Creating Digital Content for Evangelism & Discipleship | Patrick Miller

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This week Patrick Miller, Writer, Author, Co-Director of Digital Relationships and Pastor at the Crossing Church, discusses with us how to create digital content for evangelism and discipleship. This episode is so full of wisdom and insight!

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Jason Hamrock: Well, Hey, Patrick, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing today?

Patrick Miller: Oh, I’m doing great, it’s fantastic to be with you both. I think the work you guys are doing is so important for the Kingdom, in general, in America, and beyond.

Jason Hamrock: Well, likewise. And as our users are going to learn about you, it’s pretty impressive on what you and your church are doing. And I’m really excited about this show, it really kind of speaks to the heart of Missional Marketing as to how we want to help people that don’t know Jesus, that are de-churched or unchurched, get connected to a church in some kind of a digital fashion. Not the only way people get to connect to Jesus, but a big one. And so this conversation today is hopefully it’s going to be really beneficial to you, church, because what Patrick’s doing, and with things he’s going to share, we love it. We love it, it’s something we would prescribe to every church, that you get serious about doing it. So let’s start right there, Patrick, tell us a little bit about who you are and what church you’re at, and give us a little bit of your story.

Patrick Miller: Well, let me share how I got into digital ministry. I mean, first of all, I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I became a Christian when I was in college. And so like a lot of people who became Christians in college, I ended up doing college ministry, it changed my life and I wanted to be a part of that in the lives of other college students. And after that, I started working primarily with people in their twenties, and this was kind of the mid-2010s, and I was reflecting, how do I reach more people in their twenties? How do I connect with them where they’re at? I mean this is just really just incarnational, Jesus went where we are and we need to go where other people are. And I knew that for people in their twenties it was social media, they were living a lot of their life online. And so I began to develop strategies just to reach people in their twenties in our small local community. And as I did that, we started getting more people on our church team who were interested more broadly as a church, how do we use the Internet to reach people for Jesus.

Patrick Miller: And then the pandemic hit, and I think like a lot of people, that was kind of both the end in the beginning, because we really had to become agile as an institution, and we really changed how we staffed, how we resourced, so that we had a group of people who were dedicated to doing online ministry, and I’ve had the blessing and the opportunity to lead that team of people. And what we’ve done since we started that, that team in 2019 and really kicked it off with the pandemic in 2020 has really been, to be honest, it’s blown my mind, it has far outstripped what we ever imagined we would accomplish. And maybe it just helps to put some hard numbers on that, we lost about 30% of our church, like a lot of churches during the pandemic. Those aren’t people who are angry at us, they just fell out of the habit of going to church and they walked away from Jesus in the process. And what we’ve had happened since, is we’ve actually grown our church by an additional 40% since then, and a large portion of that has come through what I would describe as pretty basic, pretty easy-to-do, inbound marketing, digital media, digital ministry, stuff that really anybody in any church could pull off. And that’s been the onramp for people who previously de-churched or were unchurched, that’s been the onramp for them to begin coming in person and so that’s been really exciting to watch and see.

Jason Hamrock: Hmm. Okay, let’s go a little deeper. When you just say, well, we started kind of doing this, what are you talking about? Let’s unpack that.

Patrick Miller: No, it’s a great question. And, you know, I could start with where we’re at right now, and that would be one thing, but it’s been a flywheel or a snowball, right? It’s one of those things where the more you do, the easier it gets to do more things over time. Where we started in 2019 was with a podcast, we knew that there were people in our church who weren’t familiar with their Bibles. They wanted to have a habit of having devotions in their daily walk with Jesus, but they didn’t know how to do it. And so I started a podcast with one of our pastors called Ten Minute Bible Talks, where we did little ten-minute devotions, two a week, and it was mostly for our church. And I remember when we started, we said, okay, how many downloads do we need to get by the end of this year to think, gosh, this was worth it? And I think we said 1000. We did not have a high mark of how many people we wanted to do this. And today that podcast is averaging something like 2 million downloads a year, I mean, so it is way, way outstripped. But what we realized in the midst of that was that podcasting was very much so a one-way conversation, and it didn’t always create great on ramps for people to come and be a part of the church.

