First 100 Days as an Online Pastor | Colby Engstrum

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Colby is the new online Pastor, but he’s not new to church or ministry. We discuss the great things, energy and excitement he brought online.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: In today’s podcast, I’m talking about Colby Engstrum. Colby is the Online Pastor for Preston Trail Community Church. It’s a large, large church in the Dallas Fort Worth area. They’ve got two campuses, before COVID, running over five thousand people on a weekend and they’re doing some amazing things. Now, Colby just stepped into this role as the online campus, but he’s not new to the church, he’s not new to ministry. He’s been in ministry for over 20 years, and he has a lot of great things, and energy, and excitement, that he’s bringing to this new position as the Online Pastor. I’m excited to hear from Colby, I hope you are too, check it out.

Jason Hamrock: Well, hey, I’m here with Colby. Colby, great to have you on today, thanks for joining us.

Colby Engstrum: Thanks a lot for having me, Jason, I’m excited.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Yeah. So let’s just dive right in. So you come out of the family marriage, and now you’re you’re the online pastor. Explain a little bit about the church, and a little bit about your history on staff.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah. Yeah. So I moved down here five years ago from Southern California, and I’ve been involved in student ministry, and have been a NexGen pastor here, and so I love kids, I love students. I’ve ministered to kids, students, and young adults for most of my adult life. And just recently, in September, I made the transition to becoming our churches very first online pastor.

Jason Hamrock: Wow, oKay, so you’ve been in that for a few months, huh?

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, literally since September. And then you wanted the history Preston Trail, so Preston Trail has been around for almost 20 years now. The unique thing about Preston Trail, is the fact that it was started by two pastors together who are really good friends, who’s history went all the way back to Bible College. And they wanted to start a church that was a church they could be proud of, that connects with people, and really helps young families, and they moved into North Texas when it was just at the ground level of growing. And so we actually have a unique model, we have two humble, fully committed, Co-senior Pastors who alternate messages, and make decisions together. And so one of the things about Preston Trail culture, is there’s kind of an authenticity, and a humility, and a camaraderie, here that kind of permeates through the whole culture. And it’s kind of exciting to be part of, the people that come here really like being here, and it affects the way we communicate and interact. And, you know, it’s a place where everybody can come in, whether they feel like they’re perfect or imperfect, or they’ve been churched, or unchurched, or dechurched. And it’s kind of a fun place to be, it really is, even in the midst of a pandemic? I think I think we’ve felt that a lot of people still responded to that.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Yeah. You guys are killing it, way to go. Yeah. So take me back, what prompted the leadership to say, you know what, we need an online pastor, Colby’s our guy. Like how did that all happen, and…

Colby Engstrum: Sure, sure. Well, it’s like anything else, you know, there’s different layers to the story. Right? And so from my side of the fence, I’d been kind of feeling some stirrings. My youngest son was about to start his senior year, and I kind of felt for a number of years, like, you know what, I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I kind of feel like probably around the time that my son’s out, I feel like it’s probably my time to step out of student ministry. I love students, but, you know, there’s a lot of good young dudes and ladies that are coming up, and coming into ministry, I kind of felt like my timing was coming, but it was kind of unsure what that would be, or whether or not it would be here. So that’s going on in me, and my heart at this time, over the course of the last six months to a year.

Colby Engstrum: And then in the meantime, our church, like a lot of other churches, you know, we’ve done live stream of different services, we’ve put on-demand services up after we’ve got done, and experimented with what that looks like, and put things up on a podcast, different things like that. But of course, the pandemic just kind of accentuated a lot of things, you know, I think it was Carey Nieuwhof that said, you know, that the cracks become wider and bigger when something big comes, right, and so that’s what happened with us. You know, we’ve kind of, we’ve known with being a multi-site church especially, that we needed to expand the way we did things. But it was kind of, we kind of clicked boxes with, well, this seems to fit in helping people through the computer if they’re traveling, or they’re finding us, but it wasn’t an intentional strategy. But when the pandemic came, we kind of thought, alright, now we need to have an intentional strategy and strategic care for what that is. And our leadership, they did research to try to learn from other people. And they, luckily for me, because I’m not super techie, they wanted to find somebody who just really loved people, and was comfortable in front of a camera, and was comfortable with just connecting people, and trying to engage people, whether through screen or a person. And we just both felt like this was of the Lord, and here I am.

