Essential Strategies for a Church’s Pivot to Online Ministry – Interview With Jeff Christian

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During COVID-19 churches were forced to close their doors and pivot to a 100% online ministry. Hear how Compass Church in AZ made use of their online platforms for ministry.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: Well, hey, guys, I am here with my good friend Jeff Christian, who is with Compass Christian Church. It’s a megachurch in Chandler, and they’re a multi-site church. Jeff is in charge of marketing and branding for the church. And he and I have gone back a ways, and he’s kind of cut from the same cloth as I am. He’s a former communication director. He does a lot of direction, communications, for compass.

Jason Hamrock: But I wanted to bring them online here today to talk about some stuff that Compass is doing. So, hey, Jeff, glad to have you.

Jeff Christian: Hey, good to see you, thanks for having me.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So we’re in this season of COVID-19, and we know this is probably going to change the future of the church. So what have you guys done recently to kind of switch to be online, and then, anything unique that you guys are doing?

Jeff Christian: Yeah, for us, it’s been interesting. Like it is, I mean, like, you know, the least thing, you know, not the most appropriate word. It’s been crazy, it’s been interesting. It’s been, you know, whatever. But it hasn’t been for us, because we have always had a digital presence of really, you know, fairly strong online presence. Our services, which most everyone is focusing on, they’ve always been online. But in a real passive sense, I would call it. We haven’t tried to have a real online…We haven’t considered what we do online an online campus, like a lot of large churches do.

Jeff Christian: But still, every service, we have five services on the weekend at our campus in Channeler. And then we have another campus about 30 minutes away from here in Casa Grande, and they have a couple of services, but we don’t broadcast those live. So they just been passively put on Facebook as live, and more recently as YouTube. But my team has been the one that’s very passively kind of shepherded that a little bit. I mean, kind of paid attention to it on the weekends, and certainly made sure that the stream is running. But patored it, in a very, very low level, sense. I’ve answered questions and things, but they didn’t come up very much, and our viewership wasn’t really, really high.

Jeff Christian: And so, we kind of had a little bit of a groundwork laid for shifting to an online church. So about, just about one week in, after the first weekend that this happened. So we engaged with a kind of online church, a digital church as with we’re calling it, a digital church consultant. We’d had, ironically, or interestingly enough maybe it’s providential, you know, from the Lord, one meeting with this guy about two weeks before all of this hit. Because we’ve known that our audience over a week’s time, not necessarily live in the moment, but all the views of our services was really getting pretty high. We thought we steward that well.

Jeff Christian: And so that really helped us lay the groundwork, in talking to this consultant. And so, we quickly, by week two put in place a digital church team. We got some real structure to how we were going to approach this in terms of their online engagement with with our church, and guests, and newcomers, and things like that. And I can go into more detail on that, but it’s been really, really helpful, productive, spot on. We feel like with, you know, kind of what we need to do.

Jeff Christian: We now have, to give a little bit of a picture, we have for the different platforms that we kind of push out to now. Which we’re doing, Facebook, YouTube, we have it on our online church page on our Website. But then we are also trying to cultivate an Instagram audience, through Instagram Live, and some things like that. And so we have platform pastors, so what we did was we said, okay, for our staff, we pull from all different departments. And we honestly, we literally looked on our list and said, okay, which people from our staff have already a little bit of social media savvy to them? Who has built up their audience, who just really gets this for what we’re trying to do, and so we added that to their job title. I mean, everyone now becomes a social media, you know, kind of coordinator in a sense. So we platform pastors.

Jeff Christian: But then we went out to our church, and we had each of those platform pastors recruit anywhere from about five to 20 people, that serve in some kind of volunteer capacity at our services on the weekends on a rotating basis. A lot like you would, you know, in your servers or greeters or whatever. So we have online hosts, and online greeters, that’s trying to put some real structure to it. So that’s what’s been really, really successful for us. And we’ve seen our our numbers, our metrics and analytics, really change in a great way through this. So that’s been the biggest shift that we have made, is we have tried to lean into digital church, again, as we call it, as heavily as we can. So that’s been huge, and we’ve been really good.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, that’s interesting, yeah. So, now that really the front door of the church is the Website. And you’re doing things to have that, I guess, that first experience, a really positive experience, using your volunteers, which is phenomenal. What are some of the things you’re doing to actually drive more traffic to your Website?

