems to help out immensely. Really cool. You know, I know church life can wear you down. Ministry can wear you down. But what are some other things that really inspire you that really fill you up? Yeah, That refill you.

Kevin Ely:

I think not just here, but in any kind of ministry. It’s really easy for it to completely take over your life. And you’re thinking, you know because it means so much to you. And one of the things that our leaders really tell us is like, Don’t let your professional walk with Christ replace your personal walk with Christ. It’s easy sometimes to let your ministry replace your personal journey. Um, there’s been times where have been unhealthy, and there’s times that I’ve been really healthy. Um, and the times I’ve been really healthy is the times when I do go home and really go home. Like I think we talked before. We started recording about, like, you know, serving in the kid’s room over Christmas break. Like when I serve my church. I’m they’re serving. I’m not serving in the media capacity. I’m not. You know, I’m just there to help minister to kids. Um, and my life group, um, you know, my small group that we meet with outside of church service is there are one or two people in the group that I work with, but for the most part, it’s not, You know, it’s not a bubble of people that are all inside life church staff, and, um, I try to really, you know, keep that separate. So, um, just really. You know, I’ve got two little girls who are 10 and 11 and, um, you know, just really trying to be fully present for them. Um, a duel of movies. I’m trying to find some non-media related hobbies because pretty much, you know, I love to watch movies. That’s what recharges me. But it’s like, you know, sometimes it’s right, right? So I probably should go work out in the afternoons. My wife teaches yoga, and I never get to actually go the classes because I’m usually, you know, making sure the girls are taken care of while she’s teaching. But I need to find some physical stuff. There’s people on our team who some really, you know, like do things like woodworking and, you know, things that are really different. You know, as far as like, physical activities. Think, you know, do even something like doing CrossFit or doing things with your hands that just use a different part of your brain. Um, that’s if I were to resolve to do something. That’s something I need to do. Morris is I’m a very like inside my head kind of person, and a lot of my hobbies were those kinds of hobbies and that that would probably want me to do mouth. So you’re really convicting me right now.

Mike Mage:

Uh, well, I guess you’re welcome, I guess. Yeah. Um, I think it was Rick Warren who said, and I’m paraphrasing. They said, if you work in their brain a lot, basically or hobbies need to be something with your hands, something you can see the results of really quickly and then vice first, you work in the hands. It needs to be sort of a brain hobby, but that’s a really good sort of rule of thumb. I think I’m like, I’ve actually found for myself that I absolutely love mowing the lawn. I don’t know if that really counts as a hobby.

Kevin Ely:

I love vacuuming the house and I love folding laundry

Mike Mage:

for real. It’s this instant gratification. It’s wonderful, Feels wonderful. All right. Well, last couple of questions here, one of the best things about life church and one of the things that I have been using for years and years and years is life churches open network. And it is such an incredible resource for every church, no matter what the size. So if you would maybe just sort of give give, like, a short explanation as to what the open network is.

Kevin Ely:

Yes. Oh, uh, open network we’ve been doing for about 10 years or so. Um, and it’s basically, um, any resource that we create, um, we have the structure. Now it’s open.church, that’s the quickest URL to find it. We provide for free to any church or ministry that wants to download it for their own use. It started out with, um, like sermon notes and, like series creative elements just to sort of help churches. You know, um, I kind of have a little bit of a creative team if they can’t afford the creative team on their own. Um, but now it’s expanding into all of our curriculum. Um, and even things like training resources and plans for how we use our buildings, um, you know, like pretty much and there’s a lot more even like leadership training and things like that on there. It’s really become a ministry. One of our primary ministries is the church is, um you know, we one of the things that are our main areas of focus, as far as mission goes, is serving the capital C Church and helping other churches. Um, and that stemmed from that decision 10 years ago. There was a lot of pressure for us as we were growing to start selling our stuff because that was not unusual at the time for churches to open up, um, like a little sort of online store. Where, you know, you can buy these messages you can buy these resources and things like that. And it made sense on paper at the time financially. And there was just something in our leadership was telling them don’t do that. You need to be giving it away. And I remember when we were told about it. But what I didn’t know at the time was. The amount of time they spent making that decision and actually, what a risky decision that was at the time, because financially, really, probably on the balance sheet, it probably was what they should have done like it was probably the peak of her debt, and it would have made a lot of sense to start selling things. But, you know, God just spoke to him and said, you need to start giving this away and Craig himself would say that decision made him a more generous person in general because releasing that thing that was so, you know, on paper valuable to us, you know, that had, like, monetary value just releasing that once you realize that you gave that away and the blessing that God gave you is bigger than what you would have gotten from monetizing it. It just started applying that thinking to everything now. So pretty much like everything we do now is with the spirit of generosity. And it all comes from that decision, you know, 10 years ago. So we give away everything and we’re and we’re pretty open-handed with any kind of follow up as far as, you know, there’s a great our open network team does a lot of communication with the churches who are using their people who do what we call in-step churches that are week-of with us so you can sign up to be an in-step church. And, you know, I want to do my kid’s ministry week-of same as us, and you get access and training and things like that to help you execute. Open Network’s one of the best things about the job because you really just know that you’re not being driven by economics. You know, you’re really just driven by reaching the most people and having this thing out there that you don’t even know how far it goes. We’ll get letters from people around the world of, you know, someone was able to start a Children’s ministry because we were able to provide them a curriculum. You know it is a place like a town have never heard of. Or, you know, we got a letter from a kid who was in a hospital waiting for, like a kidney transplant. They were in a kid’s ward of a hospital, and their church was able to bring um church to him through our resource is and he’s like, you know, we get like a video of him seeing like the song that we wrote, you know, to do that and stuff like that just melts your heart and just reminds you why you’re doing this in the first place. You know?

Mike Mage:

Wow. That’s really cool. We have actually used the Open Network in our church a lot, and even just this past Christmas, we were using “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, The Life Church version of it and I found all the resources through the Open Network. So I’m so grateful for it. Last question here. Uh, do you happen to have sort of any parting words of advice for, you know, our listening audience?

Kevin Ely:

I think that if there’s anything. It’s, um if you’re on a creative staff, a church, um, whether you’re the one person who’s doing everything or you’re in charge of a large team that you know has a lot of funding and resourcing, really focus on who God’s leading you to be as a church and, um, not worried too much about chasing any sort of goals of what other churches have done ahead of you. You know, like Life Church. We meet with so many churches who are on the path that we went on our wish. I had known to do what you’re doing when we were doing it, you know, because we just happen to start earlier than some people on some of the stuff we’re doing what life Church should be doing right now. and ah, a lot of the other churches that people follow. Um, they’re doing what you know, their churches being led to be doing right now. And whenever I meet with other churches, and I would say this to anybody is you just need to really ask yourself what God’s leading you to do. A lot of times we can look at other churches to say, Wow, I want to be like that. I want to be making that kind of thing. And that may not be what your community needs, Right? Then I would say, Don’t rush it. Um, don’t rush yourself. And don’t push yourself outside of the space that God’s college Ito live in and just focus on, like, step by step. Where is he leading you? Um, And if you do that, um, what I’ve seen is that God brings the people to fulfill that, so as you grow, the right people will come at the right time. If you open yourself up to seeing them when they come.

Mike Mage:

Well, man, that was an incredible interview. I loved talking with Kevin. He’s so down to earth. Um, and really just just a super good guy. Justin, I know that you are sort of the the lead sort of director at the creative agency verse creative. And, um, you know what was for you specifically? What was like, one of the big takeaway is that you took from this.

Justin Price:

Yeah, there’s no doubt for me that the story about riding the manatee which I, for the record, I would’ve ran with that, uh, I would’ve ran with that all day. Uh, I loved that, um, you know, he’s like you can’t just do things just to grab attention and, while, you want to get creative things that do grab attention. You want to get out of the box in a way that it stands out of the noise is what we typically call things that don’t stand out is just, it’s just more noise. It’s vanilla. It’s bland. Um, you have to think through that process, he said, Which was is it true? Is it clear? Is it fresh? And the most important thing about those three things was it has to be in that order. If it’s super fresh, if it is like super awesome, really, really cool and cutting edge, but it’s not clear it’s really not that effective. And if it’s really clear and awesome and it’s not true, which we use the word authentic, I think that even feels better. Um, you know, if it’s coming from an authentic place, if we can back it up if we could, um, say this is really there at the core of what the product is or, ah, the service is about or whatever it is we’re trying to communicate if it’s at the core. But it’s true, it’s authentic. Um, then it works. And so taking it in that order is incredible. If you don’t have something like that in place right now, write that down. Is it true? Is it clear? Is it fresh? In that order. And put your projects through that filter because it is, ah, it’s really amazing. And sometimes it’s just a matter of looking back at something and realizing was that clear? It was a really good idea. We did it. We executed it really well. It was really true and it was really fresh, but we missed the clarity on the whole thing. I’ve done that with my share of projects inside the church as a creative director and certainly delivered my share of projects that were not clear enough outside of the church at Vers Creative. So something that I thought was incredible, uh, and so good.

Mike Mage:

Yes. So basically, don’t ride the manatee. That’s that. Don’t do it.

Justin Price:

Also, it’s illegal. So if you’re visiting a state that has manatees like Florida does, leave them alone. If you’re down visiting, don’t ride the manatee. That is illegal they’re an endangered species. That’s a whole other level that the guys in Oklahoma probably didn’t have context for.

Mike Mage:

They didn’t even think about it. Yeah, whether or not they’re breaking the law. Well, if you want to follow Kevin he is on Instagram. But more importantly, go to open.church and it doesn’t matter what size church you are. You could worship thousands on the weekend or hundreds. It doesn’t matter. Open.church has an incredible amount of resources for you to be able to lead your church and help your church grow.

Justin Price:

And if you missed any of this stuff that we just said, we’ll put the show notes in the show page at healthychurchgrowth.org. We’d love for you to visit. Check it out again. Subscribe, like share. It means the world to us when you do, we’d love to do another season of these. And if we, uh, we see enough action, if we see some people actually rating and ah, making downloads and downloads and subscribing to the new ones, we will keep doing this. We are committed to trying to share the resources we’ve got. At Vers Creative, we love to share our resources whether that is great interviews or just experiences that we have had in years of doing things the wrong way in ministry so that you can do them the right way. Maybe with a little less pain, Um, we would be stoked for you guys to continue to get something great out of it. So thank you for listening. It means the world to us.

Mike Mage:

Yes. And once again, we’re the healthy church growth podcast where we believe that healthy things grow in growth means life.

Healthy Church Growth – Episode 8 – Nick Benoit

How to make excellence a habit.

Dreams are things you’d like to do, habits are things you regularly do. If your dreams do not line up with your habits you will never reach them. Healthy habits can get you through dry creative seasons and unanticipated difficulties. Nick Benoit, Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church, was tasked with navigating his church through an incredibly difficult time of transition while continuing to lead his team in creating excellent work. He gives practical tips on how to maintain a culture of excellence, regardless of the variables.

