Jason Hamrock: [00:00:08] Well, Lauren, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:00:11] I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me.
Jason Hamrock: [00:00:14] Oh, glad to have you. I’m really excited about our conversation today because, at Liquid Church, you guys are doing some really cool things. But before we dive into some of the content we want to talk about today, let our listeners know a little bit about you and the role you’re playing, and how you got to where you are.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:00:29] Sure, I’d love to. So my title is Digital Director at Liquid Church, we’re in New Jersey in the suburbs of Manhattan. But that’s actually a new title for me, I’ve only held it for a year, prior, I was the Communications Director for seven years, and this is my first gig in ministry. I was in the marketplace, actually, I was a journalist, so I was one of those local TV news reporters who hops around from market to market to market. When people say, what exactly did you do? I say can you picture those people who are standing outside in the snowstorm, that was me. And then I transitioned into public relations here in New Jersey, so, you know, representing authors and thought leaders and promoting various products, and Liquid was my church. And then you have one of those dinners with your campus pastor, and suddenly they’re telling you about a job opportunity, and you’re just like, okay, why not? And it happened so fast, it was like, holy whiplash, like, what is God doing here? And suddenly you’re in ministry, and it has been an incredible ride, really.
Jason Hamrock: [00:01:32] Okay, let’s go there because I want to camp out there. So you’re in the marketplace doing what God gifted you and he gave you talents, now you’re doing that in the church world. What’s the difference?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:01:43] Oh, man, you know, initially there were some, well, there are so many differences, honestly. At first, there were some differences in the way the organization operates, right? There’s a little less formality, sometimes there’s a little like, there was a little too much fluidity when I first came in. And I’m like, you mean the meeting doesn’t start exactly at 11? We’re all just kind of going to wander in. Silly things like that that were different. Or they’re like, you can wear jeans and flip-flops. I’m like, I don’t know, I think I have to wear a suit because that’s what I’ve done for the last decade. But the most life-changing aspect of it, just from a personal perspective, has been the beautiful amount of trust and flexibility and care for me as a human being, and saying, hey, family is your first ministry. So as I’ve been at Liquid, I’ve become a mother and I now have three children. And listen, life looks different for me now, and they have celebrated me and worked with me every step of the way. That just wasn’t in the marketplace, it was like tough to be able to go see the doctor in the middle of the day. They’re like, well, what do you mean you have to have a doctor’s appointment, you know? So I’m just so grateful.
Jason Hamrock: [00:02:57] Oh, wow.
Bart Blair: [00:02:57] You have a brand new baby, pretty new. yes?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:03:01] I do, yes, yes. So I have a daughter who’s seven months, I have a son who’s five years old and another son who’s three years old, so they keep me very busy.
Bart Blair: [00:03:11] Okay. Well, the first time I reached out to have you and Tim on the show, we were kind of looking at the schedule, and I got this. Yeah, no, Lauren’s going to be out, like, expanding her family, so you weren’t able to be on the show. And we should mention that, by the way, Lauren, this is not the first time she’s been on the podcast. We had her and her senior pastor, Tim Lucas, on the show actually just a few months ago talking about their podcast, The Church Changer Podcast, and we’ll link to that in our show notes. But I just thought I’d mention that. So anyway, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt the train of thought here, but I just thought it brought back the memories of trying to reach out to you when you were on maternity leave.
Jason Hamrock: [00:03:49] Well, let’s jump back, so you stepped into the role at Liquid and you’re running the team. Tell me about how you guys are helping to fulfill the mission. What’s that look like? I mean, you’re on a, probably, a steep learning curve about what church communications and what that all means and how that all entails and helping the mission. But how are you guys wired to be able to help achieve the goals of the church?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:04:15] Yeah. So our mission and vision at Liquid is to saturate the state of New Jersey with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And part of that, the strategy behind that was like, hey, we believe new campuses create new Christians. So we had a campus expansion strategy, and we do have seven locations. But as you can imagine, the new reality of the world that we’re living in and COVID kind of shifted that. And we’re like, oh, you know what, now digital is a huge part of achieving that mission. It doesn’t have to be physical buildings all across New Jersey, we can actually reach people on this new mission field. So it kind of opened our eyes to something that really the marketplace was already doing, we were all doing in our own lives anyway. And so that’s one of the things that I think is a huge focus for us right now organizationally. What we’d see it as, initially, it felt like a problem to solve, and now it just feels like an opportunity to embrace.
