Creative Planning for Easter & Events | Ben Stapley

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Has your team started planning for Easter? Ben Stapley shares how early planning will elevate your seasonal church outreach.

Podcast Transcription


Bart Blair: [00:00:00] Record. All right, I’m going to pause for just a second here, Ben, and then I’m going to jump right in.

Bart Blair: [00:00:08] Ben Stapley, thanks so much for joining Jason and me on the podcast today.

Ben Stapley: [00:00:12] Bart and Jason, great to be with you guys, I am excited to be talking about all things Easter.

Bart Blair: [00:00:17] Yeah, absolutely, we’re excited about this conversation. At the time that this episode comes out, Easter is probably not on the forefront of most church leaders’ minds, they are probably still recovering from Christmas. But we definitely want to start to grease the wheels for Easter, and so we’ve got a lot of stuff that we want to talk about today. A lot of questions that we want to ask you about in terms of your experience planning Easter services, and how churches can leverage that for a more significant impact in their community. But before we get to the topic at hand, we’d love to have you just share a little bit of your story, your background, how you ended up in ministry, and how you ended up doing what you’re doing today.

Ben Stapley: [00:00:58] Yeah. First of all, again, I love what you guys are doing at Missional Marketing. The idea that churches would need marketing may, when I jumped into ministry, that was pretty novel and a lot of churches weren’t thinking that way. So to rewind the clock, I have been in ministry for about seventeen years, but before that, I was in television as a producer. And I wanted to take those skill sets of creating an experience that would help draw people into an important message, and I wanted to be able to take that and extrapolate that and bring it into the church world, and bring it into the ministry world.

Ben Stapley: [00:01:29] And so I actually started my professional career as a television producer in Canada, and then came down to the States and jumped into ministry, and I’ve been involved in ministry ever since then, for the past 17 years. And my desire ultimately is to do that, is to how do I create experiences that bring people who are far from God closer to Him? And then ultimately, how do they, then, after they have crossed the line, how do they bring people into those experiences as well and introduce their friends and family? And how do we ultimately share the good news in the Gospel? So that’s a quick synopsis.

Ben Stapley: [00:02:03] I was in Jersey for the first 14 years of my ministry, working for some churches there. And then the past three years, I have been in Miami, working at Christ Fellowship Miami. And then just recently, as in two months ago, I bounced back up to New Jersey. My wife and I felt called to be close to family and friends in this area, and we looked for a great church to partner with to accomplish that, and so I’m now the Executive Pastor at TLCC, The Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey. So that’s a quick snapshot of where I’ve come from, and how God’s used some of that background of my own in terms of marketing His gospel, in the lack of a better term, to connect more people to Him.

Bart Blair: [00:02:46] I have a question for you. When you started in Jersey, or at some point in Jersey, were are you serving on staff at Liquid Church?

Ben Stapley: [00:02:54] Yes, I was the Creative Arts Pastor there for about four years.

Bart Blair: [00:02:57] Oh yeah, Ok, I’m connecting some dots here. Were you at Liquid Church when Liquid Church did a series called Home Run Faith?

Ben Stapley: [00:03:07] Yes.

Bart Blair: [00:03:08] OK, so I’m a big baseball fan, and I remember, I think it could have actually been you that I reached out to, I reached out to somebody at Liquid on the creative team because you guys had produced little baseball cards for like Peter, and Paul, and Timothy, and Steven, and then taught on each of those guys. And I basically completely ripped off that sermon series, and I reached out to you guys and I said, hey, can I have all of the creative? And somebody, it might have even been you, sent it all to me, and I printed little baseball cards, and I used the bumper video, and the whole nine yards. So whatever part you played in Home Run Faith, you blessed me and my church family. That’s probably eight years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago, it’s been a while. But when you said Jersey, I was like, I’m pretty sure you were on staff at Liquid. So yeah.

Ben Stapley: [00:04:03] Bart, as they say, good artists copy, but great artists steal. So I’m glad that you stole from us to accomplish God’s mission at your church.

Bart Blair: [00:04:10] Is it really stealing if I called and ask to ask for permission?

Ben Stapley: [00:04:15] That axiom probably is not the most accurate in your situation, that is correct.

Bart Blair: [00:04:19] Ok, OK. I just wanted to clarify that I did reach out and say, hey, please give me all your stuff. And somebody on the Liquid staff said, sure, take it and run with it. So it was awesome, it was awesome. Hey, so thanks for kind of giving us the rundown there on your background and where you are and what you’re doing in ministry. One of the things that you said offline before we started recording was you’ve done Christmas and Easter, what did you say, 17 times?

Ben Stapley: [00:04:48] I’m going into my 18th year at this point.