>> Episode 9: Kevin Ely


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage:               

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(music intro)

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast where we believe here that healthy things grow and growth means life. We really, really appreciate you joining us here for these conversations. Before we get anything started, we would love if you would like this, subscribe to this podcast, rate this podcast, wherever you get your podcasts. You can do that. It helps us, really, at the end of the day, help you. And we want you to be a part of this. Just as much, and you can also share this with your creative teams. These are some great conversations we’re having and we just, we really love doing it. So I am Mike Mage. I am one of the hosts here for the Healthy Church Growth podcast and joining me is Justin Price.

Justin Price:

Thanks, Mike. So stoked to be here.

Mike Mage:

Today on our podcast, really exciting interview we have with Nick Benoit, who is one of the creative directors at Willow Creek Church. A super influential, impactful church, especially over the last 20-25 years. And, you know, Nick actually talked a lot about, in this interview, self-awareness and, Justin, I just kinda wanna ask you there’s a ton of tools out there for, you know, finding your strengths and self-awareness. He talks a lot about the enneagram. And have you taken the enneagram before, or you know, studied that at all?

Justin Price:

Not only have I taken it, I love the enneagram. Our whole staff at Vers Creative, uh, is it’s part of the routine for on-boarding and for continued growth with our staff. So definitely something that is part of our culture and something that has been a game changer for us, for understanding each other. As, you know, working with creatives is all about understanding how to communicate with him.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, and one of the things Nick really talks about is know thyself, and that’s, you know, that’s the base of a lot of this. So before we recorded this Justin and I were talking about the enneagram, and I think it would be fun – and this is, you’re totally not supposed to do this with the enneagram. You’re not supposed to like pigeonhole and guess other people’s enneagram numbers right?

Justin Price:

It’s completely against the rules. The first rule of enneagram club is to not guess other people’s enneagram numbers.

Mike Mage:

Yeah. So I want to guess yours. And then I want you to guess mine. Uh, and I want to see how close we actually are.

Justin Price:

Yeah. Let’s do it. I’m curious to know what you think I am.

Mike Mage:

Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and say you are a 3w2 possibly a 3w4.

Justin Price:

Woh. Wow. Well, before I answer whether or not you’re close I’m going to guess yours.

Mike Mage:

Ya, go for it.

Justin Price:

I don’t have a clue what you are, Mike, but I think you’re a 2w3, okay? And the only reason I think that is because…I shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t record this, but I’m gonna say it anyway. People I love working with that are, like, just really fun for me to work with are all 2w3. There are people that I respect and there’s a ton of other numbers that I get a lot done with and, like, really respect, but man, 2w3s are fun. And whenever I think about working with you on anything for Healthy Church Growth, I’m excited. It’s always fun. And, uh, I don’t know, you might be an anomaly, but I think I’ve got a really good tracker with 2w3. What are you?

Mike Mage:

That’s super nice. I thought I was a 2w3, but when I’m diving into it a little more – and I still might be, who knows? Because it’s all about self-discovery, but I’m pretty sure I am a 9w8. And so, you know, the peacemaker with the challenger thing. And I identify a lot with the things that are wrong with those people. Yeah, but who knows? I might be, but I honestly, the first time I did it, I thought I was a 2w3 for sure.

Justin Price:

That’s so funny. I thought that the description for 9w8 was psychopath or bipolar.

Mike Mage:

(lauhgs) Honestly, that’s basically what it is.

Justin Price:

I’m hurting for you right now.

Mike Mage:

What goes on inside of a 9 because, they talk about keeping that inner peace or whatever and like, you’re just constantly conflicted, and like, I do feel that a lot. But then you are a nine. And so everything, everyone’s gotta be cool. So just let’s just be cool. 

Justin Price:

Let’s forget that I just went eight on you. Let’s be cool. That’s great. Yeah, I have not seen the 8 side of you yet, but I love that you have it, and I respect it because I’m a 7w8.

Mike Mage:

No way! This is why you don’t type people.

Justin Price:

I’m a clinical definition of a 7. I mean, I’m just an enthusiast at the enthusiast’s core. The weird thing about me is I sometimes put myself in unhealthy positions because I do my best work in my unhealthy state of stress as a 1, and 7s retreat to a 1 in an unhealthy state. And so I turn into a perfectionist. I procrastinate to put myself into that and to build that stress. Today, everybody on our staff knows to give Justin false deadlines. He will produce the best work of his life with deadlines, and nobody will be upset and he won’t be late because they’re false not real ones. 

Mike Mage:

So crazy. Isn’t that funny?

Justin Price:

I love that you’ve got that 8. Maybe that’s what I like about you.

Mike Mage:

It’s possible. It doesn’t come out a whole lot, but it does come out every once in a while and yeah, as a 9, you don’t know what to do with it. You know, it’s – oh, gosh, this is not what I wanted. Well, cool. Again, another great example of why you dont type other people. Yeah, because we were both wrong. So yeah, well, I mean, the reason that we’re talking about self-awareness and knowing thyself is because Nick Benoit, he really dove into that because of the situation that they were at with Willow Creek when I did this interview with him, and they were really in the aftermath of, you know, a pretty bad, painful experience with Willow Creek and how their founding pastor left.

Justin Price:

A thought I had with that, Mike, was how you know there are a ton of really well educated people in ministry and a lot of the listeners, they have taken all the classes they have done seminary, and the one thing that, like there’s really not a great class that can prepare you for dealing with a scandal or a major issue, or even just the the change of a senior founding pastor. As that change happens, it is so difficult for a church, for a congregation that has, especially a church that has grown with influence because of, with one person for lead. And I think it’s so valuable for us to learn as much as we possibly can from other churches who have been through that and to listen. This is such a great interview, Mike. You know, you did a great job dealing with somebody, you know, interviewing somebody who is dealing some like deep things in this interview, you know, he’s really, Nick did a beautiful job of being transparent about how they were processing some things. I love the fact that, you know, he said, they’re in a spot where they have to ask, What did we learn? Not keep trying to recycle through the issues, but really to take something away and learn something from it. I think you know, you mentioned that self-awareness was so valuable, it’s something that they have learned. So I love this interview just for that. I hate it for, um, you know, the sake of where that turned what the church has had to go through for us to have this interview, but what Healthy Church Growth is all about is allowing people who maybe don’t have mentorship. Who don’t have as much experience to be able to hear from people like Nick, and this is really a gift. I think from Nick and from their church to our audience to be able to process it here. Some of the processing on this side of a major scandal at such an influential church is a really, really big deal. So love this interview. Can’t wait to wrap up with you. You did a great job on it.

Mike Mage:

Thanks so much. Well, here is the interview with Nick Benoit, creative Director and Willow Creek.

(Music)

(Nick Benoit Introduction Quote)

Mike Mage:

Today we have Nick – It’s Benoit correct? 

Nick Benoit:

It is. It is. French pronunciation.

Mike Mage:

I took French five years in school, so I feel like I can get that little, you know, the little French thing on there. Is your family from France? Or do you have any idea where the Benoit comes from?

Nick Benoit:

There’s a  little French Canadian from a little ways back.

Mike Mage:

Okay, cool. So you’re going from cold to even colder for the most part. Well, so first questions first, and you know, one of our executive producers, I guess our executive producer, Jason Smithers, I guess you guys are both from the Toledo area. Correct? 

Nick Benoit:

That’s right. 

Mike Mage:

Okay. So he has to know and, you know, is it Tony Paco’s hot dogs or Rudy’s hot dogs? And I’m warned here, there is a right answer.

Nick Benoit:

Okay, so here’s the thing I grew up about a block and a half away from a Rudy’s and my dad, every Friday night, would bring home after work – he’d bring home a white paper sack stuffed full of Rudy’s hot dogs, like the grease leaking through the paper bag. And so I grew up on Rudy’s. The problem is, I hated it.

Mike Mage:

(laughs)

Nick Benoit:

So I am a Paco guy through and through. I always felt a little disloyal in that, but I’ve got to tell the truth.

Mike Mage:

Well, and the truth will set you free, my friend. So what is? What’s the difference?

Nick Benoit:

I don’t know. Rudy’s just feels a little bit more run of the mill. Pacos feels like something a little special to me. There’s just something with more of a crack to it.

Mike Mage:

So funny. And this is super compelling stuff here.

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. Hard hitting. 

Mike Mage:

Yeah, I grew up, at least I was born in, like, the Flint, Grand Blank area. So a little further north, in Michigan, and we had Kogels hot dogs. So I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of those before, but you know, snappy hot dogs. Is that kind of similar to, you know, Paco’s, like the same sort of similar thing?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah, and I think the key with Paco’s is their chilli sauce. Like you just, I don’t know what’s in it, but you can’t really hold a candle to Paco’s sauce.

Mike Mage:

Well and there’s, after living in the Southeast for the better part of my life now, no one understands what a good chili dog is here. Like no one. No one really, like my wife had never – so we’ve been together for 16 years now and, like I brought her up to Michigan. I don’t know, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago. It was probably 4-5 maybe 6 years ago. And she finally had, like, an actual chili dog. And I mean her life was changed. I mean, right, Yeah, dramatically. Has

Nick Benoit:

Has she been reborn?

Mike Mage:

Yeah. I mean, you could say it’s been a rebirth of sorts. Well, cool. I guess Jason will be happy with that, because I’m pretty sure he’s a Paco’s guy. And, yeah, that’ll be okay. Moving on that was, you know, we had to get that out of the way, of course. 

Nick Benoit:

Ya. First things first. 

Mike Mage:

(laughs) Yeah. So, in a short format here. You work at Willow Creek. How did you get there? What position do you hold right now? And how did you get that position, even?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah, so, a little more than five years ago, I was working in a church in Southern California. My wife and I, we’d been there for about a decade, and we loved it. And we’re really, really happy. And I randomly got a message in my inbox asking me if I wanted to apply at Willow. They had an opening for a creative director, and it was similar to work that I was doing in California and, you know, growing up in the Midwest, I had always known about Willow. I had always loved the work that they had done. And I think in some ways it even inspired me, as a kid, to know what it looked like. The intersection of creativity and ministry. And so when I got the email, I was really, really flattered, but my first response was No. My wife and I were really, really happy where we were. And, lo and behold, I came home and I said to my wife, I said, I got the strangest email today and, um, I told her about it and she burst into tears and I was like, What? What? What’s going on? And she said, I don’t know. She’s like, for the last couple months I’ve just been sensing that a change is coming for us and, she goes, and just last week, she had said to her best friend, I think a big transition’s coming for our family and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what it looks like, but something’s about to change. And so that led us on about a six month journey of God, making it more clear than he ever has made anything in our life that we were meant to move our family of five across the country and take the role of creative director here at Willow. And, um, we never would have made the move if it hadn’t been for a call that was that clear. But it’s been, our time here has been an amazing gift. And so I came in as a creative director, and that’s still a lot of the work that I do, but I’ve just taken on the role of weekend director, which is kind of executing, producing our weekends and overseeing the vision for all that we do across all our weekends. So it’s just a little bit of an expanded role here in the last few months.

Mike Mage:

Man, what were some of the ways that God sort of, like, confirmed with you that you needed to be heading back to the Midwest?