Patrick Miller: And so from that point, we really started focusing again, not on anything super technical, but on email marketing. We completely changed how we did our church newsletter, it used to be kind of that classic event list, like, come here, and here are the eight events happening at the church this week. And we looked at open rates, we looked at click-through rates, and they were abysmal, you know, like 2% open rate, and a fraction of a percent of click-through rates. No one was doing it. And so we said, let’s scrap it, which was hard. I mean, it’s hard politically, I’m not using politics in a bad way, but it’s hard politically in a church if you’re going to go to ministries who think that this newsletter is the way that people hear about their events. And the reality is, it’s not. And we had the numbers to show it and say, hey, just so you know, I mean, a hundred people look at this and almost no one clicks it, so this isn’t helping you. And we changed it to a content-oriented newsletter that was highlighting every week just one piece of content that was going to help people grow in their walk with Jesus. But the next step was that content, it was housed on our blog, and those blog posts pointed to in-person events. So, you know, we’d have a blog post about the importance of the Christian community that would then invite people to come and be a part of our small group sneak peek. And what happened over the next three years, our blog and that newsletter have become the primary lead generator for in-person activity. And so this newsletter, which no one used to read and no one used to engage with and no one connected with it, it’s now actually become the primary generator of in-person activity in our church. And so, of course, now people are thrilled by it, they love it, this is amazing, I’m so glad we have this newsletter, but it was a hard road to get there.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, you started with…Yeah, you just scrapped it, right? That’s hard to try and convince the ministries why we’re doing this, but you started with, let’s get rid of that and just start with content that people can absorb, something that’s going to help them in their walk, and that turned into more leads of people showing up to other events because they wanted more of that.

Patrick Miller: Yes. Yes.

Bart Blair: Patrick, how can I get on the newsletter list? I think I need to receive this newsletter. Is there a link on the website or someplace that I can go to sign up?

Patrick Miller: Well, if you just go to TheCrossingChurch.com and you go, you land on that web page, and stay there for just 2 seconds, a little banner will pop up that will invite you to sign up for our newsletter. And we believe that it’s not just content, it’s also data. And we are really, really intentional about data collection. And so when someone signs up for a newsletter, they’re giving us their name, they’re giving us their email address, and using our CRM, we’re able to track their activity on our website. And so we’re able to get a really good idea of who is this person, what’s the kind of content that they’re interested in, and using smart content to make sure that we’re delivering them the next piece that’s actually going to help them grow on their walk and their journey with Jesus, so it’s very, very strategic. And again, that interfaces with our church database, and so we have all these tools that we’ve developed, I mean, really over the last three years, that allow us to essentially create a digital funnel or a digital pathway or a digital journey that we can take people on from, I’ve never stepped foot inside a church or I’ve never come to The Crossing, our church, to now, I’m attending on Sundays, I’m serving in the children’s ministry, I’m going to small groups, I’m giving. We’ve seen that be a really effective way of getting people down the pipe.

Jason Hamrock: And you’re able to, so you mentioned something that I think just probably blew right over people’s heads that don’t understand this. You just mentioned that based on what do they sign up for, or from, you’re able to track what they’re going to do, or what they are doing, and then you’re communicating to them things that are relevant to them. About how they got, let’s just use marriage, right, so maybe there was something on a blog post about helping to improve your marriage. And somebody gets on your blog or they see a podcast and they sign up because they want more of that. Are you telling me then that you’re intentional about your communication? That it is not something out of left field? How’s that rolling with you?

Patrick Miller: Well, so, you know, and again, part of that has to do with the size of your church, the amount of resources that you have. We’re a large church, and we’ve been blessed with a lot of resources. So there are some things we can do that I don’t think a smaller church would have the resources to be able to do, and one of those things is we use something called smart content, which is, essentially, your database is paying attention to what people are doing and you’re telling the database when they’re at this step or this phase, this is the next piece of content we want to deliver to them. So let me make this a little more concrete, let’s say that I land on The Crossings website, and we know that you’ve never done anything here before, we’re using cookies, so you’re brand new. And you end up signing up for the newsletter, well, I know that at that phase you’re probably not at the step or the point in your journey where you’re ready to come in person, so I want to make sure that the content and the things that I’m offering you are more digital, the content is oriented. And once you’ve done a certain amount on our website, then we can make the transition to saying, hey, you’re reading all these blog posts on marriage, we have a marriage class coming up and now you’re actually ready. So essentially it’s about cold leads versus hot leads, and if you’re tracking people and what they’re doing on the website, you can give them hot leads. But again, even if you’re a small church, you don’t have to be able to do this, to really create on-ramps. I mean, we just recently started doing this stuff and we were already seeing tremendous results before we were getting using smart content.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, Yeah. You mentioned 40% in-person growth.

Patrick Miller: In-person growth. Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Not to mention the amount of people you’re reaching online that have yet to show up, but they’re tuned in and they’re watching.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Yeah.

