Quick Pivots and Creativity During COVID-19 – Interview With Lauren Rose

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Lauren Rose, Communications and Online Manager at 121 Community Church shares highlights of how they have used creativity to leverage digital church

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Jason Hamrock: Today, I’m talking with Lauren Rose. Lauren is the communications and online manager for a really fast growing Church, 121 Community Church that’s located in Grapevine, Texas. Lauren and I are discussing what they have been busy focusing on during COVID, and how they are continuing to reach more people. I hope you enjoy.

Jason Hamrock: Well, hey, Lauren, thanks so much for joining us today. Glad to have you on the podcast.

Lauren Rose: Oh my goodness, thanks for the opportunity. I’m really excited to talk today.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about what you get to oversee, and what you get to do at it at the church.

Lauren Rose: Absolutely. So I’ve been at 121 for a year and a month, so I was really excited to celebrate my one year anniversary as the communications and online manager. So that’s obviously a pretty broad thing, so under my belt I have the website, social media strategy, our app, and email communication. And that obviously sounds like a lot, but I have a fabulous team of volunteers and assistant that are really just my right and my left arm, and we are able to just get through all of it on a daily basis.

Jason Hamrock: Wow. Yeah, that is a lot to oversee. Well, congratulations, you survived the first year. I always think that’s kind of the hardest, just because you’re learning the culture of a church, and the DNA of the church, and the ins and outs. And a lot of people that come on staff for the first time in the church, they kind of go, wow, I had no idea it was this much work and this busy, but it sure is rewarding. So, way to go, way to go.

Lauren Rose: Thank you.

Jason Hamrock: So, yeah, so COVID hit, right. And so how is that really affected your job, and what’s probably been the hardest thing for you guys to, you know, to react to? And then what’s been a really positive thing?

Lauren Rose: Absolutely. Yeah, COVID definitely affects almost every aspect of my job right now. Coming from a digital retailer prior to this job, you know, we were really focused on online growth and all of that sort of thing. And then coming into this role, you know, church growth was a totally different thing. And so a lot of the positives that we’ve seen with that, is just the amount of people that we’re able to reach online is a lot higher than it’s ever been before. But, you know, from an internal perspective, a lot of it has just been communication, and how do we streamline all of our communication from pastors, and volunteer teams, and care teams, and then our parents of students who are in our different kids’ programs. So we definitely had our ups and downs with all of it. Like everyone we tried pre-recording, we tried going live, and we suffered a lot of the same things that many churches did. With having hiccups with servers, and videos failing, and the Internet not working inside the building. But it’s been a hard journey, but we’re just really thankful for the grace that everybody has shown us, and just the opportunity to still be able to meet online and then in person as well.

Jason Hamrock: So tell me a little bit about the in-person element. When did that happen, and did it go the way you thought it would go?

Lauren Rose: Yes, it started off that way, so we were able to meet in person on June 7th. And in order to meet the guidelines, and regulations, and recommendations, of the CDC, we decided to require registration ahead of time. And as soon as we put out the registration link, we actually sold out, and sold out of seats, and so we were then able to create a third service based on the amount of people who are signing up. And the funny thing with that, though, is not everybody showed up. So we kind of started realizing that there was a lot of excitement for people to want to go, but then when it came down to it, just as we’re seeing with COVID, things changed so quickly, plans change. It’s so hard to know what are we doing tomorrow, let alone next week. So we can see, we’re still seeing about three hundred people between two services, so I think we’re at about 15 percent for in-person attendance.

Jason Hamrock: Ok, OK, so it seems like, I mean, that at least in this next stretch of road here we are in August, early August, and it seems like the next stretch of road just going to be kind of like who knows where it’s going? When is this thing going to start to die down? When are people, all people, going to feel more comfortable coming back. So I’m sure, you know, you just have to take it a week at a time, you know, for that reality and adjust accordingly.

Lauren Rose: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s really hard because we want to always try and be as proactive as possible outside of COVID circumstances. But right now, you know, things change every five minutes it seems like. I mean, I know personally the in-person school start date for my kids has changed at least two-three times in the past month, and so that applies to so many different people and so many different circumstances. And so what we’ve really had to get good at doing is just being reactive, and quickly adapting and changing plans, and understanding that this is just where we’re at right now, and just still trying to find a way that best serves our members and attendees, either online or in person.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So, you made the switch to go online, every church had to do it. What’s been like…Well, what’s it going to be like for the future, for you? Are you guys going to continue to go all in with being online, or start to back off a little bit and try more focus on in person?  What does that look like?