Nick Benoit:

There were so many things, but the final clincher for me literally came down to an actual road sign. 

Mike Mage:

That’ll do it, I guess.

Nick Benoit:

Exactly! So I was really wrestling with – do we? don’t we? I was well into the interview process. The church I was at already knew that this was a conversation and they were just, they were so great about it. They were praying with me, and they were for us and for whatever God wanted for us and it was really cool to be able to process that together with friends who had become family and to not have that be a dangerous thing. But then, um, I said to my wife one day, I was like, “Do you mind if I go to the Grand Canyon?” Um, because we were talking about doing a creative piece for the church that, uh, talked about the Grand Canyon and I was having trouble writing it because I’d never been there. And I said, on top of needing to do this project like, I just I just need some time to think and to pray and be by myself for a while and she blessed it. She’s like, yeah, definitely, do it. So I got a quick hotel room in Flagstaff, Arizona, and started a couple day road trip, and, on the way there was crossing the desert, and  I was really distracted. I had the music turned up loud. I had the windows rolled down, you know, classic road trip vibe. But I realized I was kind of avoiding the real question that I’d taken the trip to ask. I finally, I just said ok God, we need to talk. And I rolled up the windows and I turned down the radio and as much as you can bow your head while you’re driving. Um, I just said, God, I really need to hear from you. I feel like you might be asking us to take a role at Willow Creek, but I want to be sure because I don’t want to move my whole family. I don’t want to leave people and a job that I love if you’re not actually asking us to do it. And I look back up at the road, and the moment I looked back up at the road, I literally passed a sign – one of those markers for when you cross bodies of water – and it said Willow Creek, like in the middle of the Arizona desert, I crossed Willow Creek. And just, it was the last in a long string of things, and it just felt like God saying, like, I can’t make it any more clear, so yeah, it was a pretty cool journey.

Mike Mage:

Oh, my gosh, man, Yeah. Hard to beat an actual sign.

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. I mean, you know, you pray for blinking neon, and it was just about that. 

Mike Mage:

Oh, man. So when you talk about moving your whole family, basically cross country, what does your family consist of?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. So it’s me and my wife Karen, and we’ve been married for, I think it’s like 16, we’re going on 16 years, and then we have three kids – a nine year old boy, six year old girl and a three year old girl, and then the dog.

Mike Mage:

Obviously, you know, working at Willow Creek. You guys have had a super tumultuous, I mean, crazy past couple of years. I guess last year and a half and, I mean, I can’t imagine how difficult it was. I mean, obviously, it’s almost like what you initially signed up for has changed significantly, to a certain extent. So you know, because this podcast is about healthy church growth, you know – what obstacles have you faced in leading your creative team and your weekend creative team, through this crisis?

Nick Benoit:

Oh, man. I’ve thought about the answer to this question so many times, and yet, it’s so hard to articulate. And, I even feel like the answer changes, given the moment you ask it. So recently, I heard a story about pig 311. So I think it was back in 1946. The United States military wanted to test, um, the effectiveness of nuclear weapons. And so they, in this lagoon, it was like Bikini Lagoon or something like that, they amassed all of these defunct warships and they filled the warships with animals like goats and pigs and monkeys and horses, and they actually dressed them in military uniforms because they wanted to know how different clothing or different fabrics might be affected by a nuclear explosion. So they then dropped a nuclear weapon on this lagoon and I mean, of course, it just wiped almost everything out. But a couple hours later, some sailors, so of course there’s a whole, uh, there’s a whole bunch of military Navy ships watching this, observing it, and they have to go in and do the clean up afterwards. And, um, they look into the water and there is a pig swimming past their ship, and they rescue this pig and they find out that based on – this was pig 311. And so they knew exactly where it was and on which ship and it had been right at the epicenter of the blast and yet somehow it had survived. It was touted as this miraculous mystery and this, um, proof that nuclear weapons weren’t really that bad. Because, look, this pig survived with no lasting problems, and he was donated to the Smithsonian Zoo. And, um, the thing about this pig is that it was sterile. It gained way more weight than it should have and ended up dying long before it should have. So even though this pig 311 was lifted up as this like, hey, look, uh, nuclear weapons are fine. They don’t have a lasting impact. Radioactive material is not that bad. There were clearly some underlying problems that weren’t really recognized until much later. And when I heard that story that just resonated with me. Because I don’t want to be that pig. I want to ask the deeper questions and know what’s going on inside myself and what’s going on inside the church. The Body of Christ that I work with alongside and serve and I feel like that’s one of the number one lessons we’ve learned is that we want to ask the deeper questions, and we want to tell the deeper truths. And, of course, that just digs up so much stuff in individual lives too, you know? But I feel like this has just been, it’s been a season of soul searching and choosing to ask the deeper questions.

Mike Mage:

Ah, man, I know. That’s heavy. I appreciate you sharing about that. I know that it’s I mean, I can’t imagine at this scale, I guess, of you know, what has happened at Willow Creek, and even as you’re referencing a nuclear weapon. I mean, the aftershock waves of it, you know, like, we were affected by it here down in Tampa, you know, just in the sense of feeling for, uh, you know, everybody involved. Right, wrong, whatever. You know, like this whole thing. This is not the way anything is meant to be, at the end of the day. And, you know, I believe that God is bigger than we could ever even think or imagine, and God’s redemption covers all things. You know, how as a church, do you feel like this is soul searching for the church? Or mostly just people on staff? How do you think people at church are responding to all the changes and, you know, all that kind of stuff?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of both, I think. I mean, when everything first broke, people were all over the place. So it was impossible to pin down, how any one group of people felt because it was so individualized. Now I would say that I think I’d still have trouble characterizing it exactly. I know that the staff, um, is kind of entering a new phase where in the immediate aftermath, there were so many just knee jerk reactions and good and necessary changes that were made. And now it feels like we’re settling into a different era of learning where we want to humbly looking back over the last year and just say – What have we learned? Where can we grow? What still needs to be unearthed yet? What repercussions, like pig 311, what repercussions might we not see yet? But we still need to get down into, um, and I think the church is aware of some of that and not aware of some of that and the thing we’ve constantly been wrestling with is – this has been the forefront of most of the staff’s mind, but for people who attend this church, it sent them reeling for a while, but most of them had personal concerns, family concerns, work concerns, relational concerns, that quickly took the forefront of their minds and hearts. And they needed God to speak into those things. And so they needed the church to speak into those things. And so it feels like on the staff side, we still have a lot of things to do to dig into our culture and make sure that we’re healthy and make sure that we know the truth about ourselves so that we can speak the truth about ourselves. Um, but for the church, I think they’re going to see some of that, but we also just want to be the church to them and not kind of always have that business be in their face.

Mike Mage:

Man. Well, cool. Well, thank you for talking about that for a little bit. I don’t want to belabor a point or anything. Yeah, but just simply asking the question. What have we learned? I mean, I think that’s I feel like that’s the humble approach to self awareness that, like we all, that’s the journey we all need to be on, you know, like good, bad, indifferent, whatever. What have we learned? And then How can we grow?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah, because I think at some point, we learned that our question can’t be, What is the truth?
Because, honestly, we’re never gonna know. There’s so many different accounts and there’s, just, absolute truth is going to be really hard to arrive at. And so I just, I think I’ve released that expectation and the forefront question has been, ok, what do we learn?

Mike Mage:

I know that Willow And you know, just from what I’ve experienced from Global Leadership Summit, you know that kind of stuff. You guys have some incredible performance pieces. I just watched a couple of minutes ago, just to you know to refresh on some of them. I just watched the one with the, um, the oil in the sludge. You know, that was you, right? You did that right?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. 

Mike Mage:

Okay, cool. Just making sure. It was so cool. Um, but how do you guys find balance in leading creative teams and still putting out creative work as part of the team or even as an individual?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. The answer is not a sexy one, like, I think the answer is habits and deadlines. Um, for me, my personal habits are of utmost importance. And what I mean by that is how do I spend time with my family? How do I spend time with God? How do I spend time away from the office? Um, having really clear boundaries around that and keeping my life very disciplined. Because as soon as those things start to fall apart, my ability to wrap my mind, my heart, my hands around creativity, it quickly unwinds. But then the other thing is, is just deadlines. Um, since I’ve come to Willow, I have done more creative work – I’ve done more creative work in the five years that I’ve been here then I have done in the rest of my previous life combined, and what amazes me about that is each of us is capable of so much more than we realize. We just don’t require it of ourselves. And there’s something about deadlines, whether someone is setting them for you or you’re setting them for yourself, that if they always feel a little bit impossible, that’s probably really good. My calendar always feels a little too full. I always have a little bit too much on my plate, and that keeps us moving fast. And I will readily admit, sometimes too fast, um, and that’s where the habits become really important. But, um, constantly setting ambitious goals and deadlines has been key.

Mike Mage:

I mean, I love that. I feel like it’s freeing to have habits and to have deadlines. I mean, wouldn’t you say I feel like creative people in general get so weirded out by that kind of stuff like, well, I can’t be creative like what if this happens? It’s almost like you. You do away with productivity because you’re scared that you’re gonna miss something. Does that make sense? I feel like I said, if I set a deadline. It’s like, well, if I set that deadline, what happens if it can just make it, like, 1% better? You know, I’m gonna miss that or whatever.

Nick Benoit:

Yeah, but you’ll never ship it.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, exactly. It’ll never actually be something.

Nick Benoit:

I look back on all the pieces on YouTube and there’s 1,000,000 little things that if we’d had another week, if we had another day, that I would change; but at the same time, like we put them out there. And we love the work that God has gifted us to do. And so I don’t know, maybe this is one of the few places where I would say more is better. Like, man, we’ve only got so much time. We’ve only, like, even the creative piece you mentioned. Who knows if that’s gonna work anymore in five years, right? Because culture changes, church changes, appetites change. And I want to do everything that I can do! In the moment that I’m given,

Mike Mage:

You’re talking about habits and deadlines all because have you always felt like you’ve been a disciplined person as a creative person?

Nick Benoit:

No! I’ve definitely been a lazy creative. For sure. 

Mike Mage:

How long has it taken you to get to that point? I mean, I feel like it’s a spectrum and a journey kind of thing. But how do you feel, like, how long has it taken you to get to the point to realize that, like, disciplines and all that kind of stuff were something you need to work on?