Jeff Christian: Yeah, well, the one thing that has changed, has really been we’re kind of primarily using social media still. I mean, because we’ve considered I mean, we’ve put everything on the table when it comes to marketing. We said, sure, we do direct mail. Someone even threw out, at one point, we could do a billboard pushing people there. You know, we put everything on the table, but we still just went back to it’s best to engage them online. Especially for them to go from one online experience, being social media, one click away is the Website. So we just put all of our efforts there.

Jeff Christian: And what we really changed, though, about that has been the amount of posts that we’re making, it’s just really kind of doubled, maybe tripled. And the variety of what we’re putting out there, you know, has changed. And so to really answer your question, though, social media has been the key way that we push people to return to our Website, and try to engage with them.

Jason Hamrock: Ok, cool. So you know, when we come out of COVID-19, which is kind of a loose and weird term. Because I don’t know if we’ll ever come out of it. I guess, you know, someday maybe it’ll be in the rearview mirror. But it will definitely be a new day for how we do church. So, what do you think, when we come out of this, what will Compass be better at, or what do you expect?

Jeff Christian: Yeah, for us, I think two things. Number one, we’ve gone through, you know, a rapid process of putting together digital church, an online campus. And so that will stick without a doubt, I mean, we were headed that direction. It’s just that what may have taken us, you know, kind of a full quarter, three to four months to put together and to really launch. We did it, we did it honestly in days. I mean, literally in three days time, four days time. I mean, from the first weekend that we were all going, you know, everything went online, to about the second weekend we had our digital church team put in place, that will stick without a doubt.

Jeff Christian: And in addition to that, I think it’s the way that we leaned into social media so well, and tried to provide, you know, kind of a wide variety of content. That will stick, you know, in addition, because my team, when it comes to branding and marketing for the size of our church, we’re kind of average to a little bit small. We could use almost one more person. So we’ve not had a role that is a full time social media coordinator or manager, it’s someone that wears that hat, but it’s a dual role. And so out of this, I would see us probably really making that kind of a full time role, because I see it takes that.

Jeff Christian: And so the wide variety of content that we, you know, have begun to produce, I think that will continue. But it takes time and it’s hard, once we get back to whatever normal looks like, you know, weeks or months from now. You know, we can’t just go back to the way things used to be. And so I think that would be one shift that we made. And so for us, I mean, the change has been a lot more kind of more video pieces that are online. A lot more things like articles, and interviews, and stories, and things are far more engaging. But honestly, we’ve always known… For honestly, a lot of it’s with Missional Marketing’s help and guidance over the last, you know, kind of few years. We know what really engages, it just takes a little bit extra time to produce that. And so we’ve absolutely made that a priority, and been able to do that. And so we’ve seen all of that kind of just good advice be put into play and result in, you know, positive things for us and for the church that we definitely know have got to stick moving forward. So that’s one thing, especially from our perspective, that we see changing in a positive way, you know, from now on.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, and you and I both know this, and this is kind of why we exist, is we’re always trying to make unchurched people to a church. And so from the comfort and safety of their own home, they can engage with all of your content, now that you’re putting that content online. Which to me, I think that’s pretty exciting. I know you think that’s exciting as well, because now the church can go to the people truly that are that are curious, and they may never enter the doors of the church, but now they can enter the digital door of the church.  You can be exposed to all that the church has to offer. That’s kind of exciting for them.