Bart Blair: [00:04:50] Yeah, 18 years, and those of us who have been in ministry, we can relate to that, Christmas and Easter come every year. As you kind of transitioned from television production and into the church space and began to kind of cross-pollinate using your gifts and your talents and your experiences from the broadcast world into the church world, and as you’ve developed your own skillset in terms of church leadership, what are some of the things that you’ve learned that have helped you plan great Christmas and Easter experiences?

Ben Stapley: [00:05:22] Great question. For me, and this isn’t just, I’m going to go back into my toolbox in terms of thinking about big shows and coming from a television perspective, time. There’s the old adage, you know, do you want a quick, cheap or good? You can pick two. And oftentimes churches will skimp on the…They want it fast, so, you know, give it to me as quickly as possible. And so when it comes to Christmas and Easter, a lot of churches do decent with planning Christmas because they’ll plan it, and you know, hey, we got Christmas in July, we’ve got a six-month lead-in. There’s a down season, we can spend some time thinking about that, most churches do that well. If you’re not, I encourage you towards it, because if you don’t plan it in the summer, the fall hits, and then things are just crazy from there on out.

Ben Stapley: [00:06:08] The problem is because of how the calendar hits, you can give about a six-month lead into Christmas, but even the fact that we’re talking about this now, I’ve got a feeling, I’m guilty as charged, that a lot of churches have not spoken about Easter at all yet. And so then, you usually have a three-month or two month, kind of depending on when it lands on the calendar, run going into Easter. And you’re also coming on the heels, running on fumes, from Christmas and you’re going into the New Year. So that’s probably the biggest thing, is just try to give yourself as much planning and try to get that Easter planning in around Thanksgiving, getting it started then.

Ben Stapley: [00:06:43] And then, I’ve found, working with a lot of lead pastors, is they’re going to approach Easter and Christmas based upon how they’re wired, either in two different ways. They’re either going to approach it with, they got strong direction, this is what I want us to do. Or, they don’t know what they want, and they’re going to pass that responsibility off to their creative director, their arts programmer, whatever the title is, and they’re going to say, you pitch me one or two ideas, and I’m going to give you feedback. The biggest tension, from what I’ve seen with churches, is when they don’t have that clarity with how the lead pastor is wired, and then map out the work accordingly. Where it’s people waiting around for the vision from the lead pastor, and he’s like, I was never going to give this to you, you’re the creative ones, you tell me what you want to do. Or, vice versa, the team spent a lot of energy ideating, and doing mood boards, and conceptualizing things, and then they pitch it, and he’s like, no, no, no, I know exactly what I want to do, why did you give me this whole PowerPoint presentation on your plan, we’ve wasted a lot of energy? So figure out how your lead pastor is wired, and then go from there.

Ben Stapley: [00:07:48] And then probably the last thing, just planning those big events, is brainstorming. I’ve been a part of, and I’ve led, I’ll call it out, I’ve led fruitless brainstorming sessions. So how do you, after you get an understanding of who’s running the show and who’s taking point, is that your lead pastor is your creative director? After you figure that out, how do they then pull out, to get the right people into the meetings, get the right ideas from them, document them accordingly, and take the needed action steps on them? Like there’s a whole process to that, that I’ve seen a lot of organizations in general, but churches in particular, kind of do a bad job. That they waste time, they don’t have the right people in the room, they’re shooting down ideas just because they’re thinking about budget, and they are like, that’s not practical, that’s not practical, and they don’t have anything inspirational. So those are probably the biggest things that I would say as you plan out your big holidays, think through those things, give yourself time, give yourself directions, and give yourself very productive brainstorming meetings.

Jason Hamrock: [00:08:48] When would you start Easter planning?

Ben Stapley: [00:08:52] November, I kind of like the latest October, November, I think is a good time for that. Any earlier, and you’re bumping into your Christmas planning, and any later and you’re getting to now, your executing phase, you know, November, December are really your executing phase for December, and you’re kind of running into that. So I think I think that that best window, not November, is actually around October. But that’s me, Jason, I know you’ve got great ideas as well. Counter.

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:17] Well, I…Oh, go ahead.

Ben Stapley: [00:09:20] No, no, I’m saying, when would you suggest that?

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:23] Well, I probably agree with that, because it’s not a surprise, you know, and it’s not like you can’t be thinking about something that’s going to be months away when you have a huge event happening in a month or two, Christmas, right? But I think you’re absolutely right, and it’s the idea of making sure you’ve got the right people at the table with plenty of time for brainstorming. I mean, we know what the message is, but how we’re going to wrap that up is really important. I also think the big miss for churches is they don’t think about what happens after the fact, right? A lot of your new timers, what I call the CEOs, the Christmas and Easter Only’s, what’s going to bring them back? What is going to bring them back in January, because they had a really good experience at Christmas? So what’s going to bring them back, the rest of April, May, June, because they experienced something in April, you know at Easter, what did you think about after the fact? I think sometimes we just focus on just that main event and we forget, oh, wait, what if they want to come back? What do we have to offer them? Your thoughts?