Nick Benoit:

My whole life? I mean, I feel like God really started to teach me about it about 10 years ago. Like, really started. Asked me to do some soul searching. About, what was I creating out of? Where was it coming from? But then, five years ago, when I came to Willow, it kind of became a master class in it because, um, here, if you are not spiritually prepared by your personal habits, the pace will chew you up. And so while before, it was a luxury that I felt like God was talking to me about, um, in my current role, it has become a necessity. I can’t get by without it, cause here’s, I guess my general philosophy on creativity is, I think you have to always be limiting your amount of risk. So as a creative person, I always want to try new things. I always want to find the bleeding edge. But the thing is like you can only do that in so many areas simultaneously. So when I look at any given project, I want 75% of it. Just roughly speaking, I want 75% of it to be a sure thing, something I know how to do something I’ve tried before and I know is successful. And then I want 25% of it to be something that stretches me and grows me and feels risky and could fail. I feel like with that percentage of risk and safety, you get to try a lot of new things, but you’re also assured of some success, and I feel like in life, personal habits are those 75%. It is the 75% that you can be sure you know works keeps you healthy so that you can take the other 25% and just throw caution to the wind.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, I love that. I feel like that might be the thing that most creative people struggle with is creating disciplines and the schedule and deadlines and then abiding by it and not, you know, not just saying, well, just this one time. Or maybe it’s not just creative, maybe it’s most people. Most people struggle with some sort of discipline and self-control. So obviously, you know, Netflix has, you know, 1000 different things you can choose from, Amazon Prime has a 1,000,000 different things you can choose from. You know, we have so many different streaming services we have YouTube, all that kind of stuff. I feel like our attention, especially when it comes from like a creative place, is just stretched. And, we’re being pulled in so many different directions. How do you as a creative director, how do you capture someone’s attention? And not just in an age where attention spans feel like their dwindling, but maybe when we’ve been, like, the most distracted we’ve ever been?

Nick Benoit:

Oh, man, that’s such a big question. And you know, in some ways, I think I’m still working on the answer to that. And in some ways, I have a cheater’s answer for that. Because I feel it myself trying to curb my tendency to be constantly distracted. You know, coming from someone who has a lot of 3.5 – 5 minute videos on YouTube, I’m well aware that the best time frame is about 30 to 45 seconds, you know, because I’m aware that that’s about my attention span. So I don’t quite know how to crack that nut. Um, honestly. But my sort of cheater answer is I can’t even decide if I’m supposed to yet. And the reason I mean that the reason I say that is because, um, my calling first and foremost is to a local church. And I’m well aware that this might be a shortsighted view because I think the church is changing. I think even our attention spans within the context of a service are changing. But, my first and foremost concern is not the audience that might someday see a piece on YouTube or, uh, even tune in on the web or something like that – might my first and foremost pastoring and mission and purpose is to give to a local community. At the moment that exists in a platform where our attention or lack thereof is not quite as much of a problem. Now again, I say that recognizing that I think the church needs to change and adapt to culture, I think the way that we program our service probably needs to be rethought. And I don’t know there’s a lot of people thinking about those kinds of questions for the evangelical church right now, and I don’t think I know the answer. Um, but my first, my primary responsibility is to create the connection and to pastor the people that I can look in the eye and time does not feel like my biggest constraint in that equation.

Mike Mage:

You’re talking about, you know, the service changing. And since you’re doing, you know, weekend experience, creative director of like, the weekend experience. In what ways are you sort of seeing the church change, like, how does the church weekend service need to adapt to culture? Is there anything that like specifically you’ve seen, um or maybe even that you’re trying to implement at Willow Creek?

Nick Benoit:

Yeah. I mean, we’re always rethinking. How long is a message? How many times are we repeating a song? How long is our overall service? One of the challenges we face here at Willow is between the walk from the parking lot into the building and getting your 2-3 kids checked into our kid’s ministries and then getting into the service. Like while our service might be an hour and 15 minutes long, your commitment to coming to church is quite a bit longer than that. Especially because people are coming from a pretty wide region, and so even as we look at our service times and durations and the different energy levels we’re trying to take that bigger picture into account of how much of a sacrifice – how much time are we asking people to give to even come to this place? Because it just feels like people are being even more protective of that time than they were a decade ago.

Mike Mage:

I mean, I see that, down here in Tampa. There was a study done, you know by somebody. I don’t know. It was a study. And it was, they put it in the newspaper and it said that something about you know, Tampa is like the second least worshipping city of, like, a 1,000,000 people. You know, there was some parameter in the country, so we’re second only to Portland and everyone’s like – what? That’s crazy. And, you know, I started thinking about it some more. And then there’s just a lot more things that people are doing nowadays then I feel like, even when you and I were kids, you know, like we would have – I played hockey, you know, so like, we played hockey on the weekends, but I’d still go to church. And like, we weren’t even like super Christians or anything, but, like we’d still go to church probably three times a month. Um, and I just feel like nowadays there’s just so much going on, um and, you know, again like maybe people are attributing that to our attention spans dwindling, but really like, there’s just so much happening all the time.

Nick Benoit:

Like one of the, and I’m not gonna remember this exact number either, but, um, through internal surveys and from surveys we’ve seen from other churches, it seems like most people are calling themselves a regular attender if they’re coming 1-2 weeks out of the month. And so we’re trying to keep that in mind when we’re thinking about crafting series and how much does one week build on the next, or when we’re thinking about announcements like, maybe we do need to announce the same, one thing three weeks in a row because it’s a completely different group of people in the room. And that’s just, uh, it’s just a reflection of the way that our culture is changing because you’re exactly right. So many other things are competing for people’s time.

Mike Mage:

So sort of back, you know, talking about creative people in general. And I’m more or less talking about myself here. Creative people are normally sort of not great at dealing with conflict in a healthy way. Um, and you being a creative director, I would imagine you have people to answer to you or however your structure is set up. Obviously, volunteer staff, whatever. What’s sort of like one or two things you’ve learned over the years that have really helped you deal with conflict among your team?

Nick Benoit:

Probably the first thing is know thyself. The culture of Willow is one that’s very affirming of counseling and spiritual direction and all of those kinds of things. And I feel like that kind of personal work, digging into your own story goes a long way toward you being present and available and knowing how you respond to those kinds of conflicts and all of that kind of stuff. I feel like that is one of the cultural norms around here that has been extremely helpful. Um, and the other thing is know the people around you, and there’s so many tools out there for this from Myers Briggs to, you know, all kinds of gifting and strength finder tests, but one of the primary things we use around here at Willow is called the enneagram, and it’s one of the kind of more soulful ways of trying to identify personality types. The thoughts we have at the forefront of our minds when we walk into rooms and the ways that we approach conflicts and the ways we hear things and don’t hear things. And those are conversations we sometimes to an annoying degree have around the office. We will sit in circles at lunch and even in sometimes staff meetings and different things, and talk about those kinds of principles and it helps you. We always have to be careful of pigeonholing people, but there’s so many tough times that I have been able to see a direct correlation between a moment of conflict and the reaction of a person and based on there, enneagram type And it has given me so much more compassion and wisdom and how to approach them or when to say, I’m sorry. And I mean, I even see it with my kids, too. They say to, not try to type your kids too early, but, I’ve learned to recognize how beautifully different my children are than me, and rather than trying to, shape them into a mold of me, um, trying to encourage who they are. And yeah, there’s a natural conflict. But I feel like by doing my own work and by knowing the people around me. It at least gives us a head start.  On dealing with that conflict and a little bit more healthy way.

Mike Mage:

So what’s your enneagram number?

Nick Benoit:

I’m a 4 through and through. The wings. I don’t know. Sometimes I’m a 3. Sometimes I’m a 5, but very, very heavy on the 4.

Mike Mage:

So what’s a four?

Nick Benoit:

A 4 is feelings and intuition and just guided by emotion and finding beauty in things. And it is a very stereotypical type for a creative director, and it also does not tend to be someone with a lot of discipline and healthy habits. So I, sometimes I’m told that I am a healthy 4. So I guess that’s a good thing.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, that’s so funny. Like, I’m literally, so I’m going through The Road Back To You, which is the Ian Morgan Kron book. Where I’m doing this podcast, next to me, there’s a stack of eight of those books. So yes, we’re trying to dive into it as well, I am trying to dive into it as well, cause I’ve seen the same thing you know that. You know, it’s a beautiful way to understand yourself first so that you can understand others better. And what a cool way to deal with conflict, through like and how many things? How many arguments? How many conflicts will be resolved if we looked at ourself a little bit first? And then we’re able to look at other people. I think that’s awesome.

Nick Benoit:

I mean, I would say, even in the midst of our church’s personal conflict at the moment, I think in our better moments, that’s what we’ve done as well, is, um, looking internally and saying What have I done? What have I contributed to? How have I benefited? Um, and just doing some of that soul searching work on our own. I think the more that we could do that kind of humble work, rather than asking other people to do it first if we can lead the way on that, I just, that feels like the way forward.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, well, and it’s never, no one wants to do it because it’s painful, you know. Like, but there’s pain in growth, you know? And sometimes it’s a lot. Sometimes it’s not very much. But, you know, a simple example is going to work out at a gym. Like if you’re gonna grow, you literally have to rip your muscles for them to grow. So the personality and conflicts all kind of, doesn’t seem to be very much different. So, okay, so last question here, uh, ministry is a grind and creative work like can be very, very draining emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, all that kind of stuff. So, you know, we’re putting these two together as creative people in the church. You know, that’s just a pure recipe for absolute burnout. What are a few things, and obviously you have been doing this for a while. Obviously, again, through some pretty, you know, bumpy times over the past year and a half – what are a few things that sort of, like have inspired you or have driven you maybe through the burnout, or maybe circumvented the burnout? What are a few things that keep you going?

Nick Benoit:

Oh man. Again, it’s such a non-exciting response. Uh, again, It’s such a non decided response, but really, really clear boundaries. My calendar looks ridiculous, and it’s not because I’m that busy of a person, but because, if I don’t structure my day, it just gets away from me. And, I put on my calendar the moments where I’m going to sit down and be creative. And then I put on my calendar the moments when I’m gonna have breakfast with someone from the church, and rather than all of those moment sort of blending together and one winning out over the other, I find by actually scheduling those times and protecting them that I can continue to do both in a really healthy way. The other thing is like when I go home, I don’t check email. I don’t. I try, and my kids will be the first to tell you that I’m actually terrible at this, but as much as possible, I try to put my phone on an upper shelf and just ignore it. It is interesting. I was at dinner with friends a couple nights ago, and I was just saying I was feeling some level of conviction over, you know, I, sometimes it feels like I’m a professional Christian, and that we’re constantly available to pastor people. And then I get home and with my neighbors, the people who live around me, the people that my kids go to school with – do I disengage from those conversations because of how heavily I engage in all the other ones? And so I think the question I’m asking right now for myself is where do those boundaries need to kind of shift? Um, and I think with boundaries, they can’t be hard and fast. They have to be a little bit flexible, and you always have to be kind of poking at them a little bit to see if they’re still the right ones. And so I feel like I’m in that phase a little bit. But, um, by drawing clear boundaries, I feel like I’ve been able to protect my heart and my mind a little bit from that burnout. And the other thing, and this is such the Sunday school answer, but the most important time to protect is the time that I have with Jesus cause, like there’s no other well that’s gonna fill me up. Um, if I don’t go to that place on a regular basis, I’m done. None of the rest of it matters. None of the rest of it can work. I just, um, if I have to say no to something so that I can you say yes to time with Jesus, that is the best no that I can say.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, I mean, I feel like even as “professional Christians”, you know, we push that time to the side easily. You know, I have more important things to do than to sit down and read or to sit down and pray or to literally be quiet for five minutes or, you know, whatever it is. It seems like we’re the worst at shoving that to the side for ministry, you know, whatever that means. So, yeah, I mean, that’s beautiful.