Bart Blair: Well, Patrick, I was going to say that you are, I think you’re tearing apart another presupposition that a lot of churches and a lot of church leaders have, which is if somebody lands on my church website, maybe they’ve clicked an ad, they’ve seen a post on social media, they come to read a blog post or read about some ministry. You’re basically saying you don’t believe that that person is always ready to show up at church on Sunday morning, that there’s actually something else that we need to do to cultivate that relationship, to nurture that relationship, to move them towards weekend attendance. I think that’s a game-changer for a lot of church leaders. Can you expound on that a little bit?

Patrick Miller: Well, I would put it this way, we’re living in a post-Christian culture. And what I mean when I say that is, that there is a large proportion of our population that either has no church experience or has de-churched, they’ve left the church behind. In fact, there’s a study that’s coming out and we helped fund it, we were a part of it, and so I’ve got some of the early insights from it. We are going through the largest religious shift in American history right now, but for the first time, it’s a shift away from the church. There’s never been a shift away from the church of this size and this magnitude, there have been shifts towards the church that near this seismic magnitude in the past. And so what does that tell us? Well, these people who are de-churching, they’re actually not leaving for the most part because they’re angry or because they’re hurt. There are some people like that, and that’s what pastors tend to think of because when those people leave our church, they’re loud and it’s often painful conversations. You know, they sit kind of largely in our mind, the average person leaving just kind of stops, they just get out of a habit, they just drift off from the church. And what’s really encouraging is that these de-churched people, which make up about a quarter of America’s population, by the way, these de-churched people are very open to coming back to church. They actually see and understand my life was better when I was walking with Jesus. I miss having times of worship, and having a rich community. They know what they’re missing out on, they just need an invitation, they just need an on-ramp. And so that’s why we, again, this is really basic stuff, our number one way that we’ve brought de-churched people back into our church are email devotionals. So every Christmas, every Easter, and a few other times throughout the year, we use Facebook ads to basically promote devotional content. So here’s our Advent devotional, and you’ll get five devotionals a week up through Advent. And this is a huge way that we’ve reached de-churched people, and because we’re tracking them, we’re actually able to, by using Meta, create lookalike audiences. So we know, hey, here’s this pile of church people who have now come to The Crossing, let’s find other people who look exactly like them in our local community and reach them with more ads. And so every year, it’s like a flywheel. You know, the first year it was 100 people, the next year was 1000, then it was 3000, and this year it’s going to be 9000. So again, we’ve just figured out that if you can reach people where they’re at and they’re already open to coming to church, yeah, you might have to start with them online because they know how to go to church if they’re de-churched, they just haven’t made that step.

Patrick Miller: Now, for people who are unchurched, you know, maybe these are Gen Z who had Gen X parents who stopped going to church and so they never grew up in church. Again, I mean, first of all, it’s a generation that has tremendous social anxiety. So the idea, I mean, when’s the last time you walked into a building that did a thing that you didn’t know what the thing was, and you felt comfortable doing that? For most of us, it’s like years ago or a decade ago, I mean, we can’t remember the last time. And so we have to help warm them up to the experience. Now, it’s not just digital. I mean, this happens through relationships, it happens through friendships. But think about the blessing you give your church when you’re creating boatloads of content so that they can text this blog to a friend who never goes to church and say, hey, I know you’re battling anxiety right now and you know, I know you’re not really a person of faith, but this article really helped me with my anxiety. I’d love it if you’d read it and we could talk about it sometime. If you can resource your church with digital content that’s going to draw those people in.

Jason Hamrock: You guys do, to take it a step further, so we’re kind of talking about a funnel.

Patrick Miller: Yes, right.

Jason Hamrock: And that’s a kind of a key phrase because, you know, you’re not going to get everybody, but, you know, people that land on your website or get to you, you know, at some point you capture a name and an email, maybe even a cell phone, you know, and you keep moving them down to where then now they are attending, right? So that’s like a funnel. Do you guys at some point take the extra step to call or try and engage and meet face-to-face with people?

Patrick Miller: You know, I think one of the beauties of doing digital marketing and digital ministry inside of a church is that you should, I hope, have people on your staff who are very much so handling the in-person aspect. And so we’re always looking, what’s the point at which we kind of hand people off from the online experience to the in-person experience? And I like to say that people vote with their feet, they’re going to tell you when they’re ready. It’s going to be signing up for something. It’s going to be showing up at something. So we’re not trying to be pushy or aggressive about things. You brought up cell phones, so this is an interesting example. Typically, we don’t collect cell phone numbers because that dramatically reduced the amount of people who are willing to fill out forms. So we were getting zero contact information versus a little less, which you’re just being name and email. But this is a cool story, our college ministry, they went on campus and they did this free promotion thing where, I can’t even remember, I think they were giving away Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, something like that. And to get it, people had to give their name, their email, and their cell phone number, and then they use texting to invite these college students who were a lot of them freshmen, to come and be a part of the first few meetings of the college ministry. And these were by far the largest meetings our college ministry had experienced ever, period. I mean, we’re talking about somewhere between four and five hundred college students coming to check us out. And a lot of them stuck around, right, because once they came, once they voted with their feet, they had a team of people who were there ready to welcome others to say, hey, come sit with me, to build relationships. And so it’s really a partnership between the in-person team that’s building out systems to make sure people are cared for, and the digital team that’s making sure they’re creating on-ramps so that people can go from online to in-person.