Ben Stapley: [00:10:23] I agree, I like to aim for 50/50. So 50 percent of our effort is going to go towards Christmas at large, but 50 percent of our energy should go towards our, I call it, our callback series, what are we calling people back towards? At the end of the day, Christmas always overshadows everything, and it’s never a 50/50, it’s kind of 75/25, or maybe 80/20. But at least you’ve done 80 percent of your creative juices on that, instead of just, oh gosh, we got nothing. The first of the year, it’s a guest speaker, and they’re speaking on something completely untethered with where we are going for the rest of the year. And it’s just, it’s a standalone message, and it’s really a wasted opportunity. And then you stand up for that big full room on Christmas, we’re so glad you’re here, come back next week when the youth pastor is preaching. It’s not the most, no offense to youth pastors, I did it for six months, that’s all I could take. But you know, so we’re joking about that, but you’re right there, that you can’t just spend all this energy getting people out the first time, what is the sticking factor that they’re going to come back the second time?

Jason Hamrock: [00:11:26] Yeah, a couple of times at the church we went to, there’d be a Christmas Eve, and they would usually give some kind of a gift. One year, I remember we gave a book, and we had that author of that book that was going to show up in February, we’re going to have a series on it in January and February, and he’s going to he was going to finish it. And I thought, what a great way to connect what’s happening right now with new people, and bringing them back. And so you should try to think through that stuff, right? It’s just sometimes we, a lot of churches when we talked to them, I always ask that question, what do you do after the fact? That’s a good question, we don’t know.

Bart Blair: [00:12:04] Yeah, I would add to your timeline there, you both kind of maybe made me realize this, that when we have our team together late summer, early fall and we begin the creative process of thinking through Christmas, we’re already in a pretty highly creative mode. In fact, hopefully, your staff has had an opportunity through the summer to unplug a little bit and they’re coming back to the fall with the new energy and excitement. And it is a good time, in that same window, to have some brainstorming conversations about Easter because we all know that the staff pushes so hard through the holidays, that by the time they come back from January, the tank is typically not full, it typically is a time where we’ve kind of spent everything that we had. Now we’ve got this ready, set, be creative. You know, ready, set, say something funny. Like it doesn’t work that way, creativity does come in in ebbs and flows and seasons, but I’m a firm believer that the staff has to be rested and energized and have the margin to be able to be creative and think about creativity. So I think that’s a very interesting, an interesting perspective to say, hey, what if you, as your beginning the execution of your Christmas, start dreaming, planning, and thinking about…You know, what were the plans that you had for Christmas that ended up on the cutting room floor, and is there any way that some of those can actually be implemented for Easter, and can we actually think that far ahead? Not that we need to act on any of them between October and December, but if we already have a dry erase board with some key points on it when we hit the planning stages in mid-January, after we’ve come back to the new year, we’ve already got a little bit of runway in front of us and some things that we can build off of. So, I think that’s interesting.

Bart Blair: [00:14:01] So, you talked about brainstorming, Ben, and I remember as a creative director at a church, sitting in creative planning meetings with my team, and we had a few staff people and a few laypeople who would sit and do these brainstorming sessions. And our first brainstorming sessions, we operated on a no logistics policy, meaning if someone came up with a great idea, we were not allowed in that first meeting to discuss the logistics. Because, you know, I’m sitting there as the creative director, and someone says we should get a Black Hawk helicopter and come landing in the back parking lot of the building to make this sermon illustration, and all I’m thinking is I’m never going to be able to pull that off. And in those first meetings, we’re not allowed to do that right, it’s a total umbrella of grace. And so sometimes brainstorming can lead to really great results, sometimes brainstorming can lead a team down doing some really silly and goofy things that maybe didn’t execute the way that we thought they would. Do you have any good stories, or at least examples of brainstorming, and experiments, innovations, that that went wrong? The things that didn’t go the way that you planned and hoped?

Ben Stapley: [00:15:14] Can I at least start with something that went right before I went to the wrong? I love that, yes, I will.

Bart Blair: [00:15:19] Yeah, of course.

Ben Stapley: [00:15:20] Let me, so when it comes to brainstorming, like, you just hit on two things that you might be planning, whenever you’re planning, sometimes we have the horse blinders on like Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, and we come up with a great idea. And then we’re like forget about it, that doesn’t work for Christmas, it’s not an elf, it’s not holiday fun, it won’t work. And then we lose that idea, and I always say, like, we’ve got to capture these additional ideas, so just put it in that miscellaneous that we can come back to. And then another thing, just in terms of what works really well is I always, there are more creative people in your organization, especially if people are listening that’s not a church, outside of your staff, and then outside of the people who are typically in your creative fields. And so think through who those people are, and be pretty open-handed with who gets an invitation to the table because you don’t want to just, oh, this person is not a creative. Sometimes I’ve had people who are bankers, engineers, accountants, people who are more, you know, in those fields, but they’re are great ideators. So, be pretty open-handed with who you let come to the table.