Nick Benoit:

Kind of just real quick as a side note, too. The thing that I’ve been trying to make more margin in my schedule for lately is boredom. As a kid, I was bored all the time. I think of summers as a kid, and I had nothing to do, ever. But my mind was constantly going. Like my creativity was constantly spinning new ideas. Like there’s a reason that most of our best ideas come while we’re in the shower. Because our mind is not occupied. It is not being filled with music or a task. We just switch into autopilot, and we start to imagine. And I feel like there is just not enough space right now for boredom. And so I’m trying. I’m trying to schedule more time to zone out. Which feels totally counterproductive. Um, I don’t think we can be creative in a culture that’s constantly entertained.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, totally agree. Well, Nick, this has been amazing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks for all the work that you’re doing at Willow. Um, thanks for all the work you do for, you know, just the kingdom in general, and I really, really appreciate it. I would love to have you back on at some point.

Nick Benoit:

I’d love it. This has been a pleasure.

Justin Price:

Mike. I’m glad that you did that interview. That was, uh, that was super heavy. I’m glad that you had to be the one to field that. How do you respond to processing at the levels that Nick is, you know, you can’t put yourself into that because it’s like you can’t be like, “Yeah, I know how that feels”, really you don’t know the weight of what it even feels like.

Mike Mage:

So, yeah, it was heavy, and, but a really a huge joy to talk with Nick and – Justin, I’d love if maybe you could just give us, you know, one point, especially for you, just listening to it – What’s one or two things that really stuck out for you?

Justin Price:

There was a ton of things to take away from that. You know, when you think about being self-aware enough to be able to healthfully go through something, that’s really powerful and important. On a practical level, as a creative director who’s leading creatives daily, you know, the idea of like getting back to, uh, work. Getting back to the actual creative leadership side of things and not so much problem solving are dealing with a big issue. How do you consistently do that? Uh, and he was talking about balancing the creative and leading the teams came down to those habits and deadlines. And for me, it was just like, what an ah-ha moment that it’s not about like setting up a genius perfection a thing for like, for genius to strike. But it’s literally about creating good habits, and just sticking to it. Just going through that over and over again. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you get the right thing and then setting those deadlines. I love that – habits and deadlines. That is a really good balance for creatives for leading teams.

Mike Mage:

Well, and we’ve talked about it before on a couple of different podcasts, but it’s something that is necessary – these guardrails are necessary for creative people in a creative environment, and having a blank, open, wide canvas to do your job is not actually what’s helpful.

Justin Price:

It’s like a noose, isn’t it? A blank canvas is like a noose.

Mike Mage:

it is a surefire way to never get anything done.

Justin Price:

Yeah.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, I think that’s great. And especially, you know, when you’re going through something difficult when you’re going through something hard, as Nick has gone through over the past couple years in your community and the place that you work, that you’ve invested so much in; having those habits and disciplines, whether it comes to your family, whether it comes to your job, can actually be a huge benefit in those areas for you to lean back on the things that you know work, maybe in an area that feels super uncertain, and is painful.

Justin Price:

And a thought that comes to mind is the idea that you do just sometimes have to trust the process. If you don’t have the process in place right now in whatever team that you’re working on, I would encourage you, It doesn’t have to be the perfect process, and you don’t have to define something that has to stay forever. Just start with some sort of process. Start with something to put in place that you can repeat. When you guys get into a spot where something happens, it’ll throw you off. It doesn’t have to be something catastrophic, like losing the founding pastor of a megachurch. It could just be like a really bad Sunday, and having to recover from that. Get your whole team inspired after that, um, it can be difficult, like there are all sorts of personal difficulties we’re facing. Having a process to go back to in trusting that process is such a foundational thing that if you’re not doing that right now, if you’re a young creative, you’re just kind of bouncing from one task the next, and you don’t have a good process written down – seek out some help with processes. Seek out, read, and dive into building your own processes just by looking at what has worked for you and figure out how you can keep redoing that thing that you have done in the past to make something good, work on, build your own processes. There’s not one way to do this, and I hope that you guys have learned something from this today. I hope this has been helpful. Healthy Church Growth has been helpful. I know Mike said this at the top of this podcast, but if you can subscribe, if you can share, if you can rate on whatever platform that you’re listening to this on that would be so huge in helping us continue do this. It’s the only currency that we have for making this thing work is to say people are downloading it. They’re getting something out of it. They’re rating it well and sharing it with their friends. And we can keep doing this if that happens. So thank you guys for doing that. Thanks for listening. Hopefully, this has been helpful.

Mike Mage:

Yes, thank you so much for listening to Healthy Church Growth. Remember, you can go to healthychurchgrowth.org and download, um, all of our show notes or take a look at them there. There’s a bunch of other content there for you as well. And once again, we really, really appreciate it. Remember that healthy things grow and growth means life

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.

Healthy Church Growth Podcast – Episode 2 – Sean Curran

Why it matters that you do your best, wherever you are, with whatever you have.

We all want what we don’t have. It’s easy, especially as Church creatives, to feel like we’re underutilized or underappreciated. We can feel like we could do more, be more, create more if our circumstances were different. Sean Curran (Passion, Bellarive) has been through an incredible journey these last couple of years. A journey that included him touring with a billboard chart-ranking band, and off the road leading worship in the Children’s Ministry. In this episode, he gets vulnerable about that process and gives practical tips for how you can “steward well what’s in your hand”.

>> Episode 3: Matthew Hartsfield


Transcription:

HCG: Sean Curran

Mike Mage                 

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth Podcast. 

(music intro)

Mike Mage:

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We here at the Healthy Church Growth podcast believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. My name is Mike Mage. I’m one of your hosts here for this podcast. And we have an incredible episode here for you today. And really, you know, I love these episodes. I love these conversations and one of the ways that, like, I feel like I’m really connecting with all of this stuff is through sort of my musical background. And especially with one of our conversations today, I really feel like I can relate to it well, just from a musical side being worship leader at a church, you know, for a while for, you know, 10 to 15 years, being in sort of, the worship ministry aspect. I really feel like I can relate to these conversations that we’re having. What about you guys?

Jason Smithers:                 

Well my name is Jason Smithers. You talked about backgrounds. I just know that just as artists, as creatives,  we’re all just wired in a different way. I have written a book called “Unfinished” just a guide to help creatives dream, complete and repeat their life’s work. And I just have a heart for just trying to help them understand how they’re wired and how they function. Part of my primary responsibilities in my normal everyday life is, at a branding agency as one of the creative producers there. So my goal is to constantly try to figure out what’s the best route for creatives to take and that what gets them excited. And this episode definitely got me excited. 

Justin Price:

My name is Justin Price, and I’m loving this conversation that we’re having. I’m coming from it from a perspective as a creative director. Leading and inspiring creatives is what really gets me excited as a day to day owner of a creative agency and practicing principal creative. I absolutely love taking these conversations and connecting them to the church world, after spending a good chunk of time doing full time ministry and now serving both churches and for profit companies makes this conversation and this podcast of blast.

Mike Mage:                 

So the guest we have on our show today is honestly one of my, like, best friends, Sean Curran. And we wrote together. We traveled together, We sang together. We lead worship together for like almost 10 years or so. And with Sean, one of the best things about him is that his heart is not for the stage, and his heart is not for, you know, this desire to be in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people. His heart is for the kingdom of God and is for singing the songs of the Kingdom of God. And just like you were saying, Justin, I really think that that’s an authentic thing that we hear from him. But it’s also, it’s inspiring, and it’s encouraging. One of the reasons I really wanted to have Sean on was to talk about: what does it look like to write songs for your community? And we didn’t talk about that at all. (laughter) And we ended up talking about was sort of his journey, sort of, out of darkness, almost out of like a place of mourning, a grieving place, and feeling like God is calling him to be obedient to the call in his life to be a worship leader and just kind of seeing where God is pulling him to next. And I mean, I really, I wasn’t expecting it to be as, like, emotional as it was. Justin, were you?

Justin Price:                 

No. You know, I think one of the things that stood out to me was just how raw and honest Sean was in this interview. It was so refreshing to feel like somebody was just gonna be blatantly open about the experiences that they have been through and the journey they’ve been through. And what’s really cool about that is that most of the time, we just don’t get that whole story, and so we kind of, we almost kind of worship a path that seems like we think everybody is taking to get to that top level or that next level even. And I think it was very refreshing to hear Sean be so genuine about where and how he kind of got to this place that a lot of us kind of look at as a big accomplishment. And for him, you know, I think it was humbling to hear that it was really just him doing the same thing he’s always done and will probably still continue to do.

Mike Mage:                 

And one of the things that he does talk about is sort of transitioning from this band that we were in together, Bella Reve, that he was, you know, had a huge part in, obviously and sort of transitioning out of that, letting that almost come to an end when it was really this thing that we all thought was going to be the thing that propelled us into the future. It was Bella Reve or nothing. Bellar Reve 100%. And I know that we have all had things in our life where we feel like this is the thing I’m gonna be doing for the rest of my life. So, Justin or Jason, do you guys have any of those moments in your life where you feel like, ‘Man, I have made it. There’s nothing else better than this.’ Or on the opposite side, like ‘if this were to end, my life would be over.’

Jason Smithers:              

Isn’t that all of our twenties? I mean, every moment spent in your twenties is like that. You know, this is, that I’ve arrived. As you know, life is, you know, is always gonna be on the up and up from here, and then, you know, you have reality hits you or, you know, things change, and you you don’t know how to adjust. I feel like that was all of the twenties. I just felt like, you know, you just don’t know if, I just got really dark on you guys there for a second. (laughter)

Justin Price:

Jason listened to a lot of Depeche Mode in his twenties. Hung around in black sweaters. I can imagine. He still does, I think.

Mike Mage:                

I actually, I loved, I always love talking to Sean. He’s an incredible person, and Justin and I actually had this incredible privilege to just have this incredible, authentic, deep conversation with him. And we really hope that you will enjoy it just as much as we did.

(music intro)

Sean Curran (intro quote)                 

If you grow slow, you grow strong. The only things that grow fast are weeds and lies. And anything worthwhile, it takes time.

Mike Mage:               

So this is, we have with us my good friend, Sean Curran, who I have, in a two year period, I think I spent more time with than my wife, in a van. Yeah, in a van, traveling around the country. And we’ll get to that in a little bit. But, Sean, I, like, the first thing that I really think that we need to tackle, and this isn’t in the notes, and I’m sorry, can you please tell everyone about your yo-yo past. Go.

Sean Curran:                

I mean, there’s no really easy way to say this, but I’m a yo-yo champion. I have a tendency to get really into things. So, this was no different. When I was in middle school, I picked up yo-yo and just fell in love with it. And so I started going to these yo-yo clubs. It was very cool. And that, I mean, I got to the point where I was legitimately competing, like on professional levels. I was sponsored. I had yo-yo’s with my name engraved on them, and I traveled all around the country with my dad just competing in these yo-yo competitions. And, I probably, if I didn’t get into music, I mean, I probably would still be doing that. It’s a very good, like “two truths and a lie” icebreaker thing, because no one, you know, no one thinks that that’s a truth, but it is.