Jason Hamrock: Oh, I love that, I love that on-ramp, just the picture, right? And I think most churches, they don’t quite have that, it’s still too fuzzy in their head. They think if they just saw their sermon up on YouTube, we’re going to get a bunch of people walking through our doors. It’s like, no. Well, that’s good, I’m glad you did that, but there are a whole lot more other steps. So you’ve mentioned that you know, I was just going through your numbers a little bit and, you know, 365 plus podcast episodes, 100 plus blog posts, 100 plus newsletters, over 100 different videos. Now, you didn’t do this overnight, you said you’ve been doing this for three years. So what would be your advice to a church that goes, you know, we’ve dabbled in it, but we never got serious about it? Like what caused you guys to go, yeah, we’re going to not only get serious about this with a bunch of money and a bunch of talent, we’re going to get a new space. Like, what kind of advice would you give to a church that’s going, yeah, how do we get into this?

Patrick Miller: Well, maybe let me talk to the one person in the church who says we need to do this, and everybody else is like, gosh, that sounds great, but that’s not that important, we can figure that out later. And to that one person, I would just say this, the proof is always in the pudding. And so if you can start small and show measurable, quantifiable results to the people who are in charge, that’s going to be the thing that changes their mind. The goal isn’t to say, oh, I heard this church and they’re releasing one podcast every day, essentially, and now we’ve got to do that. Well, that would be absurd, that is not where we started. I already said that we started with one podcast two times a week and that might even be too much. Here’s what I would say to that person, the first thing is this, we were talking about putting sermons on the Internet or live streams. This might be an unpopular view, but I do not think that Sunday-centric content or live streams are really the heart of digital ministry or even church marketing. I understand the appeal because you’ve got a pastor who is creating content essentially every Sunday morning, so why not pull from it? But my whole thing is, and this is just our church’s mentality, we’re not trying to turn our pastors into celebrities, we’re not trying to make everything about the pastor. We are Luke Skywalker, we are Obi-Wan Kenobi, so our job is to come alongside people out in the community and be a guide, and be a mentor and help them along. And I think the best way to do that is to give them content that’s actually native to whatever platform they’re on and is actually engaging the questions or the problems that they’re facing. And while sermons are great, they’re never negative. And they often, because they have to speak to a lot of people, they’re not niche or targeted enough to speak to very specific needs on a consistent basis.

Patrick Miller: So what I would say to this person is, just start here, what’s one big need that you see in your church? Maybe your church is having a huge amount of mental health issues, or maybe your church has a deficit of biblical knowledge, or maybe your church is really interested in prayer and spiritual disciplines, but no one seems to know how to lead it. What’s a problem that you hear people consistently talking about in your church? And once you have the problem, you can create a target persona around it, like an imaginary person. And you say, okay, for this imaginary person I’ve created, what’s the content that’s going to help them in their walk with Jesus? Maybe it’s a podcast, maybe it’s a blog. I wouldn’t recommend doing videos simply because it takes a lot of work, and so those two are a little easier to get started on podcasting and blogging. And then I would recommend you come up with a test idea, you record a few episodes, you send out those episodes to people to get feedback, use that feedback to improve it, and then you actually launch it. And once you launch, this is the key, consistency. I know so many churches that they get a podcast or a blog started and they run for a month and then it just kind of falls off the wayside. This is a flywheel, your first month is that you’re just pushing this really heavy rock and you can barely get it to go. but the longer you push it, the more momentum that rock gets, and the easier it is to push. And so you have to really commit yourself, at least for a year, saying for a year, I’m going to release one podcast every week. You know, come what may, I’m going to be like the US Postal Service, it doesn’t matter if it’s rain, doesn’t matter if it’s snow, this podcast is showing up. And set a benchmark, like if we can hit this number of downloads in a year, this made it worth the resources that we put in. Give yourself that year, and see if you hit your benchmark. If you didn’t, drop it, it wasn’t the right thing for your church. But my guess is you will not only hit your benchmark unless you were, you know, outrageously ambitious, you’ll probably supersede it.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. What has been your, this is kind of a personal question, what’s been the topic or the felt need that you feel like was the most impactful?