Ben Stapley: [00:16:21] In terms of things that have not worked for me, especially in relation to the Christmas season, I’ve seen a lot of churches, myself included, be just in overload. So we had the Christmas series, coming from a marketing standpoint too, we’re launching a Christmas series, we have Christmas shows sometime in that final week, we have a Christmas Eve service, we have our year-end service, and at some point, the average guest, who’s coming there once a month, has no idea what is the most important thing. I am saying two things, try to streamline some of your experiences, and don’t just have this huge smorgasbord that people aren’t going to be coming to, that’s one option. The other option is to streamline your communication, so at the end of the day, if I can only come to one experience, and you want me to invite someone to come with me for that, what is that thing? Is it, when you launch the Christmas series in December, is it your Christmas show? Is it your Christmas Eve service on the 24th? What is that one thing, and hammer that, hammer that, hammer that? And also we have additional opportunities, yadda, yadda, but I think I’ve seen that happen a lot of churches, where there’s not clarity in terms of what takes precedence.

Ben Stapley: [00:17:34] I’ve done this as well, I’ve gone too avant-garde for holiday services like an Easter or a Christmas, especially Christmas. People want the classics, they want you to play the hits, you know, like when you got an old rock band from the 70s, you want them to play the hits, play the hits, play what we know. Don’t pull out your new album, I really don’t care what you did last year, I want what got you famous. And so when it comes to holiday services, I think sometimes, especially the creative side, we want to get avant-garde, and then we just lose people, so avoid that if possible. And then probably like the worst thing is, again, I’m saying this in hope and faith, we just finished Christmas season, but nothing ruins a Christmas experience like the smell of burnt hair. Those candlelight services can go pretty askew, pretty quick. I’ve been a part of that. And also where we didn’t test the fire alarm system, and a thousand people blew out a candle at the same time and the smoke went up, and then now we’re all in the parking lot for 30 minutes as the fire marshal comes and he shuts us down because we’re out of zone compliance. So those are some of the ways that brainstorming has gone askew for me in terms of its application over the years.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:44] The Christmas fail. Yeah, I have to agree, I think we, church people, get so hung up on, well, we can’t do that we did that last year. Nobody remembers it, they don’t even remember what you did a month ago, so, you know, we had to remind ourselves, it’s OK to repeat things. In fact, it’s probably better that we repeat it, right, and so we would have some of those experiences. I think that’s another thing, is just don’t be focused on your people, but be focused on those people that are maybe coming to church for the first time, right? And maybe they’re checking you out online, and just make sure you have clarity into what you’re about, and what to expect, and then next steps would be my…

Bart Blair: [00:19:31] Yeah, that’s really good, Jason. I actually learned a lesson about this from an unchurched neighbor when I was the creative arts director at this church in the Toronto area. There was another church near us that was growing very rapidly, a very gifted senior communicator, and they had a bit of buzz in the community because the church was fast-growing and they had a really gifted preacher. And one of my unchurched neighbors, he and his wife went to their service for Easter, and he told me that he was really disappointed because he doesn’t go to church very often, and he went to church on Easter, and the pastor did not preach on the Easter story. He couldn’t explain to me exactly what it was that the pastor preached on, it was some guy named Paul in some story, and he didn’t really know. And I kind of looked into it and I was like, well, they were in a teaching series, and they didn’t break the teaching series for Easter Sunday, they actually just continued on and whatever epistle they were working through. And I thought that was an eye-opening moment for me because I thought, you know, I too like to push the envelope of creativity and do things that are sort of out of the box. But I realized that when it comes to Christmas and Easter, there is sort of a baseline expectation that people have, that when they show up to the church, that they’re going to get a Christmas at Christmas, and an Easter message at Easter. Don’t get those two mixed up, don’t do Easter on Christmas. But yeah, that was one of the lessons that I learned just from having a conversation with a neighbor that wasn’t really interested in church, but for some reason he decided to go in Easter, hoping to hear the Easter story, and he didn’t get the Easter story. So that was a lesson learned.

Jason Hamrock: [00:21:24] So hey, Ben, what are some of the experiences that have gone really, really well that that come to mind?

Ben Stapley: [00:21:31] It used to be, it’s funny, a lot of the experiences I used to view it through the what’s the success, and what’s a win, and what’s that check mark, and did we accomplish what we wanted? I usually evaluated that through the lens of the destination, did we get to where we wanted? So in other words, do we have some great experience? We did an environmental, I remember maybe 10 years ago, an environmental projection, it was big for me and my church at the time, and we felt great, we did this wow moment for people. I’ve done the interior snow, you know, hey, like during the last chorus, and the snow’s coming down. Like, man, that’s a wow, and there are experiences in the destination side that I thought were well. Also from the destination, like the marketing, I’ve done cool ideas, like, hey, if we were able to, there’s this new thing called Uber. And what happens if we were to like, if people can’t come, we give them a free voucher to our destinations, we figure out with Uber, like, they’re not describing a ride to the mall, but it’s only to one of our destinations. We figured out some of those fun things as well.