Mike Mage:               

Oh my gosh. Well cool, that’s the end of the podcast. That’s all we really wanted to talk about, Sean. Good talking with you, Sean. Thanks so much. (laughter)

Sean Curran:                

Hope you were encouraged.

Mike Mage:

Real intro here. Give us a little background into who Sean Curran is, you know, how did you get to where you are right now. 

Sean Curran:               

So I really didn’t discover music and how much it would impact me till a little bit later. But there was a defining moment. You know, I was homeschooled, like throughout my middle school years. I was actually, I was out at a park. My mom would take my brother and I to this, what they called “Park Day,” which is very original, but we would go to the park. And this one time I saw this older woman, off a distance with, like, kids all circled around her, and she was basically giving guitar lessons. But I didn’t, I didn’t know what was happening. I was just so enamored with it and so drawn to it. So I kept inching up to her until I was basically sitting in the circle and she was eyeing me. So she, like, she knew I was sneaking up on them, basically right on top of their whole little pow-wow. And so she ended her guitar lessons and she just walked over to me and put a guitar in my hands. And I just, I honestly remember it like it was yesterday, just feeling such at home. And so my mom came over and was looking for me, and I’m just sitting with this weird old lady, and I didn’t know this at the time, but the woman pulled my mom aside and basically told her that she, like, she felt like the Lord was speaking to her to tell my mom that the Lord wanted to do kind of a work in me through through music. And how she was just encouraging my mom to see this through. And they prayed together, like, over my life and all this stuff, and I had no idea about it.  And my mom is like, she is a prayer warrior. And so she kept it really close to her heart. And so this was when I was I don’t even know, 10 or 12 or something, and I did, like, I really fell in love with music. And it became such a huge part of my walk with God and really, how I even learned to pray and talk to God. And so then you fast forward about, you know, my freshman year of college, which is when I’m meeting Mike for the first time. And by then, like, I’ve lead worship a good, good bit. And I grew up in the church. But I had this really defining moment pursuing a certain degree, and I ended up changing my degree because I just felt God calling me to be a worship leader. And so I go home and I’m a little bit nervous, and I end up telling my family I’m gonna change my major because I was pursuing engineering at the time. And my mom just starts crying, and she told me, this is, like over 10 years later, and she proceeded to tell me about how every night when I would go to bed should come in, like, when I was younger and pray over me and and pray for this calling that she felt like God was sprouting up in my life. And when I was gone, she’d pray over my instruments and all this crazy intense stuff. And she told me she’s been waiting for this moment like she’s known for a long time. And it was a powerful thing for me. Oftentimes I think God shows other people before he shows you, and that’s the journey I’ve been on since. But sometimes you just don’t have words for what might actually be happening and whether that lady felt something or not. Somehow, my mom took it upon herself to pray something into existence for me that did happen and the sovereignty of God in that is pretty cool.

Justin Price:                 

I also think that there’s a great story there about waiting for that moment, like man, that would be really interesting to unpack that story from your mom’s side of what it is like to be that faithful for that long, because, I mean, I’m like three weeks and God, it’s not here yet. I’m moving on to the next thing. But your mom’s like that dedicated for that long and just like just to think the sacrifice of time. Like when you think about how busy our lives are to sacrifice the time to like pray over your instruments and to pray over you instead of, like, doing other things around the house or whatever else she could be doing, like to see like this didn’t just happen. You didn’t stumble into it, but that there was a reward and a blessing I think, in some ways, that you’re reaping and your mom’s probably gonna reap that too as she’s led by you. And as she listens to songs you recorded. And I mean, I just think there’s a lot to that. But, man, like as a culture, we don’t wait for anything. And when you said that your mom, like, brokedown and said, ”I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.” I mean that’s a really, clutch story right there. 

Sean Curran:                 

So during that time, Mike and I met each other. Do you remember that, what happened? I feel like I was invited by somebody to come lead at a camp to come play electric guitar at camp. And you were the worship leader. But not all the dots were connected. You didn’t know that I was coming. And I showed up with all my gear and…

Mike Mage:                 

Yeah. Yeah. So this is a great story. Yeah, it was Campus Crusade. And, like, I just knew the worship leader, like, very acquaintance. I mean, like, he knew that I lead worship, and he goes, ‘Well, I’m not gonna be at fall retreat. Do you want to lead worship for that?’ And I was like, ‘OK, sure.’ And then, so I show up. You know, we tried to get a band together. We rehearsed in a storage unit, the classic college thing. All the while, like Sean, I had never met Sean before, like ever. And so, Sean, like, walked up and said, “Hey, uh, my name’s Sean, and I’m supposed to be playing with you. I brought all my guitar stuff.” So, you know, obviously a bunch of red flags, giant alarms going off. But then the coolest thing is, he brought his acoustic too. And that night we sat down and, like, we probably played for two or three hours together. It just, it didn’t get old obvious, I mean, he’s a super great guitar player, like I was like, ‘Okay, well, at least he can play.’ Like, this is great. Well and we had, like, three rehearsals and like…

Sean Curran:               

Yeah, I didn’t go to any of those. I wasn’t a part of any of that. I just showed up.

Mike Mage:               

That’s not an indictment on Sean. At least I don’t think so. 

Justin Price:

You were that good. He was that good.

Justin Price:

So he gets onstage and shreds for the rest of the conference. So you guys hit it off that week. What happened next?

Sean Curran:               

We became friends really quickly that weekend honestly and eventually started getting involved at a church, got really involved and ended up taking on some leadership roles there and started writing music there. And the band that we were in for a long time together was it all was formed out of just serving at church together, writing songs based off of what, it felt like we were coming up against God doing something special. We were just trying to, in many ways, respond to it. Like, how do we add voice for what is happening here through some songs and this band came out of it and it ended up becoming something we really invested our lives in for 5-6 years. I mean, we all moved up to Atlanta together. There was a time for about 2-3 years where we were traveling all that. We were gone when we’re home, you know, like and as it was slowing down, I was just home more which was weird, you know, it was a new thing. So we were home more and we started going to church, and that’s when I started getting involved at Passion.

Justin Price:                

So what I thought was interesting about that is you guys went from a band that formed out of a  church, but to a band that was on tour and writing and selling records and then now both being back leading, worship at churches. Could you speak to like how, it’s not a step up.

Sean Curran:               

One of the most beautiful things about it is that it helps to add for us at least, it really added some depth and some width to your understanding of God and how he moves in certain settings and a practice in the sensitivity of how that can actually look instead of it, only looking like the way that your current community demonstrates the hand in the movement of God and because there is a purity, there’s a pure layer of God’s movement that kind of supersedes all of our constructs of it, and sometimes we can get caught in our boxes and, how do I lead inside of this? How do I see these people? How can I leave these people that I don’t know And they know nothing about me? But I can tell that their environment is very different than the one that I’m comfortable in. Those were all like, really beautiful, insightful ways, maybe growing. And but then the other, the other side of it was, you’re a little bit nomadic. You know, so much of God’s heart beat is in the local church and deep roots. And we went through a season where we didn’t have that, and it just wasn’t beneficial for us. We had nothing to come home to. And then when we left, we weren’t sent out by anything. It became lopsided in a way that left us without stable ground. I would say that it is this. It is a beautiful city to be able to worship with all sorts of different people. But you’re not missing out on anything by stewarding what God is putting in your hands being able to lead people weekly that know you that you’re building something together, that you’re responding is something God’s doing. The most powerful songs, even come from that life.

Mike Mage:                

Like, I think that, like everything that Sean said about being on tour and traveling, I mean, like, it is exactly right. Like when we were coming from Orlando, you know, and I was living in Tampa, but the church that was working, that was very much a generous church. And being like, we believe that you are building the kingdom. And so when you leave, I mean, like we were we were gone in 2013 for, like, eight months or something out of that year, which is crazy. And, you know, and then you come home, you are planted in something, and then when we made the choice to move to Atlanta, it wasn’t a bad thing, you know, like, that was a good thing for the band. You know, we thought that, like, logistically, it would make a lot of sense for us so that we could get home and see our family more. But we just It was like we cut off our roots and we decided to replant somewhere, and I think we lied to ourselves and said like, this isn’t gonna take a very long time. We were naive. You know, when I think a lot of people, a lot of worship leaders, you know, they see this like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you get to play on really big stages. You get to play in front of a bunch of different people.’ And, like, I know that a lot of people would straight up just say that’s super shallow. Like I never think about that. But people do and like that’s fine. You know, I think that’s completely natural. You get to travel to all these cool places and, like we did get to travel. I mean, we got to go to Europe and, you know, I mean, we got to go see; Sean, I don’t know if  you remember, we got to go see, like, the coolest thing to me that I remember is when we’re in Seattle for Creation Fest. Do you remember this? And we got to go to Mt. Rainier. Where in like, yeah, if you were leading at your local church, you know, you wouldn’t be probably be able to see that, but like people also don’t also see, like, the 13 hours we spent in the airport or…

Sean Curran:                

Yeah, that very day we had a 13 minute set to lead worship and what, we’re trying to usher people into deep water, and they’re just out there eating churros and corndogs. (laughter)

Mike Mage:              

At three o’clock in the afternoon, at like siesta hour. (laughter)

Sean Curran:                 

You can take a beating.

Mike Mage:                

The ability to have a church, a local church, and like, Jesus was not flippit that the local church is the hope of the world. That’s the way that it is for a reason. I mean, Sean, I don’t know if you agree with this, but I know for me, like it messed me up a little bit, like in a way that I wasn’t expecting.

Sean Curran:                

Yeah, I mean, a lot of it looking back on it, I don’t regret what, like all that we did. But so much of it was exploring, and so much if it was, we were just kids that, you know, we’re trying to figure out what it felt like God was calling us to do. You learn your limits in ways. You learn healthy balances, you know, but oftentimes it’s in hindsight.

Justin Price:               

I could definitely see how the experience prepared you really well for jumping into a congregation like Passion. Do you feel like you could share any any insights to what it was like to transition back from the band life into serving at the local church, and I don’t know any interesting stories or anything about what it was like jumping on stage there.

Sean Curran:                 

Well, I definitely was so ready to serve church again. You know, I think where I was coming from, I mean, I was desperate to be connected to some local expression of God again. So for me, when I felt like I was able to be trustworthy with, like mostly with my time, I told them, ‘Hey, you know, I’m here and you can count on me to be at rehearsal or to be a, you know, on any given Sunday, and I would just love to serve.’ And I mean, a lot of what we were doing on the road was a lot of like, pouring out, and we didn’t have the “refilling” thing a lot. So it was so cool to just serve. And so being able to just step into a place, serve, try to appreciate people because I’m so appreciative of just having the opportunity to do that with people I’m beginning to love and like, care about in a community that is inviting me in was really, really healing for us.