Patrick Miller: I mean, we’ve hit so many and so it’s hard for me to pick one because they’ve all been impactful in their own ways. One thing I think a lot of churches could start even with a pastor in combination with a communications person, it’s just biblical literacy. I think the average pastor wants people in their church to spend more time in the Bible, steal our idea, start a little once-a-week podcast where you do a ten-minute devotion on a Bible passage, and tell people in your church about it. And again, I think you’ll be surprised how many people download it, how many of them are going to listen to it while they’re doing the dishes or they’re on a run or they’re on their commute, they’re going to engage with it. And all of a sudden you’ll realize, I’ve just become a parish pastor. You know, like back in the old days when a pastor could walk around to people’s workplaces and houses and check in on them. Well, now you’re doing that digitally, you’re becoming a part of their life in between Sundays. You’re reclaiming some of the time from whether it’s CNN, or Fox News, or Facebook, or whatever it is they’re on, you’re reclaiming some of that for Jesus. And so that would be a major one that I think almost all churches could do, people want to spend more time in their Bible, they need guidance, and pastors have the ability to do that.

Jason Hamrock: So let me ask you this, so we just met I’ve not talked to Patrick before, so full disclosure, I haven’t listened to any of your podcasts yet, the keyword there is yet. So I’m going to go listen to some.

Bart Blair: I will say, I have, I just want to clarify, because I’m the one that booked Patrick on the show, and I’ve listened to a few episodes of Truth over Tribe, but really any of the church stuff, so, I’m sorry for interrupting.

Jason Hamrock: So you that’s great, I love that idea of like 10 minutes in the Bible. What do you do at the end of your episode, what’s the call to action?

Patrick Miller: Yeah, that’s a great question. Again, this is going to be different depending on the church. Podcast, let me tell you about the pros and cons of podcasting, pros of podcasting, especially if you’re in a college-educated environment, podcasting has grown tremendously. You have a lot of people in your congregation who are listening to podcasts. Again, if you’re in a mostly college-educated environment, that would be less the case if your congregation is maybe more high school educated. So again, I’m just saying that you need to know who your people are. The downside of a podcast is you get download numbers, you really don’t get much data beyond that. And so it can be really hard to track what’s happening with those people, and so for us, with our podcasts, our major goal is exposure. And so what we do at the end of every podcast is just tell people, hey, obviously you’ve got the like and subscribe, but actually, the bigger thing is telling people to text the episode to a friend. We’ve learned over time because we can see this, that the number one way people share our podcast episodes is via text messages. Now I like to think, who are they texting this to? Well, they’re probably texting it to family members, to friends, and maybe to people who are outside the church. Isn’t that exactly what you want? Isn’t that exactly the way that you’re going to reach people and pull them in? If Joe, who’s listening to ten-minute Bible talks, sends it off to John in his office, who doesn’t really go to church but is kind of interested in some Jesus stuff, maybe. Well, that might be the way, John says, oh, that was a great episode, I’ve started listening to this. And he says, well, those people, they’re actually the pastors of my church, you should come to church sometime and see what it’s like. So it’s easy to imagine the on-ramp there with podcasting, so that’s why I say texting is usually the emphasis I would want to put in the foreground.

Jason Hamrock: Are you tracking when somebody does text that, and how do you do that?

Patrick Miller: Yeah, well, so again, this is the weakness of podcasts, podcasts, because they exist on so many different platforms and every platform collects data in a different way, you really don’t have a lot of access to information around what’s happening. Thankfully, Spotify does track how people share your episodes, so that’s where I’m getting this texting thing from is at the end of the year Spotify will give you a readout on, hey, here are the ways that people shared your content. And again, texting on all of our podcasts came up as the number one, well over 50% of shares came from texting.

Jason Hamrock: Love it. I love it.

Bart Blair: You know, we’ve talked with our audience in the past about podcasting. We had Jeff Keady, who hosts a podcast called 200 Churches on our podcast to talk about how pastors can use the platform of podcasting to engage with their church, to engage with their community. I know that for a lot of pastors, just the idea of getting started is pretty intimidating, and I appreciate what you said there about the consistency. You know, Jason and I will tell you, we just last week at the time that we were recording this, we just dropped our 100th episode. And to think that we’ve stuck through this for 100 episodes, we celebrated, it is pretty monumental. The reality is not every episode was great, you know, some of them we walked away from and went, wow, that person was amazing, we can’t wait to get them back on the show. And others were sort of like, well, we’ve got an episode that is in the can. Like I’m sure you’ve experienced some of the same things.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Like a sermon.