Ben Stapley: [00:22:34] But over time, it’s been less destination for me, and it’s been more journey, and what I mean by that is the process leading up to it. I’ve been a part of churches as a staff member, and as a volunteer, where everyone dreaded Christmas, everyone dreaded Easter because the planning was so poor and last minute, and the teamwork was not good, there was a lack of vision. Or the expectations, the expectations in reality in terms of what your budget was, and what we’re trying to do is just so off. and everyone felt like I’m busting my hump here, and it’s not enough. And so when you ask me what’s something I’m proud of when I look back on, its times when I took the journey more serious, and I took the time with the staff and the volunteers to lead that through them, keep the vision front and center, and the experience in the background. I think those have been the most rewarding holiday seasons for me, where I can look back and say, yeah, I don’t even remember what the experience was, I don’t remember what we were preaching on, it may have been Paul, I don’t know. But I do know everyone participating leading up to it felt honored, and they realized who they were honoring, it wasn’t the Leeds pastor’s expectation to double attendance this year, they kept everything front and center, and the results, the results were secondary after that. So I think that’s where I’ve changed, probably, maybe in the last five years, that I kind of probably wish I would have changed 10 years ago in terms of what I thought was a win come the holiday seasons.

Bart Blair: [00:24:05] Let’s talk a minute about Easter, specifically. We’ve really talked a lot about, I think, just the big event planning that kind of comes around Christmas and Easter. But let’s look ahead to Easter of 2022. The landscape in the church has changed, you know, 2020 brought a unique opportunity for churches at Easter. 2021, there was still sort of this trying to figure out how to do Easter. 2022, new season, new opportunities, so what do you see as you look ahead, some of the best opportunities for churches this Easter for both online and their in-person experiences?

Ben Stapley: [00:24:47] That’s a great question, I love how you’re saying it’s online and on-site. I think there may have been a pendulum swing, there definitely was a pendulum swing when it was pretty much all on-site, and then we went all online, and then we’re trying to figure out our way to navigate to somewhere in between. And some churches have kind of thrown out the baby with the bathwater, and kind of forgotten or neglected online because they’re finally on site again. And so encouraging us, hey, how do we do this well is super helpful, Bart, thank you for that. One of the things that I’m a big fan of, some of this may be low-hanging fruit for some of your listeners, but I’m trying to give everyone actionable steps. But photo booths are great, they’re a low investment in terms of setting up a fern, I’m thinking of Between Two Ferns, probably not the best comparison. Some plants that you’re beside, and a pastel color behind you guys, and you’ve got a photo booth ready to go. And as people come into Easter, it’s probably one service that mom can manipulate you towards, maybe outside Mother’s Day, it might be Easter, everyone’s dressed up well, and the nice thing about that is the photo booth gives you an onsite and online presence. On-site, it’s an activity, something for people to do, and then online, hopefully, they’re going to take that photo. And hopefully, you’ve communicated in your lead-up to Easter that, hey, as you’re here, take a photo of yourself, hashtag it, you know, generic church name Easter, or Easter at your generic church name, whatever it might be. Make sure that hashtag, no one else is using it, there’s a lot of, you know, Christ Church’s out there or, you know, Community Church of the Valley, and so just make sure before you put up that hashtag. We, it’s funny, we had another church, Christ Fellowship, that was probably bigger than us, and so they would always Christmas at CF, and so we had a change it to Christmas with CF. So just make sure that that hashtag that you are promoting, someone else more prominent isn’t squatting on that, and also make sure that it’s not inappropriate, sometimes those hashtags can lead you down a rabbit trail you don’t want to go down.

Ben Stapley: [00:26:44] So a photo booth is great. We recently invested in gifs, they were really helpful for us, especially on Instagram people searching for that. You know, a lot of people nowadays don’t post content to their feed, they’re going to post, you know, I don’t want to lock myself in, and this is a post that anyone can see forever, I want to put something out there that’s more ethereal and more temporal. And so I’m going to put out on my stories, and so we try to leverage content for stories for that reason, gifs are a great way to do that. And for half of your audience that is thinking, I’m pronouncing it wrong, no, I’m not, it’s gifs, so leverage those as well.

Ben Stapley: [00:27:21] Some other like low-hanging fruit from a marketing standpoint, because I know, hey, Missional Marketing, hey, how do we do that well? I’m a big fan of the Facebook frame, I’m a big fan of that, that you can get that, and you can brand that, and you can ask your people to do it. People, when they’re going into their profile, they see that there as well.