Jeff Christian: And for us. One thing that we always want to communicate to newcomers, to outsiders, to people that are far from God and just don’t even feel like, they don’t even want to consider that. We want them to know that the church is relevant to their lives. And so one thing that we, from from the minute this hit, one thing that we did was we put in place…We went them to know it’s relevant, because we are here to share the love of Jesus right now by just helping people. And that’s a really broad kind of statement. But, we mean it as broad as that sounds. So we quickly put in place what we just call, get help, give help. Get help, give help, initiative, we set up a webpage, and so basically for people to come and interact with us with whatever their needs is. And we’ve been able to tell the positive stories that have come from that, to try to again stay relevant, try to show people that why the church really matters in a day and age like this, in a situation like this. And so we try to, you know, kind of put things out there that give hope and encouragement because so many people need that. But also just show how the church is really being the church right now in the midst of this situation. And so that’s been one of the main, you know, kind of a main focus for us right now.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And my next question, you probably answered it. But what do you think, in your opinion, what is Compass really great at doing?

Jeff Christian: Well, whenever we met, you know, kind of on campus. One of the things that Compass, I feel like over the years being out a few churches now, does really well, better than I think any church that I’ve been a part of, they’re great at just connecting with people. That family feel that you want a church to have, Compass really has it. And it’s unique, because it has that kind of the same feel that smaller churches, you know, have, but we’re a large church. I mean, we’re a church of, you know, kind of between three and four thousand people on a weekend, and it still maintains that.

Jeff Christian: And there’s some really unique reasons. A lot of, I mean, I won’t even go into when you go into of how we…Part of it’s our physical space, it’s kind of tight. We’re building new worship center, but it’s really tight, so you’re forced to rub shoulders with people, almost literally, next to each other. So they have developed an environment that does that really well. I always say, a lot of that trickles out of the personality of the pastor, it’s mirrored in the personality of the church. And that’s absolutely true here, and so our pastor’s very much that way, Brian Jobe is his name. He’s very warm, very much wanting to connect with members. I mean, you know, one on one as much as possible. And so that’s been what we’ve done well. It’s been a radical shift, though, to move all of that online, because you can’t physically connect with people the same. But nonetheless, that’s the one that’s really atypical about us that stands out.

Jason Hamrock: So what is something on the flip side of that, what is something you guys feel like you need to work on?

Jeff Christian: Well, Compass is a church that has been…The way I want to say it, they’ve been really blessed for quite a number of years, for 20 years or more, to be in a positive financial position. Where they haven’t had to worry, just to really kind of state it really plainly, they haven’t had to worry a lot about money and financial needs, the way that many churches do. Not to say that they don’t exist at all, of course, but they just have people that have been very faithful givers and tithers. We have a church that’s a wide range of ages, which is a really awesome, a really powerful thing. But some of that comes that we have, you know, that comes with that age diversity. And so because of that, though, the downside of that sometimes is you can get, you can get…I don’t say lazy, because that’s a really demeaning and negative term. But you can’t ease back into this comfortable space, and not want to change much, you don’t want to rock the boat much if you feel like you’re in a good space. And so that’s where it’s like, I feel like we’ve been a little bit slow to change, that’s all.

Jeff Christian: Like I said, one positive thing has been that we have fast tracked having an online campus, that’s going towards digital church. And that’s really great, because otherwise, like I said, it would have taken us months or a whole year. And we’ve certainly been talking about it for nearly a year now. And so that’s the weak thing is, you can get really…we’ve been a church that’s been really comfortable in being who we are, because it’s been positive in so many ways. But that’s still, it can be a negative. And so, that’s really there with Compass a little bit. But we’re growing out of it, and fast.

Jason Hamrock: So, yeah. And you guys with this new, you’re building a new worship center, which is amazing and very exciting. A lot of changes happening on campus, when you can get back to it. Well, what do you think is going to be one of the biggest challenges over the next decade, maybe not even for Compass, but maybe also for the church in general?

Jeff Christian: Yeah, and I think of it, too, in terms of the broader sense, like the big “C” church, you know, as we say. And I do think one of the biggest challenges is going to be this kind of a shift into everything is moving online, everything is digital. The situation we’re going through now because of the coronavirus has pushed everyone that way. I mean, so many people very rapidly shifted to working from home and, you know, that kind of thing. Even like it in my household, it’s like all of a sudden, you know, like I’m working from home. I’ve always been pretty mobile and portable, that’s not a big deal. But my wife, she wasn’t in a situation where it was real easy for her to begin work from home. But she is now where her company, or all the equipment and everything she needs to do, you know, do everything from home. Of course, we have kids, our kids our doing online school.