Bart Blair: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly, you’re not killing it 52 weeks a year. What counsel, advice, or encouragement would you have for a pastor or a church leadership team to help them even just get started from, obviously, you’ve given us an idea about content, some biblical literacy stuff, from a technical, practical standpoint, what does that look like to get started on a podcast?

Jason Hamrock: And I want to throw one more in there. Do you plan for the future?

Patrick Miller: Hmm. Yeah. So let me start with the first question, and I’ll say this, again, depending on your church size and your schedule, I know a lot of pastors already feel like they have a job that takes up 120% of their time. And so when I come in saying, oh, just go do a podcast, you got plenty of time. They’re like, oh, sure, yeah, right, okay. And so for some of you, what I am suggesting is maybe you need to say no to some things. Pastors have really weak no muscles, we need to strengthen them because when you say yes to everything, you end up saying no to the important things. On the other side, I will say this It doesn’t have to be you. I believe in the priesthood of all believers, God has given you a body, he’s put the people in your congregation already who he might want to be the ones who are running this podcast. Our podcasts are not all run by pastors, they’re not all run by staff members, we’ve helped equip people inside of our church to do and to lead these podcasts, and so it might not be you. So the first thing I just say is if you can’t do it, who is, you know, maybe it’s someone on your staff or maybe it’s a member of your church, who is someone who you could equip to do this thing. On a technical level, I’ll just say this Podcasting is super easy, it is actually. It sounds really hard and I’ve got some Twitter threads, and I maybe can send them to you so you can share them. Literally, all you have to do is buy a microphone and buy a little device that records things on that microphone, and then you just upload it into a podcast server. It’s incredibly simple to get out the gate with this stuff. If you’re able to to to use Dropbox, you’re able to do a podcast. This stuff is not really technical, so don’t get overwhelmed by that. What I always tell people is if you can just set aside 1500 dollars, you can spend about 800 to 1000 of that buying nice equipment that makes all this very, very easy, you can spend 100 of that on your podcast server just making sure that it’s going to all the right places, and then you can dedicate $400 of it to do stuff like advertising if you have the bandwidth to do that little bit. This is not an expensive project, this is not even a super time-consuming project if you’re able to structure it correctly.

Jason Hamrock: And then do you guys, like, when you think about what you’re going to talk about, do you guys plan out in advance, or is it more like every week we just kind of figure out what we’re going to do?

Patrick Miller: Yeah, you know, I think both options are live options depending on how you organize your life and your schedule. We are a very systematic team and so we plan out pretty far into the future. So with our digital content in general at the church we run, we call them sprints, but little six-week-long campaigns, and we plan out all the content that’s going to come out in that campaign. And inside of that campaign, it’s usually thematic, we have a topic that we’re exploring. There’s also always a really clear goal that we’re setting. so it might be we want to add an additional 1000 newsletter subscribers, or we want to promote this podcast that we have. There’s always a goal that we’re trying to do, and there’s always a target audience for each campaign, who’s the kind of person that we’re trying to reach with this content. And so we plan those out pretty well in advance, but that’s not the only way to do it. I mean, with our podcast, we have some, like ten-minute Bible talks, it’s planned all the way through the next year, we know what we’re doing in 2023. But with stuff like Truth Over Tribe, we’re more like, you know, six weeks ahead of time. So, you know, again, it just depends on the kind of content that you’re doing, what you want to create, and how much planning you want to do.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, And here’s a nugget for you, church. I mean, my guess is I hope, I sure hope this happens for you, that your lead pastor plans out his sermon series, at least a few months, if not six months, hopefully, the whole year, but you know how that is. You know, your podcast episodes could just tailor to those, so you don’t have to really make it too difficult, you just kind of follow in the footsteps of what leadership is doing in terms of what they’re going to be preaching on.

Patrick Miller: One idea I’ve seen from churches is a midweek podcast that goes deeper into whatever was discussed in the sermon, so on one level, it’s assuming that you’ve heard the sermon, But, you know, every pastor I know writes, you know, 4000 words for their sermon and then only ends up saying 2500 words. Well, don’t throw away that bit that you cut out that you really loved, keep it and you can do a midweek podcast based on that. It could just be you talking solo, hey, here are the three things I wish I could have said on Sunday, or it could be you with a staff member talking about, hey, how do we apply this particularly thorny obstacle that I laid out in this week’s sermon? There are a lot of different things you can do, but a mid-week podcast that’s kind of a part of your Sunday morning experience in the sense that it’s going deeper in the sermon is a great way to again, start up something.