Jason Hamrock: [00:05:13] Hmm, that’s a great thought, I love that. So one more thing about your comms, I’m curious about this because you’re a leader, and you’ve come from the marketplace, so it’s not like you’re a newbie off the street. You step into the church world, the marketplace for the church world working-wise, what’s been some of your biggest challenges?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:05:36] Well, I think something that anybody could relate to is resourcing, right? You might come from you’re like, oh, I came from the marketplace and I had this huge team and maybe now, like when I first stepped into Liquid, it’s I’m a team of one. And so how am I going to accomplish everything, or how am I going to prioritize or organize my time? And I do think prioritization continues to be a challenge because there are so many things you could do, and you have to identify the best things to do, right? The best things to do with your time, with your money, with your volunteers, etc.., and so I think that continues to be a challenge, whereas, in the marketplace, you just had that additional resourcing to be able to say, all right, I’m going to delegate these tasks over here, we’re going to have the digital team do it over here, right, my social media team is over there, and we’re all going to divide and conquer. And now things are more concentrated, I think, in ministry, which I really think no matter what area you work in, you would relate to that.
Jason Hamrock: [00:06:36] Yeah, your budget doesn’t have extra commas in it, like you would in the marketplace, let’s put it that way, right? So you’ve got to be more creative. So talk to us a little bit about 2023, what’s your initiative? Because you mentioned this earlier, and I’m really intrigued. I’d love for you to share what the goals are.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:06:53] Yeah. So the organizational goal that I’m leading for 2023 for our church is around digital expansion, and we want to create a robust, unified digital platform in 2023, which means we are relaunching our website, we’re relaunching our app, and we’re creating a TV app. And we want them all to be unified, and what that means is, essentially, there’s a logged-in experience where the platforms know who you are as you move from one experience to the other, and they can be connected in a way that is personalized beyond anything we’ve done before. So this is an example I like to use of the potential of this, imagine your child is using the TV app, they’re watching a kid’s video on the TV app, and after they complete the video on your Liquid app, you get a notification that tells you, hey, your child just finished watching this video, here are three questions that you can ask them to discuss it with them.
Jason Hamrock: [00:07:50] Oh, wow.
[00:07:51] And everything’s integrated for this new level of engagement that I really think is part of the future in discipling our people.
Jason Hamrock: [00:07:59] Oh, not only your people internally, but then externally, right? That’s the main mission to go after people and help people connect with who Jesus is and lead their families. Oh, that gets exciting. So that’s a pretty big tall order.
Bart Blair: [00:08:12] I’m going to go on a limb and expect that the budget for this has some extra commas in it. Right?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:08:19] It does.
Bart Blair: [00:08:19] Okay, all right, just checking.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:08:21] Oh, so here’s a gift to make this realistic, is there alignment in our organization among the senior leadership that this is something we are going after? They all see the opportunity, and the truth is you couldn’t do something like this without that. So I feel really blessed that we’re all on the same page, and we’re all really excited about that. I mean, even the, you know, we have a pastor of campuses who leads our physical locations. She is pumped up about this because she doesn’t see it as, it’s not in conflict, it’s not in competition, this is also shepherding and discipling those people in our physical building. So it’s not like there are two lanes, there’s not an online lane and a physical lane, this is just we’re going after people and how do we operate as people? We’re in both spaces, we go to physical events, we’re in the digital sphere, and so we want to reach people and disciple people no matter where they are. So we’re all aligned, and that’s why we actually do have budgets set aside for that this year, that’s how we’re able to pursue this.