So, you know, the corporate workplace, schools, certainly church, everybody’s moved to, you know, online. So really rapidly, we’ve shifted, even faster than we ever would have otherwise into this online digital culture. So I feel like that the challenge for churches, is going to be how to really lean into that space, how to make the most of that space and that opportunity.

Jeff Christian: Because what I’ve seen in different just online groups I’m a part of, and those that I’ve seen conversations go back and forth. Number one, it’s just been a reminder to me that I’ve been blessed to be at churches that are really great, that tend to be larger, you know, mega churches. And so they’ve always been a little technologically savvy, but the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of churches are smaller. They are not in the digital world for a whole lot of different reasons, but they’ve all pushed into that. So now after this, you know,  we kind of get through this. I feel like the challenge for a lot of people is gonna be okay, now we know that, you know, that everyone’s out in this digital world. Can we sustain being out there with him? And I kind of think that because everyone and everything is shifted online is such a major way now. And from a society standpoint, our society and the people we’re trying to reach, there is going to be an expectation from them for us to keep up this level that we’ve developed in this emergency situation. And I think that is going to be our biggest challenge.

Jeff Christian: And so we’ll, you know, we’ll see how we weather it. But I do feel like many churches, they will stay in this world. I’ve seen so many make a financial investment. They bought the equipment, for instance, that they need to do online church. People that didn’t know how to do a live online service, or pre-record push it out as a life service, they have that knowledge now. And so that’s not just gonna go by the wayside, at least I hope and pray.

Jeff Christian: But [inaudible], that’ll be our biggest challenge, I feel like, is managing the expectations of the world around us. But thankfully, there’s been a lot of great, great churches that have gone and traveled this road ahead of us. And so they’ve laid a good path, and some good examples, and there’s some really great churches that have even have the technology that they’re making free and available to other churches. Which I love it when churches do that, share for the kingdom’s sake. And so hopefully all of those things will make it where we really can continue to have the presence that we have had to develop over the last month or so.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s like having to the biggest and best minds in the church world be thinking, because they’ve had to do this, they’ve literally focused now online. And so, you know, more and more is going to be coming down the pipeline as time goes on. That is going to trickle down. And I kind of look at it years ago, maybe 15 to 20 years ago, when this new thing called multi-site church kind of evolved. Right? You went from having one campus, to maybe two or three. That was unheard of, you know, before that time. But some churches thought, let’s do this, and then all of the sudden, other churches are taking the same kind of steps. And now you got tons of churches that are multicampus. I think the same thing, it’s just gonna be a lot faster, a lot faster.

Jeff Christian: Yep, and one way, one thing that’s great. I think we’ll let us make this quick change, just like you said, and have it stick, because at times it would leak. You know, I mean, it’s like that. But is that because everyone, we have these online forums, online groups, that we can be a part of, that networks everyone together worldwide. I mean, and so that has been, everyone has leaned into that more than ever. And hopefully because they have that resource of almost like free kind of peer to peer coaching and consulting, that is what I think will make this a little more sustainable. It makes people in the smallest church of two hundred people, or even one hundred people, or a house church, that wouldn’t have known what to do or who to ask. Or certainly think we can afford to bring in somebody or…They don’t need to anymore, there’s great online groups now that you can be a part of, and they will coach you all the way. It’s really awesome. So I’ve love seeing that group come together at a time when it’s needed most.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, that’s good stuff. Well, thanks, Jeff. Man, I appreciate your time and your insights into all of this. And take care, and thanks for joining us today.

Jeff Christian: Yeah, thanks, glad to do it. Love you guys, and love what’s going on right now in the church world in many ways, it’s great.

Jason Hamrock: You bet. All right, take care.

Jeff Christian:  Thanks, bye.

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