Ben Stapley: [00:27:38] And then probably the big, the biggest, the biggest, one, I’ve saved for last because its biggest, is share content. So, as two examples, I’ll give one from my former church and my current church. But if you went to, if you go to, or you go to, those are two examples of how two great churches are providing shareable content. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want just my church to post content about what God is doing in and through us, I want to be able to raise up digital evangelists and say, here are the tools that you can go forward and you can communicate what God is doing in you and through you. And so those are two great examples where we just give shareable content to our people for them to send that digital invite to a friend, to invite them to church with them, or for them to post it on their social media. So that’s like low, low-hanging fruit from a marketing standpoint, as we’re jumping in. I’ve got more, but I don’t know if you want to touch on that, before we kind of pivot off some marketing stuff

Jason Hamrock: [00:28:44] Well, everything you’re saying, I think churches, you have to do a good job of that. I think we also miss the opportunity to utilize Google in making sure you’re putting invitations in there as well, digital invitations, where you’re recording a message to invite people to church. Obviously, I think, I mean this is true, the best way to grow your church is your own people, right, to really encourage them to invite and bring their friends and families and neighbors? But as a church, we can support that through all kinds of different digital ads that you can do. So, you know, all that stuff you’re talking about is spot on in terms of allowing the church body to be the church body, and to help bring and grow that. Another church that we’re working with, it’s kind of cool because I think there’s a lot of times we, you know, a way to connect with people isn’t necessarily…It’s inviting them to church, but maybe there’s a first step where you’re giving them some free stuff, right, and you’re connecting with them. A church we’re working with, this Christma, is doing like an experience kit. You can download this free kit that’s got stuff like recipes, and activities for kids, and places to go, and it’s just kind of a cool giveaway. And I think sometimes we, you know, I like the creativity and all that, and that takes time, you can’t just whip that out in a day, you have to plan for that. But definitely utilizing the digital platforms to engage people is something that you really want to go all out when it comes to Christmas and Easter, in my opinion.

Ben Stapley: [00:30:25] And, Jason, let me piggyback off that, you talked about something, it’s almost a throwaway comment, but I think almost like the crux of this whole conversation is empowering our people. And how do we help them be the ones, be the church, instead of just professionalizing it, we have a staff that does that? And two ways that I’ve seen that be super impactful is, I no longer do campaigns or communications where I’m asking somebody to attend a service, especially if they’re internal, they’re already there, right? My assumption is, and I think their assumption as well, they’re going to be here. So I’m not, we want you to come, we want you to come, I’ve forgone that, I’ve ceded that as a taken. My action step is not, come, but it’s, invite, it’s invite, invite, invite. And so as you’re going into your Easter services, churches, and leaders, and communication directors, do not think about how you’re asking people to attend, assume that. Ask them to do one action step, who are you inviting to come with you this holiday season? And to help you do that, I’ve seen a lot of churches reward that on the front end, we all know what gets rewarded, gets repeated. And so find a story, I’m sure there’s somebody in your church who is now attending your church, and hopefully, they found Christ because the first time that came was an Easter story. Find that story, and tell that story, leading into your Easter season. That will be, if there’s kind of nothing else you take from this podcast, that’s the one thing that I would say you do, and you’re going to get the highest ROI on that. You may not be a church that has the resources where you can say, hey, we’re going to sit them down, we’ve got a videographer, we’re going to kind of like do this right, even if you don’t have the resources to do that, and some people might be listening, we’ve got a church of 100 people, that’s great, don’t let that hold you from this opportunity. Bring them on stage, during your announcement time, whatever it is, even in the message, hey, we’re coming out of the Christmas season, we’re going into the Easter season, and we’ve been asking you to invite people. Why? Why should we do this? Why should this, so we get more people and we get a bigger budget? No, the reason why is because of Sally, I want to bring Sally on stage. And she’s going to tell you how she….And then you let her tell her story live on stage. And that to me, that’s like one of the biggest wins, when you see that fruit and you empower your people accordingly.

Jason Hamrock: [00:32:49] It’s all about changing lives, right? God’s in that business, and so that should be really fruitful for your church, you should see some of that evidence. If you don’t, that’s a different conversation, right?

Ben Stapley: [00:33:02] You might be in the wrong business.