Jason Hamrock: [00:09:25] Yeah, it can be pretty frustrating for those who are wanting and they’re dreaming and they’re wondering what could be, but they don’t have buy-in from the top leadership. So that’s got to be, obviously, that’s a tall order. And you can’t neglect your other responsibilities because Sunday is coming again. So talk about how you balance. You’re a busy person, how do you balance that and also maintain your family with three kids, and how does that look for you? How do you do that?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:09:55] Right. So we have established a new team, right? So like I said, the title that I have is digital director, a brand new role we created, it’s only a year old. And as I stepped out of the communications director role, that department is still under me, but we have a new person in that position, so we have a two-man team. So they’re still leading those day-to-day communications, and so there are no gaps there, which is tremendous. Right? And then we created this new digital products team. We moved some of our tech gurus out of the IT space and said, hey, you’re going to be focused on digital products, websites, apps, and our church management system, Rock RMS, which we migrated to, so we can do all of that personalization we’re dreaming about. And then I’m overseeing church online, and I’m going to take the opportunity for a shameless plug. We’re looking for a church online pastor, which is like the first time we’ve done that. In the past, it was like, let’s do church online in the margins. And now it’s like, no, let’s devote energy and resources toward it. So a shameless plug for anybody out there who’s watching.
Jason Hamrock: [00:11:04] Wow.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:11:05] So it’s a team dynamic which really does help us to be able to push forward, and for me to focus on what I need to focus on.
Jason Hamrock: [00:11:12] Yeah, I was just going to ask, I mean, I know you may not want to get into all the details, but you mentioned using Rock. So it’s probably a matter of looking out at the different platforms that are available instead of going, let’s just create this on our own, which would be, some churches choose to do that. I don’t know why, but they do. So it sounds like you guys are going to try to look for other resources to kind of pull this all together.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:11:36] Yeah, absolutely, we are. So we transitioned over to Rock RMS about a year ago with the idea being of all the potential that it has. So there are other church management platforms that are wonderful out there, I’m not going to knock anybody, but some of them have limitations with what you can do. And so Rock is something that’s always evolving and growing, and honestly, some of the churches that we admire most and we’re always looking at that’s what they’re using. So it’s like, whoa, that’s what they’re using. How are they using that? We’d like to do something similar. And so they have these capabilities for personalization. So you can take an individual, right, you can look at somebody like me and say, Lauren, okay, she’s got those young kids, we know she’d be interested in Liquid Kids content, and so we’re going to push that content to her as opposed to somebody who’s maybe an empty nester. Well, they don’t want the Liqud Kids content, w what is applicable to them in their stage of life. So being able to think about that and use our digital tools in a personalized way, and Rock is going to allow us to do that. So we’re fans of it here, and it’s only been a year, so we’ve just scratched the surface of what it can do.
Jason Hamrock: [00:12:44] Yeah, it’s open-sourced, so it allows you to customize it. But I think that’s really important, because you may not realize you’re doing this, but you’re tapping on the door of making sure that you know your people and your people know that you know them. Because I always talk to churches about understanding, you know, it’s one thing when you push out a, hey, it’s time for baptisms if you haven’t been baptized, you know. I’m seeing the message going, oh, I got baptized years ago, so apparently you don’t know who I am. Why are you sending me an email on baptism? Right. Instead of sending me something specific to what I want to see, and what you want me to see, and that’s just knowing your people. And, you know, that takes systems and technology to be able to kind of be able to formulate that. But when you have that, I think the engagement goes much deeper because you know who I am and you’re telling me and sharing with me what my next step should be.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:13:40] And so we’re guilty of that, Jason, we’re totally guilty of that. We’ve operated in this way of we try to get our team, we’re like, hey, can you pull a specific list for us? Kind of like cobbled together because we’re trying to make it refined, right? For instance, in our church, we do the If Gathering, which is for women only, it’s a women’s conference. We don’t want to send that to the men. I mean, how tone deaf would that be? But we’ve been limited in how we could do that thus far, but we want to lean into that. We want to take it the next step further, actually, this year, tied with all our digital goals, is thinking through audience segmentation. Yeah, who are our target audiences? Who do we want to go after? And how should we speak to each one of them differently? Right? Even internally, we shouldn’t be talking to our young adults the same way that we’re talking to our group leaders, right? And that takes a lot of intentionality, but we’re going to lean into that more this year.