Mike Mage:              

So, you know, Bella Reve sort of closes and then, you know, you just say, ‘Like, I just want to serve at the church,’ like at, and you just happened to go to Passion City and you go from basically just like asking to be in on the worship team, to like writing and leading, like the lead single at the Passion Conference. How much of that is sort of God just influencing your steps? How much of that is, because I know you. Like I know you didn’t force your way into that. But can you just maybe even like give us the story behind you getting to lead “Worthy of Your Name?” Because I remember us talking about that and like it just out of nowhere kind of thing.

Sean Curran:           

I think that perception plays like a big role in these types of scenarios, because just the idea that if you grow slow, you grow strong, that that is always the case. Like the only things that grow fast are weeds and lies, and they just, anything worthwhile, it takes time. And with the Belle Reve days even, I mean, we weren’t striving for any of those notable deals, but we were so careful of even what some might consider the smallest task, like putting together a set list. If you’re just trying to steward well what’s in your hands, you don’t necessarily know what’s around the corner. And I think in our case, we didn’t even, it’s not we didn’t care, but we didn’t mind what was around the corner. We were just, ‘How can we write this song the best of our ability? What’s it gonna take? We don’t know anything about song writing. Well, let’s just try.’ We spend hours and hours, you know, same was trying to record music, and we’re trying to lead worship and all that time added up is stuff that most people don’t know or see, you know. But at church, I I mean, I said, “I’m around and I want to be around. If there’s anything you need cause I can wear a couple different hats if you need a guitar player, keys player, worship leader.” And just the trust that began to grow out of me serving with what was in my hands led to things I didn’t really, I mean, I lead most as just a worship leader for the Kid’s ministry for a long time. And honestly, leading worship for kids is crazy hard. (laughter) Like I have led, I’ve led for rooms, you know, so 10,000 people. Like I was comfortable with doing that type of stuff. (laughter) And then I go try and lead for kids. They’re ruthless, brutal. They, you know, if they don’t want to play that song, they just say it. “We don’t want that one.” And, but the story looking backwards is just laced with faithfulness and trust. And so I’m leading worship for the kid’s ministry. Then, I’m leading with the Student Ministry, and the same type of thing. Just sewing these seeds of relationship and trust. And this is long before I’m doing anything, you know, I guess in like, “big church.” I mean.

Justin Price:               

How long was it that you did the kids ministry, and the students?

Sean Curran:                 

I don’t know. Like six months, seven months, maybe longer. I don’t know. 

Justin Price:                 

Were there Sundays where you were like, ‘This is not what I meant when I said I’m around.’ Were you doing track stuff or live? Was it even musically fulfilling?

Sean Curran:                 

I had never lead worship for kids before. And I think there were times when you’re trying to figure out the right balance of, like, ‘How do I serve, but also marry that with what I feel called to do.’ And that’s a really tricky thing. But yeah, just sifting through, you know, God is writing a story, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. So let me just lead it to the best of my ability. And then all of a sudden, I lead worship on a Sunday morning for the first time and and then and then I lead a song that I had written and in like, a worship team night, which was just like an acoustic worship set for our worship team, and it really landed well and, but because of the trust that had built, they had the freedom just kind of do whatever I wanted that night. And so I picked that song. And so, over the course of about a year, this song “Worthy of Your Name” you know, in many ways had become, you know, an anthem of sorts within our community. And I was in many ways connected to that and had built enough of a relationship with our people, like even in a pastoral worship leader sense, that it turned into something that we wanted as a church to take to conference, which was I guess how I was up there leading that song. (laughter) But I found out, like, three days before a conference. It was just like, ‘Hey, we want you to do this.’ Okay. Here we go. 

Mike Mage:                 

Well, I think it’s so cool. Like it speaks. It speaks to the way that things should be done, you know, like not that part. 

Sean Curran:

That was scary. (laughter) 

Mike Mage:

No, no, not a last minute decision. Not just that last party said no. Everything else. Like when you said that you wanted to be a part of the worship ministry, you wanted to be a part of the worship ministry. And like, whatever whatever it takes, you know, like that’s that’s really what I want. Like sure, I don’t like love, I mean, I know people who like, actually love leading worship for children.

Sean Curran:                

It was awesome. It’s just, it’s hard to learn the hand motions. (laughter)

Mike Mage:               

You know, when you’re playing piano. Yeah, when you’re playing piano and doing the hand motions. That’s a little difficult. That’s the humility that God asked us for when to be obedient, to serve like no matter what this looks like, you are going to do what I have created you to do in some way, shape or form and that’s where you know that’s where we live our best life.

Justin Price:                

The hard part I think for some people to hear especially if they don’t know you, Sean, is the idea that, like you’re like, all of this is just happening by chance. There’s no, like, deep strategy to be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write a single for the next Passion album.” And, like, how do you convince people that this is something that’s authentic and organic and not strategically planned? I mean, because seriously, like if you’ve been leading worship for 10 years like, you know, that’s a big deal. To have a single on one of the larger platforms for global church, and then to also to be invited to lead and even be serving on that stage. It’s cool how you talked about the need like the trust building going into that. But I would love any insights to like the fear or even the insecurity is maybe the better question. Like, like, how did that feel being asked to be put in that position? Or by that point, when you’re just like, ‘Well, I’m the kids worship guy? I’m the student worship guy and they asked me to sing a song, I’ll go up and sing a song and then I’ll go back to kids.’  Talk to us a little bit about what that was like as well.

Sean Curran:                

Well, I thought you said you said something up at the top that I was struck by because it was just something about, like, strategy and, you know, success basically, and it’s like, yeah, I’m trying to. This is a lifestyle, you know. But it is a career too. This is a way of life that I’ve chosen and I need to provide. I need to do all these things. Ao there’s a business side of that and I don’t try to act like that doesn’t exist. But even if you pursue that full force, it doesn’t, if that’s the forefront of your decision making, nothing about that 100% equates to success. Like I’ve done all that. I mean, I signed record deals. I mean, Mike and I were in the same boat where we work so tirelessly to check every box that a label tells us to check because that means that this is gonna work. And if we edit this verse and do this thing than that single is gonna be a radio hit and that’s not a knock on labels or anything, they’re literally doing their job. But I’ve been in the scenario where your thought process is steered almost solely by “this needs to work. And so I’m gonna do it that way. And, you know, by a paycheck,” I guess, and by the world’s standards, it didn’t work like that. We didn’t. We didn’t have a huge radio hit. We didn’t become the biggest commercially successful trendy worship band ever, like they wanted we like. Well, none of that worked, so I’m not. I guess that was just a point to say, like it, you can, you can make your decisions based of all off of all those things and it’s not gonna be the deciding factor, you know. So in this scenario, I truly especially at that time, I didn’t have the capacity to strategize because I was still mourning the loss of, I mean, my whole world was Bella Reve, even many ways, you know, it was for all of us. So I had a hard time separating my identity from that. Like you dive into it and it’s a little bit small minded, I guess. But emotionally you dive into it and you don’t see it as the expression of your giftings or you’re calling. You see it as your calling. So then, when it gets taken away from you, its like in a sense, what do I even have left? That was my thing. That was me. That was my thing. That’s what I do. And, I was, it’s been about eight months unstitching that idea from my psyche to a much deeper, more beautiful idea, which is like that was merely an expression of what God does, and that was a beautiful expression. But it’s merely a part of the larger story. And I’m still sifting through all of that. When I get asked to lead a Passion conference, you know, not, you know, it was so it’s just I feel, I feel extremely humble in the sense that I’m still in many ways trying to put my pieces back together. And God is operating on this much deeper plain, stitching me back together in ways that I didn’t even see in the time, and sorry, it’s just emotional to think about that.

Justin Price:            

I think that was the missing piece of the story as you’re telling, it was not. I don’t think it was incredibly clear how God was doing His thing out of the brokenness that you were like working through repair on. You know, one of your largest impacts has come out of a very healthy piece of growth, which was kind of breaking down and then rebuilding and a very humble approach, you know, coming up from Kid’s Ministry and students onto a larger platform. And so is there anything that you would say to somebody who’s looking at that from the outside in as far as  how to take a healthy approach to growth because it doesn’t, it’s not healthy to just jump right on a big stage.

Sean Curran:                

Oh man. Yeah. You know the idea, especially in an industry right now, that’s is, it’s so big. We have worship music as a genre now. We have churches that are the largest they’ve ever been with huge stages and so many lights. And, so the prayer is to pursue the gift giver more than you pursue your gifts. That would be the encouragement. That would be the prayer. That would be the thing to, that, that is the difference, I think, as Christians. And what is the thing that separates us from the rest of the world and the giftings that we carry if we’re not somehow trying to give them back to the giver, you know, if you can find your delight in God, it’s His job to awaken pieces of heaven in you, and He’s good at it because it’s that’s actually all He wants to do. So that fine line between striving and Holy ambition, you know. One thing leads to nothing but deeper bondage. The other thing leads to freedom.

Sean Curran:               

I remember you stressing that the good things take a long time to grow, so to be healthy, you know, to be on a path of self awareness to, of self, you know, to understand your identity, not just as a child of God, because that’s a lifelong thing. But also to understand how God put you together. How God wired you and the fruit from that, I mean, it takes a long time. Takes a long time to be healthy. And, you know, you can sometimes confuse the weeds for flowers, and  there are still weeds. (laughter)

Sean Curran:              

They do damage.

Mike Mage:                

Yes, they do. Awesome. Well, Sean, thank you so much for being a part of this. Being our inaugural first guest. It’s been an incredible conversation. So maybe we’ll have to do part two then. How’s that sound?

Sean Curran:                 

I would love it.

Mike Mage:              

Awesome. Cool. Alright man.

(music)

Justin Price:                

What an incredible interview. I guarantee you we will be talking to Sean again. One thing we didn’t catch in the interview was where to find him.

Mike Mage:                

Yeah, we, we actually ran out of time. Just cause the interview was so good. But you can catch Sean on, he’s on Instagram, which is just @SeanCurran. And then, really, you know, look him up on Apple Music. ITunes, Spotify. Search for Sean Curran. You can find him on the newest Passion stuff as well, leading and writing and also on YouTube. Just search Sean Curran for the latest music. And you’re gonna love that, because, I mean, I’ve shown it to everyone that I know, and they all love it too. And another thing, if you loved this episode, if you like this podcast and you want to hear more of it, we would absolutely love if you could share it with your team at church, with your friends on social media. And if you don’t want to do that, just simply leave us a review on your podcast app or wherever you download or get your podcasts. It would mean so much to us and would really help us move these things forward.

Jason Smithers:                

Next week, we’re gonna be talking about the tension between lead pastors and their creative staff. I know there’s a lot of questions on how to maneuver that, you know, how do you step into the difficult conversations when you have to either confront your lead pastor? Or maybe you’re the lead pastor that has to confront your creative staff. How do you get on the same page? So we’re gonna be talking to Matthew Hartsfield about his strategies for communicating with his creative team.

(music)

Welcome to The Healthy Church Growth Podcast!

If healthy things grow, then what does that mean for your life, for your church, and for your ministry?