Jason Hamrock: [00:33:03] You might be in the wrong business. The other thing I think is really important, and I think we can overlook this, is people want to bring, they want to share their experience when they’ve had a phenomenal experience. So if I’ve gone to a restaurant, I’m like, in fact, I have, we found this restaurant, I’m in Phoenix, it’s kind of South Phoenix, the building is old, it’s kind of in a rundown place, but the food is amazing. So we’ve, in fact, we’ve looked past those warts, if you will, because the experience of the food is unbelievable, right? And so you might be in an old building in a church, right, you’re not going to have the budget or whatever to fix something up and paint it, but boy, there better be an amazing experience from the first greeter all the way through to the end. And you can control that, church, that doesn’t have to be, you know, you have to have, well, look at that church down the road that’s got a $10 million building. That’s just a building, right, it’s the experience, and you want your people to be proud to bring their friends and family and neighbors because they know they’re going to have a great personal experience at your church. And that’s stuff we can control, and I think sometimes we overlook that, we say, I don’t really want to bring them because I’m embarrassed by so and so. Well that, church, if your people are saying that, eliminate it, right, figure out a solution to that problem.

Ben Stapley: [00:34:25] Jason, I don’t if you’ve ever read the book Power of Moments, where they talk about what people remember. And oftentimes, we think that we’re going to, let’s just make this whole thing kind of be level eight, because we want the whole thing on level eight. But what psychologists have realized is that people remember two things from an event, they remember the peak moment, whatever the highest part was, they remember that, and they remember how it ends. Generally speaking, the rest kind of washes away. So as we’re looking, as we’re nonprofit, limited resources, so what are we going to do? Instead of, if a church is like their experience is five, and you’re going into Easter, instead of trying to raise everything to an eight. What I encourage churches to do is think, no, how can you end on a nine, and what’s another peak moment that can be a nine as well, that people will remember? Maybe you’re going to hire a vocalist that can really sing a song and it’s going to move people to tears, it’s going to help them connect with the larger cost of the gospel. Maybe it’s a video that you’re producing that is, you know, you’re probably not flying with the team to Israel, but you’re doing something that is you’re going to invest a little bit more there. What’s a peak moment you can invest in, and what’s the concluding moment?

Ben Stapley: [00:35:31] And then for myself, the way I envision this, even going into the event, I like to use the axiom, people capture what captivates. So, whenever you’re an event right, and whenever I’m in church and I see people pull up their phones, I’m like, yes, we did it, we created a moment, people are capturing it because it’s captivating to them for some reason. Maybe it might be it’s because their son is the one who’s playing guitar, or their little daughter is. You know, maybe it’s grandma doing it, it may be that. But if there’s more than one phone, and it’s not the same people in the row of the family up front, then you know that moment has captivated people. So as you’re planning your Easter services, think that through, is there a moment in which we would envision people would kind of do one of these. And you might be in a church that’s very liturgical, and like that is kind of anathema, and like we don’t want that. But so maybe, maybe the experience isn’t even in your auditorium or your sanctuary, maybe it’s out in your lobby, maybe you’ve got an Easter Bunny and he’s giving kids candy on the way in, and they would love to, like, hug him and like, take a photo with him. Maybe it’s your greeter team, that they have, you know, banners and they’re holding that up as people are coming in. What is that moment that’s going to captivate people so much that they’re going to want to capture it with their phones?

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:43] So doing, gosh, since I’ve been in Phoenix for 25 years, and being involved working at a church for a long, long time, my favorite all time Easter experience, this is a little over the top, so I’m not saying you have to do this, but we turned our entire worship center into a casino.

Ben Stapley: [00:37:03] Tell me more.

Bart Blair: [00:37:03] That needs a little unpacking.

Ben Stapley: [00:37:05] Tell me more. Are you willing to gamble your life on the… What was the hook, how did you guys pivot it?

Jason Hamrock: [00:37:12] The theme was, the stakes are high.

Ben Stapley: [00:37:14] Ok, there we go, I should have gotten that, that’s a good one.

Jason Hamrock: [00:37:16] It was amazing. In fact, our lead pastor steps out and he’s a dealer, he’s a blackjack dealer.

Ben Stapley: [00:37:22] Was he dressed with the suspenders?

Jason Hamrock: [00:37:24] We had blackjack tables, we had slot machines, our invitations were playing cards. And he literally laid it out to say, you are, you are betting on something, even if you say you’re not betting, that’s your bet. So he went through the whole thing, it was amazing. And then as people left, we gave them a chip, this is your life, this is your chip, what are you placing your bet on? So you don’t have to, I mean, you don’t have to go that extreme, but it was the most amazing Easter experience because people to this day go, I totally remember that. I mean, that thing stuck in my head and he really got to me

Ben Stapley: [00:38:08] And I still have that chip sitting on my shelf.

Jason Hamrock: [00:38:10] I still have the chip in my office.

Ben Stapley: [00:38:11] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s something, if you can make a tangible, a lot of churches will do this, you know, like, hey, we’ll get the railroad nails and like, we’ll kind of give those like Good Friday, what’s the price He paid, you can get highly creative with that. But if there’s some way that your message is tethered, if something cognitive is tethered to something physical, then the staying power, the memorableness of it, and people taking steps on it, and their actual their lives being changed mot just for a moment, for a whole lifetime, it increases when you’re able to get that physical tether to it.