Jason Hamrock: [00:14:36] Yeah, that’s exciting.
Bart Blair: [00:14:37] I was going to say, you know, I think the principle, I’m just going to pause for just a second and talk about the principle of what we’re talking about here. We started talking about the tool, which is Rock RMS. The reality is that we have communications directors and church leaders listening to this podcast or watching this podcast, churches from 100 people to 10,000 people, and Rock RMS is very robust, there’s a lot of capability and a lot that you can do with it. But let’s be honest, it’s really better suited for larger churches who have dedicated personnel that they can commit to, and finances to commit to implementing Rock and managing, and maintaining it. I hope that somewhere along the way, somebody from Breeze Planning Center Church teams, and the CCB, and all those other church management software’s will listen to what leaders like you are saying because larger churches are beginning to realize this. We have a lot of church partners who have moved over to Rock in the last few years for all of those very same reasons that you’re citing. And I’m hoping that this need to more personalize our communication within the context of our church becomes the norm, not the exception.
Bart Blair: [00:15:49] And even as a leader, if you’re listening to this or you’re watching this, and you’re and you’re using Planning Center with MailChimp integrated, or you’re using CCB, that you will do everything that you can, even within the context of the limitations of those platforms, to customize your communication more effectively. I mean, it’s not as easy as it is in a Rock system from a build standpoint, but it’s definitely a necessity if you really want to take people to the next level, and if you want them to really feel like they are known. I will say that things that I heard during COVID when churches were shut down and people were stuck at home, especially in larger churches, was I didn’t feel like anybody knew me, like nobody knew me. I might have gotten some mass emails and some reach outs, and the smaller churches had the advantage because the pastor and the pastoral team can get on the phone and call everybody who was disconnected. In larger churches, we didn’t, we send out our mass email to 1000 or 5000 or 8000 people or whatever it is, and it loses that personal connection. But it’s that being known, knowing others, and being known thing that really makes the church a powerful experience. And so kudos to you for recognizing that that’s someplace that you need to go organizationally. And I just wanted to pause and riff on that for a minute, because it’s the principle of it, more so than the tool that you’re using that I think is what people need to hear.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:17:14] Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true. And like you’re saying, you might not have a tool like Rock, but you can still take baby steps toward that. For instance, say you’re even sending maybe it’s mass email, and you’re like, I don’t actually know how to physically whittle down my list, but you’re promoting a young adults event. Well, how would you speak to the people that you actually want to read that email? Think about at least your language and your communication. So I think there are even two things there as well, it’s like, who are you actually sending it to? And then, how are you speaking to them? So I think we can take steps toward that even if we can achieve our end goal at once.
Jason Hamrock: [00:17:51] Yeah, you mentioned like a women’s ministry where you would target the women, but then you would target the men to say what a great gift for your wife. Like, so you could cover both audiences with some somewhat of the same message. There’s a lot of creative ways to do that if you can’t get it dialed into just the women or just the men. So it’s just using the tools and the creativeness that you’re speaking of. So, okay, so I want to ask you this question, if every church communication director listening in right now, what’s the one thing you would want to share with them? What you’d want them to hear?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:18:26] So something that I’ve been coming to terms with is, hey, I think I’ve spent too much time and energy selling, which is not the kindest word, but selling our programs and events. Right? Come to Sunday, come to this outreach, or join a group, instead of reaching people where they are. Not what I want you to do, but what you need. And people have a lot of felt needs, and I think that’s within the church, but especially externally. I mean, if you’re talking external audiences, they’re not probably out there looking for a church or looking for relationship with Jesus, but they are looking for help with their marriage, they are looking for help as a parent, right? Maybe they’re struggling in handling their teen, or they have a child with ADHD and they don’t know how to best care for them, or maybe somebody struggling with addiction. Everybody has these needs, and I think that’s where we can reach people, and I think we have a lot of ground to take there. So wouldn’t it be amazing if somebody went to Google and they searched a question like, how do I deal with my anxiety? Right, and in their context, your church popped up in the search results with a blog article, or a podcast, or a support group that addressed those felt needs. So I think for communications professionals, I know we’ve got so much on our plate and we want to get the word out about our programs and events, but start thinking about the needs of your people and the people you haven’t yet reached and leaning into that.