Lauren Rose: Sure. So we had been using the Church Online platform to livestream, in addition to Facebook Live, and pushing our services out on our app that we use through Subsplash. And so we had previously already been going live, and then recording it, and pushing it out on different social media channels. So we were, of course, kind of lucky to already have that already set up. So then when COVID hit, we were able to then add in YouTube as well, because we found that they were probably the most secure connection that we could have at the time. But of course, moving ahead, these things aren’t going away. And we have really shifted our focus into reaching the online audience first, because that’s where eighty-five percent of our viewers are right now. And so in planning events and all that, it’s really how can we reach the online audience, and make sure that it’s still the same experience? Because we know that people are worshiping from their homes now. And so it’s really nice to be able to create that environment, simulated online, and then people are then able to take that same worship experience and bring it into their home for their entire family. So it’s really totally shifted from in person was the number one. I mean, digital was kind of always on the back burner, but now just seeing the shift to digital being in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And you guys in particular have allocated budgets, I know that because we do some things with you guys. Have you allocated more staff to be focused on building a digital online church community?

Lauren Rose: No, I have a fabulous assistant that really she does so much for me and I absolutely could not function without her. But I will say the biggest shift has been the way that people who were already on staff have shifted their thinking into how can we…You know, we had this summer Bible study. Well, how are we going to do it, what’s it going to look like, what is attendance going to be, and all of that. And so then it was just a matter of them shifting their thinking into saying, why don’t we just do it on Zoom, and why don’t we stream it live? And we had other panel events where people were then able to tune in and catch these events from the comfort of their own home. And so no, to no new staff, but definitely seeing a major shift in the way that our current staff approaches digital.

Jason Hamrock: Well, and I got to tell you, that’s got to be a lot of really good news for a lot of churches that can’t afford to hire more staff. It’s more about the mind shift of how you’re going to do church, not only today, but obviously in the future. You know? And so, I mean, it sounds like that’s kind of when you think about the new normal, whatever that is, and whenever that is. What you just said, it’s going to affect everything we do, you know, small groups, or classes, or events, that type of thing. And I’m glad to hear that you guys are making that shift, because I think it’s so important because there’s this huge online community that’s not connected to any church. Yet, they’re still curious and they’re still searching.

Lauren Rose: Yes, it’s kind of interesting to see, prior to COVID we kind of found that a lot of people started their journey to 121 online first, and they were able to just kind of retain that. [inaudible] They were able to just kind of remain anonymous, and then kind of dip their toe in the water, and just then make the commitment to finally walking in. And so I think that right now it’s just really nice for people to continue to just kind of pursue that path in being online right now. And then it’s people’s comfort levels change, then we’re able to start seeing more people eventually come in person because they’ve been attending church online longer, and just kind of being comfortable in that scenario.

Jason Hamrock: So have you…So let’s talk about your internal versus your external audience. And you’ve got a lot of people that come to your church and, you know, I call those ring one people. Right, ring one people, they go to your church and they may come every now and then. But what’s been your focus on how you’ve been able to reach in and keep those ring one people engaged, versus an external audience?

Lauren Rose: I’m not quite sure I understand your question.

Jason Hamrock: So, when you’re thinking about how to continue to engage your your own people, have you changed some of the methods  Obviously, because you’re not in person, there’s a different way to communicate. And have you have you worked on strategies, or beefed up the way that you’re communicating to your own congregation?

Lauren Rose: I don’t really know that we’ve changed a whole lot, other than we’ve definitely had a lot more of our pastors create video content for their different areas. For example, our youth pastors have done a phenomenal job building up a YouTube channel that’s dedicated to content for 6th through 12th graders. And just the way that they were able to connect with their students over Zoom, and just have those meetings, and just do one on ones with their students. As far as like, hey, what are you going through today? What are some of the hardships of all of this?  And then we’re then able to record all of that, and push that back out into social media content. And it’s a way for parents just to get to see, oh, this is what my kids are struggling with, that sort of thing. And we’ve just really been reactive with some of the different things that are going on. For example, you know, marriages are put in a really hard situation now when both spouses are working from home and there’s kids, and so we were able to do a marriage workshop. That was just, hey, how do we get through this? And what are you doing that you feel like is working, and where are you having problems? And so, again, I think it’s just being reactive to the way that the world is right now, finding hardships and struggles, and then creating content around that as a way to continue to keep people engaged. And just also know that what you’re experiencing right now, you’re not alone, here’s everybody else that’s going through the same thing. And really just trying to help people not isolate.