Many of us conducted Worship Services in an empty room this weekend and will spend the beginning of this week discussing exactly how many live events we will have to cancel. The concept of creativity and connection in a church context has never felt more daunting or complicated.  

We didn’t plan on releasing this project in the middle of all this, but it is clear that sticking together has never been more important and, fundamentally, that is what this project is all about.

At Healthy Church Growth, we are coaches, helping church creatives find their unique God-given voice in the Arts. We’ve sat in your seats. We serve on Sundays. We’ve all come from years of experience in the local church world and we know the day-to-day struggles of wearing multiple hats, leading a body of artists, and all while trying to keep your family life healthy.

Our prayer is that this podcast and this community will help you feel less alone as together we ask the question:

“If healthy things grow, then what does that mean for your life, for your church, and for your ministry?”

>> Episode 2: Sean Curran


Transcription:

Mike Mage:               

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. (music intro)

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We are so glad that you are here for our introductory podcast. And you know, this is a podcast that was not even going to be recorded. 

My name is Mike Mage. I’m one of the hosts here, and we here at the Healthy Church Growth podcast believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. Some of the reasons we’re recording these podcasts is to help equip you, the church, or the church creative department, somebody who’s working in any creative ministry, with healthy growth strategies, from personal ministry experience, from conversations about that and also commercial expertise. Like I said, my name’s Mike and I am actually, my primary job is I am a Worship Director at a church in Tampa, or the Tampa area called Bay Hope Church. And, I actually was led to Bay Hope Church about five years ago, after I was in a touring band, a worship band called Bella Reeve. I played guitar, I sang, I did a bunch of stuff on the computer, but actually had a really good opportunity to travel to a bunch of different churches, not just around the country but around the globe, and see what is working in different communities. See what’s working in different expressions of faith. And, I brought all that experience into Bay Hope Church getting hired here about five years ago and really just on fire to see a healthy culture, a healthy growing culture, and feeling that’s really one of the best ways that we can connect people to a life changing relationship with Jesus. 

Justin Price:

Hey guys, I’m Justin Price. I am currently working as a principle. The founder of Vers Creative. Vers was started about five years ago when I was working at a church internally as a Creative Director. The church had grown, almost doubled in a couple of years, and that had been now the third church I had worked at in a row that had seen this kind of massive growth, with a rebrand with a re-situation of marketing and communications, with a restructuring of a creative department, and quickly quickly realized that God was calling me to be able to serve multiple churches as well as be able to serve nonprofits, tech startups, a lot of different industries that all would continue to pour into and serve nonprofits and churches in a way that I just wouldn’t have the knowledge of expertise to if I had stayed in that bubble of an internal position. So I started hiring my friends, and, then I got smart enough to hire people that were even better than just my couple friends that I had, and here today, we’ve got sixteen people at Vers. Five years later, that number is growing rapidly with another probably twice as many of that being contractors that work alongside of the staff. So that’s Vers. 

You know, the big thing that  we have kind of taken that approach to in creative is that things need to have a strategy. And the reality is most organizations are wasting money or losing money on their marketing in their communications. Or they’re just missing out on an opportunity to grow because they don’t have a strategy. And so for the last five years, we have been kind of refining and defining some proven processes that we now have got some good case studies under our belts on and started combining that with award winning creatives to produce and really are helping and are very, very passionate about helping organizations and leaders and specifically churches reach their fullest potential. 

Mike, you know, let’s talk a little bit about why this podcast never happened. Almost didn’t happen.

Mike Mage:

Well, I’m trying to…we were just talking, and it’s been a little over two years since you and I, like, actually first started talking about it. Which is insane, makes me feel really weird. But it’s been a little over two years since our original conversation. And, you know, after you know the first couple months of really dialoguing about it and then trying to jump in, we realized that doing a podcast is a lot harder than it actually seems. You don’t just hit record and put it up on the Internet. That’s not what happens. And so I’m sure, like most of you listening, you know, you start a project that you think is easy and is going to be highly impactful, and it does what I would imagine over 90% of those projects do, and just doesn’t happen. Never makes it out of the beginning phases. And that’s what happened a couple of times for us. We had some interviews, had some conversations together and just for whatever reason, was never able to get off the ground.

Justin Price:

I know I thought for sure that we had to put our first step forward, which was like putting together an entire program that people who came and found the podcast could then go on and do, have like, some sort of like online instructional course work, because I felt not that we would charge for it, but I just felt like we needed to put more legs to this thing for it to be legitimate. And so we started going about doing that, tested it and it sucked. So that’s why we stopped. Mike, you’re confused as to why I think it was just because, you know, it wasn’t good.

Mike Mage:

Maybe I just like lying to myself.

Justin Price:   

Well you didn’t have any issues with that. Like that was me. But the one thing that was good were the conversations, one thing that was good and was incredibly authentic was our hearts to help the church. To have these conversations around how we can inspire, how he can help the global church grow in a healthy way, which, honestly, man, what an amazing task to even think that we could potentially participate in that. That’s a little bit overwhelming to even to consider that God will allow us to be doing that. It’s pretty humbling. But I think not that we expect that we’re going to change the church. We do hope that for those guys who are out there who maybe don’t have a mentor or are trying to figure this out the way we were trying to figure it out ten, fifteen years ago, trying to see things in the church that we knew maybe weren’t right and not knowing that it was okay to challenge them, maybe not knowing that they could be better. And just like, you know, going through the motions, the things that we’ve taken away from that are worth sharing with anybody who is maybe even been in the field for a long time and has been doing this wrong time and probably knows a lot of this stuff, but it’s just, I hope that would be edifying for them to just feel confirmed, like, oh, man there’s somebody else out here who is thinking this way and who sees this. 

So I know there’s one more, like little nugget here that I thought might be worth putting in the intro, which would be, at Vers, you know, we are kind of challenging the status quo; the traditional agency model, which is charge a lot of money, hire really talented people and have a great process, and then, based on the fact that you do great work, you go and sell that work to people. We’re kind of like, turning that on its side a little bit and saying we’re gonna have a great process that always kind of runs back to a strategy. We’re gonna always be running everything through this filter of like, is it actually getting results? Do we have a purpose? Do we have results we’re trying to aim at and get at and everything we do, if we’re charging somebody for it, it is not designed just to because it’s creative. It’s not designed to just be cool. It’s not there in place or because it’s something we like to do. It is because we can justify it somehow in a strategy and how it will help move that organization to reaching their fullest potential. And I think if we could start to think, you know, for this podcast, we hope that you’ll be able to take things out of the podcast, that you can go and apply to your church to help your church get results that they’re trying to get. And we know when we were talking about what could this podcast be focused in on, and how could it be different than all the other church podcasts that are out there and all the other resources and leadership things and creative things that are out there, the result we talked about was every church wants to grow. Whether it’s deeper or wider, they want movement, they need to have something. That’s a very universal thing. But the notion of growth for growth’s sake is incredibly dangerous, and it’s really, really, it’s actually something I think we’ve seen a lot of negativity around. I think culture change and hypergrowth states, and a lot of things could get out of hand. I think we see a lot of leadership failures with major major growth curves. And so we said if we could help churches across the world grow, that would be great, but it wouldn’t really hit it. But what would be amazing is if it could, if we could help them grow in a healthy way. In a sustainable way. And that means making decisions that are wise sometimes being a little bit slower, sometimes being more strategic and in making the right move, not just moving for moving sake, for growth sake, but growth for health’s sake. And hoping that we’re going to make a more of an impact in the Kingdom of God based on what our church is doing. That’s the kind of growth that when we talk about going deeper. So this isn’t just about how to fill your pews or, no one even has pews anymore, but I like the term.

Mike Mage:     

We do. We’re getting rid of them but we have them, for now.    

Justin Price:

For six more months, Bay Hope has pews. If anybody is looking for some pews.               

Mike Mage:

Yeah, just to piggyback a little bit off of that too, we hope that through these conversations, yes, you’ll gain these strategies but also begin to understand that healthy church growth does not happen just based on the strategies as well. Yeah, Justin, I think the dangerous growth strategies that you’re talking about, the growth for growth’s sake, that really cuts out the human element to all this stuff. And it reduces people to just numbers as opposed to really, you know, treating people as people, treating humans as humans. And that is where the sustainable growth comes from. And so even in these conversations that were having with, you know, thought leaders and industry leaders, really, it’s just conversations between friends. And we hope that you understand that these are just humans figuring this all out with you. You know, that’s where the sustainable part comes in. It’s not, they’re not some superhuman, Justin and I are not super humans because we have a podcast or have this all figured out. We don’t. We are trying to figure out what healthy church growth looks like, and still really honor people for being people.

Justin Price:

The fact that we have a podcast, that we’re hosting a podcast called Healthy Church Growth does not mean that we understand and we know everything about what it means to have healthy church growth. This podcast is a pursuit of figuring out and finding out in understanding in our culture that is changing every single day, what it really means to grow your church in a healthy way, in the way that God’s calling you to be doing it. And so it’s encouragement. It’s stories of failures and it’s stories of success that you can be inspired by with some things you can apply and some things you can’t apply. And some of it is just  heart. And some of it is just excitement around, helping you pursue what it means for you to help make your church healthier and to hopefully find growth. Whether that’s deeper or wider growth for your church, because you guys are getting healthier. And so that’s what this podcast is all about. I love, I love notating that, and I think if anything, we should say this every single podcast is that we don’t have it figured out. We don’t know. This is not an answer. This is not a solution to how to make a healthy church and how to make a healthy church that grows. This is the pursuit of searching after that and helping you in your own unique way in your congregation figure that out and pursue that. I think that is gonna be a blast to do with you, Mike. That’s gonna be really fun, and I cannot wait. You’re gonna be able to hear these about every other week. We’re committed to doing this this year. We’re committed to releasing these and so about every other week, a couple times a month, you should be able to get a new podcast with a great story. Sometimes it’s gonna be Mike and I, sometimes gonna be with a guest. Sometimes…those are the two main options, Mike. (laughter) I like three’s, but where there is only two, two variances right now. 

Mike Mage:

I was gonna say, man, keep it coming. What else we got?

Justin Price:

I can’t wait to hear what we’re gonna do.

Mike Mage:

You said this is the pursuit. So, it’s fine. We’ll figure that out as we’re going.

Justin Price:

Hey, that’s the third thing. And then there’s something that we haven’t even figured out yet for this podcast that’s gonna happen.

Mike Mage:

Yeah, just to complete the three. Well, yeah, Justin, I am so, so excited to be kicking this off with you, and really with everybody else who is joining in with us really on this journey. Let’s figure out together what healthy church growth looks like. Not just, for the people who feel successful in it, but for every single unique community that there is, let’s figure it out together.

Justin Price:

That’s awesome. Well, hey, this is Justin. I’m signing out.

Mike Mage:

Awesome. Make sure to rate, subscribe, share. Thanks so much for listening to this first Healthy Church Growth podcast where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.

(If you like this podcast and want to hear more, we would absolutely love if you could share this on social media, with the creative team at church, or to simply leave us a review in your podcast app or wherever you download your podcasts. It would mean the world to us.)