Jason Hamrock: [00:20:07] Well, there is a case study, we’ve talked about this before on the podcast where Home Depot did just that. They thought they needed to have a stronger online presence, so they poured a lot of effort into their website to help equip people, and what they didn’t expect was the foot traffic through their doors went up tremendously. In fact, the amount of money they made was up like 700% over the course of like five or six years, this was back like 2008 to 2013 or so. And it was because instead of just saying, come here, come here, please, almost begging people, come on in, come on in. They’re going, here, we’re just going to equip you because you have a problem, and we have some answers and some solutions, here you go. That bonded a relationship that made people realize, I want to go check that out. So I think you’re spot on, I think our foot traffic through the door would go up if we will reach people where they are and start building a relationship there instead of saying, no, no, no, you come to church and then we’ll build a relationship. Well, I don’t know you, why would I want to do that? I mean, it just makes sense, but it’s a hard one for churches to swallow for sure.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:21:18] Yeah, 100%, I’m with you. And we, at Liquid, love the Home Depot example, because, in the marketplace, there is somebody who absolutely excels in this area. I mean, I can think of myself, I bought a fire pit for my husband as a birthday gift last year. I don’t know what to buy. I don’t know what I need. And they answer all your questions, they answer all your questions, they map it out for you, and then they show you what aisle it is in the store. And guess what? I’m just like, yeah, okay, you taught me everything I need to know online, and now I’m going to get in my car and I’m going to drive over to the store and get and get what I need. And that is the principle, right? So say somebody was struggling with anxiety, and you have a blog post that’s Bible verses on anxiety, or how to cope with that. And in the course of that, you’re sharing who you are, it’s not like you’re hiding that you’re a church, they just happened to land on your website. And then in your article you go, do you want to learn more about this, listen to this sermon, or listen to this podcast, and you leave this trail of breadcrumbs, right? Or do you need to join our anxiety support group? And then they just keep kind of taking steps, and they might walk through a physical building and ultimately maybe they’ll get to know Jesus as a result, but I think we have to cast that wider net.
Jason Hamrock: [00:22:32] You’re absolutely right, oh, my goodness. And testimonies about what other people who have gone before you have dealt with, and so there’s hope. What you’re speaking of is just… And that’s what you’re saying, that’s what you’re going to be doing in 2023, you really want to personalize that.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:22:48] We do hope so, we were so proud of our website when we launched it in 2020, and now it pains me to say we created this beautiful billboard that tells everybody what we want them to know about us, instead of creating a product that can serve them in the best way possible. And so that’s going to be our new strategy and new goal as we relaunch.
Jason Hamrock: [00:23:15] I am so excited for that.
Bart Blair: [00:23:17] One of the things I noted, you know, as you talked about kind of what your strategy is, and thinking about companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s. One of the things that they have, the reason I think they’ve been as successful as they have, is that they have realized that the culture that they’re trying to reach is a DIY culture, it’s a do-it-yourself culture. The reason that YouTube has grown in so many ways as it has, is that people are searching for how to fix their problems, how to do different things, and they’re using the Internet to solve those problems. They’re trying to DIY things. In church, we recognize that being a disciple of Jesus isn’t supposed to be a DIY effort, right? We’re not supposed to be solo artists, we’re not called to be lone Rangers in our spiritual journey, we’re called to be in community. But I think that it is healthy and helpful for us to recognize that the people who are furthest from God, who we are most likely to reach, while deep down they need community, they need authentic connection, and personal relationships, but most of them are going to start their spiritual journey as a DIY journey. And what we want to do is create the on-ramps in the pathways to move them from that DIY journey to being connected in an incarnational community and authentic community. So I’m really excited to see what you guys do. I will download the app even though I live very far away from New Jersey because I just want to see what you’re doing, I’m really excited about it, Lauren.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:24:45] That’s like I am, I have like 20 different church apps on my phone.