Bart Blair: Jason’s home church, your home church actually does that, Jason. He’s at Sun Valley in the Phoenix area, and their pastors actually have a midweek podcast that goes deeper into the content that was preached on Sunday. I don’t watch the sermons on Sunday, and I don’t attend the church because I live in the Dallas area, but I actually subscribe and listen to the podcast because the content alone, just in the conversations that they have about the sermon that they preached on Sunday, I always find to be super beneficial, super helpful. I’m sure that there are some bullet points and some things that they’re working through when they do those conversations about the sermon, but the reality is it’s just a conversation about the sermon that was already preached and just going, you know, picking up some stuff that maybe hit the cutting room floor and kind of taking it to another level, so I appreciate that. Let me ask you a question, Jason, I know you had another question because we have a million for Patrick. Sorry, Patrick, and sorry for those of you who are listening here. Patrick, you mentioned just a minute ago that when you’re thinking through the content that you’re creating, and you’re planning that out, you’re thinking about the audience that you’re trying to reach. Do you do the majority of your content for your what we would call ring one people, the people who are already part of The Crossing, or are you thinking about the ring two people in your community who might be actively looking for a church, or ring three people, people who are just out there in the community that aren’t even looking for a church? Like, what is your primary audience when you’re creating your content?

Patrick Miller: That’s a fantastic question, and the answer is, is all of the above, depending on the specific campaign here, and we might pick one of those groups. So we have some campaigns that are really focused on what we call the bottom of the funnel, I think you call them ring one, ring one people that that’s who we’re focused on reaching and creating content for. We have some campaigns, probably the majority, that are focused on ring two, so these are people who we would maybe describe not just as community, but also people who are there checking out church, but they’re not super engaged with what’s happening inside the church, and so so we do most of our campaigns focus in that sphere. And then we do some that reach outside of that, as a church, I mean, again, we have national podcasts, and what we do with some of those looks a little bit different, but as far as our content goes, for the most part, we’re focused on ring one and ring two, primarily ring two. But again, we don’t do both at the same time, that’s really important to note. We don’t say, hey, in this campaign we’re going to try to reach both the people at the bottom of our funnel and the people who’ve never heard of our church before, that’s a great way to miss everyone.

Jason Hamrock: Hmm. Yeah, it is. I was going to go back because I think it’s really important, and then we probably need to land this plane. But I want to go back and talk about this keyword, that is if you don’t embrace this word, it isn’t going to happen for you, and that’s consistency. You have to be consistent. And through that, I will also say you’re going to have failure, and that’s a good thing, so don’t get beat up when your podcast is horrible or doesn’t go out on time, just keep going and learn from it, because I think through failure, that’s going to help you get better. You’re not going to hit a home run every single time, and I think that’s what you guys, Patrick, that’s what you’re telling us that you’ve learned along the way is consistency, and kind of just figuring it out as you go along. You’ve been doing this for years now, and you just didn’t wake up one day and get to this point, it took a long time, but it was well worth it.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, you know, first of all, we’ve had tons of failures. And one of the beauties of the Internet is that, well, yes, it kind of lasts forever, it doesn’t stay on people’s radars forever. And so I kind of joke that sometimes we’re just creating the shiniest piece of trash on top of the trash heap, it’s not very good, but eventually, something is going to cover it up and everybody will forget about it. But I agree, consistency is by, by, by, by, by far the most important thing. I would far rather have a mediocre talent who could produce consistent content, over a world-class talent who cannot be consistent at all. I will always take consistency, and I tend to think about these as like dials, like, quality on one end, and time input on the other end. You’ve got some people who, they want to be perfectionists, everything has to be really, really high quality. And if that’s you, you’re going to have a really hard time with digital content because we really have to dial down, we need quantity and consistency. Now, again, one of our cultural values at our church is excellence, so I don’t think our podcasts are crap, we aren’t just putting trash out there. I’m kind of joking when I use those phrases, and yet I understand that consistency is the key to growing an audience, it’s the key to engaging people over the long term. And yeah, I mean, I go back and listen to our early episodes of many of our podcasts, I mean, they’re disasters.

Jason Hamrock: You’re shaking your head.

Patrick Miller: You know, and I’m sure I’ll go back to the ones we’re doing right now, you know, a year from now and I’d be like, oh my gosh, that was terrible, I can’t believe we did that. But that’s part of growth and maturity. It’s exact same thing as preaching, if you listen to your early sermons, I mean, good gosh, they’re awful, you know, and you’re just glad that you got to grow over time. And you know what forced you to do that, by the way, Sunday is always a coming. And so if you can get that podcast released on Wednesdays, Wednesday is always a coming too, make it a part of your life and you’ll see that transformation happen.