Jason Hamrock: You know, such a great answer, because that’s exactly what I was kind of looking for. Because what people internally are struggling with, people outside, they’re struggling with the same stuff. And likely, maybe they’re they’re not connected to a church, and they may be far from God. But they still have marriage issues, they’re still struggling, just like people that go to your church. And so for you guys to be creating, either curriculum, or at least creating videos and pushing that out to your congregation, it bleeds into the people that don’t go to your church. And so I love hearing that because, you know, that’s been I think the thing that I’ve really seen a lot of churches do very successfully is is figure out what do we need to talk about, create that, and get it out there, and help people as they’re coping through this really rough season. And we’re certainly not out of the woods, so that’s a great answer, I’m glad you guys are really focused on that, because I think that stuff will carry over to an external audience. So are there some…so here we are, we’re getting ready to go into the fall, are there some really big initiatives, or any kind of initiatives that you guys are, other than going all in with digital. Is there anything big that you guys are thinking of, or when it comes to like maybe a fall kick off, or you’re looking into the wintertime as a church?

Lauren Rose: Absolutely, our Pastor Ross Sawyers, has a huge heart for the underground church. Which are just a group of people, of Christians, who are persecuted all over the world. And that is our major initiative this fall, along with an eight commandment to follow Jesus, and that involved landing pages, and website designs, and graphics, and videos, and all sorts of stuff. And what do you need? Time. It’s just really interesting to see how God played that on Ross’s heart, and then to now be in a scenario where church is at home, and obviously it is not the same type of persecution or anything like that. But I think that it really helps people get in that mindset of what it is to do church at home, and go from there. So we’re really excited about it, and we are actually launching that this Sunday.

Jason Hamrock: Really? OK, that’s really, that’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, I’ve had that same thought, you know, when you’re you’re not able to go to church, you really sort of take it for granted. And I was able to talk to my boys about the fact that there are so many people around the world, they don’t get to go and drive to a campus and be with their friends, and worship, and do life, and be with church people. That just doesn’t happen in a lot of countries around the world, they have to stay at home, very much hidden. And they got a kind of a taste of that, and you really start to miss…I just miss our church.

Lauren Rose: Oh, absolutely, and the people. And, you know, we’re thankful for Zoom. You know, it’s like we’re all thankful for that, you know? But it’s like, man, I’d really just like to hug you, you know, and that sort of stuff. But it’s really neat just to kind of see how this has ultimately prepared people for at least understanding that, as you mentioned, it’s a luxury, it’s a luxury to meet in person. And so now be forced to be in this position, it’s just a really nice parallel to be able to kind of compare the two.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Switching gears a little bit, reaching younger people. You know, I think even before COVID hit, but certainly now it’s always been the church’s, I hate to say struggle, but you just see more and more churches that are growing older and younger, and it’s just a reality. And are there some things that you guys are doing to try and reach a younger generation, not necessarily teenagers, but, you know, young families and engage them back into church. Are you guys able to find some success in that, or are you still trying to figure it out, or what’s that look like?

Lauren Rose: We’re still trying to figure it out a little bit because everybody’s different. And then, of course, different ways, and feelings, and responses to COVID, tight now, it’s different for everybody. But we’ve really amped up our social media ad spend on Facebook, and then we recently just launched our, well re-launched, our YouTube channel. And so that’s something that we’re going to continue to invest in because as we’ve just found, social media platforms aren’t going away. And so it’s a matter of reaching people where they are, and not being afraid to do it. I think sometimes there was a lot of fear of, well, we don’t want to spend our time and money there because there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. But at the same time, too, as Christians were called to be the good. And so putting content out there, and then targeting people based on felt needs. And that’s definitely been something that your team has helped us with a lot, is just felt needs, and identifying those, and then creating content with solutions to those needs.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, that’s exciting. I mean, I don’t know if anybody’s really figured it out. I mean, some churches are further down the path than others. But you understand, that’s where we kind of have to go, and that’s exciting to see. Because, you know, I think that when you talk about the church, you get a lot of smart people led by Jesus. So, I mean, we’re going to figure it out, and help people connect back to church, or maybe for the first time. And it’s going to cause, I think churches are thinking through on how they how they do that, so I can’t wait to hear and see how you guys end up doing that very well. So kind of go into the big ‘C’ church, you know, what do you think is going to be some of the challenges over the next few years when it comes to church growth? Or does anything come to your mind when you think about that, especially because you’re so new to being on the church staff. You know, what’s that look like?