Jason Hamrock: [00:38:44] That’s right. So, let me ask you real quick, where would you go to get your ideas? Would you look at other churches? I mean, how did you generate?

Ben Stapley: [00:38:54] Do you want the truth? So the truth is we copy off each other. We all see what, you know it’s terrible, but I can tell you right now, like what most churches are going to be doing for Easter, it’s whatever Hillsong and Elevation did last year. And they’re going to watch their experiences, and pull them off. And that is, I say it’s terrible, it’s not terrible, there’s beauty there, there’s creativity there. There’s again, limited, non-profit, with resources, so how do we do that? That being said, I try to take those blinders off, and I try not to just swim in the cultural and creative circles within Christendom, but I try to push my consumption beyond that to come in with ideas outside of myself. Being in the northeast, there are tons of great museums that I’m able to walk around, and so all my cultural references aren’t just pop culture as well, and they feel pretty dated within the… You know, even that, we used to have pop culture references like a decade ago where we go, OK, we all watched the season finale of Friends or Seinfeld, that is gone. So even within pop culture, I’m going rabbit trailing here, but even our ability to get everyone on the same page because we all watched the episode of such and such last night, that is not even there. So I push myself out of Christendom, and I try to push myself out of pop culture, which I’m normally swimming in those waters, primarily, so that that I’m not just ripping off somebody else, that God’s creativity is flowing through me afresh, and that I’m tethering it to something deeper and more foundational than whatever the hottest trend is now. So I don’t know if that’s the answer to your questions, but those are some principles that lead me, and I try to lead my teams as well, to be consuming stuff outside of Christendom itself.

Bart Blair: [00:40:50] Well, Ben, this has been a really fascinating conversation. I actually could have ended it a few minutes ago when you said something, I’m going to restate what you said, that I thought actually is the golden nugget of this podcast, and then we’re going to wrap it up. But you talked about, from a marketing standpoint especially, relating to the people who are already part of your church family, that your primary message to them is, invite, invite, invite. You and Jason both talked about the real strength in your church’s ability to reach people who are far from God and reach people in the community, the real strength is the people who are already sitting in the seats there on a regular basis Sunday morning, the people who have already rolled up their sleeves and they’re serving and they’re committed to your church. And so, I just wanted to rewind and kind of hit on that a little bit more, because I think there can be a tendency for us in the context of the church, to overemphasize the invite for our own people, and underemphasize the fact that we’re preparing this meal for people who haven’t yet had a chance to try it. Going back to Jason’s restaurant analogy in, you know, you go and you have a great experience and it’s what makes you want to come back. And if the chef and the kitchen staff were only preparing a meal that met their standards, and it was what they liked, and they just kept it to themselves, then a whole lot of other people would miss out on the opportunity to share in that great meal and that great dining experience. And so as a church, as a church family, we want to remember that we’re not doing this just for the people who are already a part of our church, but we’re really doing this to try to expand our gospel footprint in the community that God has called us to reach. And so, I wanted to kind of land the plane on that, but now Jason is going to take the plane off again.

Jason Hamrock: [00:42:42] No, I’m just going to say it isn’t just always invite. Like this restaurant I’m talking about, we’ve invited and brought, three different times because the food was so good. The same thing with the church, you don’t just invite, you invite and bring. Plan it together, go together, right, make that a thing with your neighbors or whoever it might be.

Bart Blair: [00:43:04] Yeah, absolutely. Well, Ben, part of the reason that you and I connected, and I wanted to reach out with you and have this conversation today was because of a lot of resources that you have available online. You have a blog post specifically designed to help people plan their Easter experience, or an Easter online experience. You have a lot of resources and a lot of content online. Can you just share for a minute, for our audience, what you have available for people and how people can reach out to you, find out more about what you’re doing, and maybe be blessed by the stuff that you’re doing?

Ben Stapley: [00:43:37] Yeah, you can follow me on the major social media platforms under Ben Stapley, I think I’m squatting on all of them right now. And but if you want to find out more about my blog, you can go to Or, as you said, Bart, I’ve helped a number of churches, kind of, we’ve talked about all these ideas, right, but sometimes the churches have a desire towards it. but maybe lack the leadership, maybe the lead pastor doesn’t have the time, and they don’t have somebody internal to really help them plan these experiences well. And I’ve come along with a lot of churches and helped them plan holiday services. So you can go to, and I would love to partner with you as well if that’s a benefit for people as they are looking towards this holiday season.

Bart Blair: [00:44:22] Ben, thanks again, we really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to hang out with us. And yeah, we’re trusting that people will reach out to you, and at the very least read the content that you have on your websites and be blessed by that. And yeah, it’s been a great conversation. Thanks.

Ben Stapley: [00:44:39] Thanks, guys.

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