Bart Blair: [00:24:49] I have a subcategory of apps on my phone called Churches, and I get push notifications from churches from time to time. And I’m like, wait, which church is this? And why am I not showing up to this event that got canceled? I have to remind myself all the time, not my church. Yeah. Yeah.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:25:03] I love, Bart, though, that you even pointed out YouTube, right? Youtube is the second largest search engine in the world after Google, I know we think of it as a video platform, but really, it’s a search engine. And so we’re huge fans of, you know, if you’re going to go putting out content in a rented platform, which all social media is, it’s not ours, we don’t get to set the rules, somebody else does and we rent some space on there. Youtube, I think, is a phenomenal place to invest because of its search capabilities, and it’s a great place for people to find you. So just one other tip there is that naming your content, whatever your name is, your blurb is, it’s so important for people to find that content.
Bart Blair: [00:25:49] There’s someone watching this video on YouTube right now that found it as a result of a search on YouTube. Right? So don’t miss out on the opportunity to repurpose your content for YouTube, and to use best practices for YouTube SEO so that people can find the content that you’re creating for sure.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:26:06] We’re big proponents of that, for sure.
Jason Hamrock: [00:26:09] We probably need to land this, because we don’t want to keep going on and on, but I’m wanting if there’s just one last parting shot you’d want to say to our audience. And then, how can people connect with you if they’ve got some questions?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:26:24] Yeah. I’m going to get up on a soapbox if that’s okay.
Jason Hamrock: [00:26:29] Okay.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:26:29] I feel like there’s a shift that’s happening where COVID pushed us all to look at the opportunities that digital provided because it was going to solve a problem for us. And that is, we maybe couldn’t gather physically or people had stopped coming back to our buildings, and then now the problem has lessened. Where I don’t think we’re in a pre-COVID state, but we’re like, two-thirds of the people came back, that’s good enough, I feel more comfortable with where we’re at. And that digital thing just seems so overwhelming, so let’s just ignore that. I’m going to say, it’s almost like a begging and a pleading, don’t do that, because the opportunity that exists for you to make a difference in your local community and your context by leveraging digital in whichever way possible that is for you, I know everybody’s different church sizes. I just think the opportunities are so great that I would hate for people to walk away from it because it doesn’t feel urgent anymore, but I would say it’s still vitally important.
Jason Hamrock: [00:27:36] Well said. Because, you know, we have a problem in the church, and that is we tend to be the last ones to the table, if that makes sense, like, we’re the last ones to adopt the latest technology, that’s just who we are. And so you know I think why? We have the greatest message, I mean a million light years ahead of the next best message. And yet we take the seat of going, no, we’re comfortable where we are. And I would second that in saying don’t be satisfied, don’t be satisfied. And yes, the 99 is really, really important, but the one is where God’s heart is as well, and that’s where we need to go and go after the one. And they’re out there, and they’re using these technologies, and they’re using these phones, and they’re using different platforms. And, you know, even though, like you said earlier, we don’t own those platforms, the only platform you own is your website, right? But we can use those platforms to actually go and make a difference and bring light into a very dark world. And so I applaud you on that one.
Bart Blair: [00:28:48] That’s Jason’s soapbox too, you guys are hanging on different sides of the same soapbox. Lauren, thanks so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule, and all of the things that you’re doing, you’ve got a podcast, and you have a seat on a church staff. Again, if anybody who’s listening to this wants to kind of follow what you’re doing or connect with you in some way, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Lauren Bercarich: [00:29:13] Yeah, absolutely. I’m open to people shooting me an email, which is just Laurenb@LiquidChurch.com. Also, check out The Church Changer podcast. You can check out our website Churchchange.com, or follow us on Instagram #Church Changers. We’d love to hear from you, and I’m looking at all that social media there. So if you message us, I’ll be seeing it.
Bart Blair: [00:29:34] Awesome. Thanks so much, Lauren.
Lauren Bercarich: [00:29:36] Thank you. Great to have you.