Lauren Rose: I know for us, earlier at the end of 2019, we launched our Vision 2025. And that was obviously pre-COVID, so while we realized some of those things have changed, it’s still actively pursuing those things. And it’s just seeing that God’s plan is still,,, obviously Vision 2025 is following God’s plan, and just seeing how different it looks for us. So we are really focused on planting churches across the United States, and our plan is for three churches to be planted. But really, I think the big shift is going to be for us and all of the churches, is just digital growth. I think what a lot of people are finding right now, myself included, it’s nice to be able to wake up on Sunday morning and not have to get ready, and not have to get my kids ready, and hair, and makeup, and breakfast, and all of that sort of stuff. And just being able to turn on the TV, and pass the series, the message on to my TV. And I can do that from the comfort of my home.  And so obviously I miss the people, but what a great opportunity for the church to just continue to grow for people who are maybe in that vulnerable group, and they can’t come to church yet, they can’t be around people, or maybe they’re a little nervous about trying it for the first time. So I think that digital is going to be where we see our biggest growth as the kingdom over the next couple of years.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, I agree with you. It’s not going away, and you think about what changes the most rapidly in our culture today, it’s technology. And as technology continues to evolve, this is our thinking, as technology continues to evolve, we as the church need to be in the same step. We can’t let five years go by, and technology has advanced people so far, and we’re way back here.

Lauren Rose: Right.

Jason Hamrock: We just have to be in that, we have to stay up to speed, if you will. And it’s going to take a mindset, and you guys have that mindset, it’s going to take money, and resources, and it’s going to take a risk to go there and and be okay with failure, because after that is going to come success.

Lauren Rose: You know, COVID really helped that shift in thinking too, and just kind of almost being a really big support for digital. Which I hate that it took a pandemic for that, But, you know,  I’m thankful that the technology already existed, and that the church could just get caught up, so to speak.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, well said. Yeah, if there’s a silver lining to COVID-19, it’s that it kind of woke up the church to have to shift to where it needed to go, every church, you know, around the planet. So, yeah, I guess that’s a little bit of a silver lining.

Lauren Rose: Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Well, Lauren, thank you so much for for joining us today, great insight. And we’re going to stay tuned to how 121 Community Church is growing, and how you guys are continuing to reach more people for Jesus. I appreciate your time.

Lauren Rose: I appreciate you, and I appreciate Missional Marketing so much, and just the way that you all have helped us grow in the last year.  And just the amount of outreach that we’re able to do digitally because of you all is absolutely wonderful. And at 121 we’re all about leading people to live for Jesus Christ, and we have a fabulous team that’s able to do that when people walk into the building. But being able to do that online because of Missional Marketing has just been absolutely fabulous. So thank you.

Jason Hamrock: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that.  All right, we’ll talk to you soon.

Lauren Rose: All right. Thank you.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, bye bye.

Lauren Rose: Thanks again, Lauren. That was really insightful and encouraging. So as you’re planning on being back in person, or maybe your church is already back in person, you know, you want to keep focusing on building your online presence, right, engaging more people and inviting them to church.

Jason Hamrock: Two fantastic tools come to mind when I think about how you can go deeper and reach more people. The first is the Google Ad Grant. Now, Lauren and 121 Community are using the grant, and they are driving more and more people to their website as a result. And you really want to take advantage of this opportunity, $120,000 a year is at your fingertips when you use the Google Ad Grant. Google ads in search are fantastic, and it’s a great way to reach people either looking for a church, or looking for help with a felt need. The second product that comes to mind is, really developing landing page content, right? Content is king, right, we understand this in Google’s world, they really want to be able to crawl content. And so having additional pages on your website that are addressing these felt need issues, is what you really want to focus on during the season. I always tell churches, like every Sunday, your pastor creates an amazing blog post of content that could be put into a page. And so but you want to keep going deeper, and developing more and more felt need landing pages. So those are two great tools to be using.

Jason Hamrock: I really hope you enjoyed the conversation with Lauren today. If you’re interested in talking with Missional Marketing about how you can utilize those two products, we’re here to serve you. Until next time take care, and God bless, and be safe.

 

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