Bart Blair: So I go back and listen to some of the first sermons that I preached when I started preaching on a regular basis, and I can’t believe that people stayed in the room, like, it’s, and then they came back the next Sunday. So, you know, one of my favorite John Maxwellisms of all time is that content compounds. And so if you’re creating podcast content, you’re creating good digital content through blogs, however, you’re creating it, whether it’s YouTube content, whatever it is that you’re creating, that consistency gives you credibility because people see that you’re serious about what you’re doing. And the other, I guess this is more of a Carey Nieuwhof thing, I think it was Carey Nieuwhof that I heard say this years ago, and it’s something that’s stuck with me. And that is before you hit the button send or before you hit the button publish, or whatever button you’re about to push, always ask yourself the question, “Is what I’m doing going to add value to the person who’s going to receive it?”. You know, we’re not creating content for the sake of creating content, we’re not sending an email for the sake of sending an email. And I think, boy, rewinding all the way back to the very beginning of our conversation, Patrick, and you talked about the way that you guys repurposed your electronic newsletter, your weekly newsletter. I think that that is a missed opportunity for so many churches, because they don’t ask themselves the question is what I’m sending adding value, or am I merely giving people a calendar of events? And I think that that’s a really good question that a lot of churches need to be asking themselves.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah.

Bart Blair: There was a pause, and everybody kind of went, yeah. So, Jason, let us land this plane. You had a great, what I would call a parting shot, just a moment there, Jason, But if you have anything else that you want to add before we get to that, go ahead.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, I think one other thing that we kind of skimmed over, and that is when when you start your podcast, church, be consistent and use your own people. You’ve got to communicate and promote your podcast to your own people to kind of get that boulder moving down the hill a little bit. And so for the first several months, this was Patrick’s advice, consistently remind your people that the podcast is there, encourage them to listen and subscribe and share. So utilize your own people, you’ve got marketing, I call them the marketing minions sitting in your seats, use them for your podcast growth.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, we’re really intentional, because again, I think we’re running six podcasts now. Every time we’ve launched a podcast, we’ve been very intentional about making sure that people in the pews, we don’t have actual pews, but in the pews, will hear about it and will know what it is, but also using our digital marketing to reach people online and share about it there. And I think this is also just a church culture thing, if your church doesn’t, a lot of Christians, they’re happy to share the latest thing from Tucker Carlson, they’re happy to share the latest thing from Tim Keller. they’re happy to share whoever they’re in to, whatever it is they’re watching, they’ll share it. But they feel no sense of calling to share what’s happening in their churches because they don’t see it as a ministry, they’re just out there self-expressing, here’s the stuff that I like. And so I would also say, if you’re going to start a podcast, maybe not right when you start it because it will look really self-serving, but at some point, even in your sermons, there’s a place to tell people, hey, you have a ministry to others online, and one of the ways that you can serve people in our community is by sharing the content that we have here. And this isn’t me being self-serving and saying that, it’s because when people see it on your social media feed or when you text it to them, that’s going to become a doorway for you to have a spiritual conversation, it’s going to become a doorway for you to invite people from your office to come and be a part of your church, and it’s a doorway because it’s a really low step, right? You’re not starting with come to church, you’re starting with listen to this podcast, read this blog post, let’s grab lunch and talk about this. You’re starting in a relationship with digital content, and then moving towards the bigger step of, hey, let’s worship together.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah.

Bart Blair: Absolute gold. Patrick, thank you so much for hanging out with us, it has been a real privilege to get to know you. And for those that are listening or watching who might want to experience what the family or the folks at The Crossing are experiencing with some of this digital content, or they want to learn more about what you’re doing, is there a central hub or is there a logical place for them to go and check that out?

Patrick Miller: Yeah, you know, we’ve created content in such a way that a lot of this operates behind the scenes, so you’re not going to necessarily realize it or see it, but you can go to our website, www.thecrossingchurch.com, and you can see some of the stuff we’re doing there. If you want to engage with me, Twitter is my preferred social media, I do try to limit my social media despite being a digital ministry person. So I’d love to talk with you there my handle is PatrickKMiller_ And another person I would recommend you follow is the guy who’s kind of the director and operator of all of our systems, 90% of what I just said is him making a lot of this stuff really work, and his name is Anthony Alphin and he’s just @AnthonyAlphin, and he talks a lot about these topics on Twitter as well. So again, I just recommend following us, send us a DM, we’re very responsive, and we’d love to connect with you. We don’t have a special sauce, we’ll give everybody the recipe, we just want to see churches reach people in their communities digitally, that’s all we care about.

 

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