Jason Hamrock: Okay, that’s awesome, thanks for sharing that. So what does that strategy look like?

Colby Engstrum: Yeah. Yeah, well we’re still, if I’m real, we’re still kind of figuring that out, you know, that’s the that’s the short answer. But if I were to kind of sum it up into a couple of statements, it’s that we really genuinely care about helping people grow as followers of Jesus. You know, we want to help people find Jesus first, and then follow Him for themselves, whether it’s through a screen or in person. I mean, so there are some people that are saying, well, you know, when things go back to normal, are you going to go back to this or back to that? It’s like, well, no, I think we’re kind of taking from the Craig Groeschel model, which is we’re putting all our eggs in both baskets. Because we feel like as people are becoming more, I don’t know, just church culture is changing. People are coming in person less often, people are curious, and are exploring a website or online service before they’re ever darkening the door. And I think that’s true now more than ever, and so we’re trying to figure out what does that now look like? And so we’re going to, our strategy is going to be we’re still building our outward facing model, but we want to have things that are out into the community that are answering questions people have, are meeting felt needs, and are scratching itches that people have, that might not be ones that we think that just slapping a sermon series at it is going to do. And so getting shorter, getting more concise, getting easier to use on different platforms, and then, of course, making our online platforms easier to use, easier to find, and more engaging. And that’s where I’ve been kind of incubating my team, and spending a lot of my focus right now, is getting used to our online platform, and then doing good follow up with people that come and join us, and then even engaging while they’re with us.

Jason Hamrock: So what would your audience then, would you say your audience is probably maybe twofold. It’s obviously people who go to Preston Trail. Like, yeah, I’ve got a question, and you know, they just want to connect with somebody, you’re the man online, right?

Colby Engstrum: One hundred percent, ep.

Jason Hamrock: So there’s discipleship that happens in that space, and all kinds of stuff?

Colby Engstrum: Well, there’s. Yeah. So that’s just the place where there’s like steps that are involved, right, so they’re contacting us for a service, or they have come in and joined us for part of a service, and have been able to gain some kind of rapport. They’ve learned my name, so I get an email, I get an email from them, where I build some kind of a rapport that way. And so it becomes in steps, you know. And honestly, you know, I was talking with our with our group’s pastor, and he helped me with better language. He said that when it comes to online ministry, maybe we could be thinking in half-steps, because these are people that are maybe even further away, and we need to be thinking about half-steps, because they haven’t decided to be a person. And so that’s what we’re trying to figure out, and we’re the process of developing video modules that we can be able to make available to people. Because that’s the thing, I mean, I got an email literally yesterday, it’s like, hey, you know, I’ve been attending online now for a few months. I want to grow my relationship with Jesus. What do I do? I’m like, great question.

Jason Hamrock: That’s awesome. I’ve got an answer.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, and so we’re starting them on that pathway of what that looks like. And it’s going to be, ideally, we would like to see people be able to meet in person. Whether it’s where they’re living, if we could figure out a way to kind of cluster people together. Whether it’s that they live 50 miles away, or five hundred miles away, we want to try to figure that out down the road. But for right now, honestly, Jason, we’re just trying to figure out, how do we minister to the people coming online well, and incubating that team. And then figuring out these other different platforms that we have, that we’re developing at the same time.

Jason Hamrock: Gotcha. Yeah, that was going to be my follow up, was what about those people that are, you know, past the driving distance? And it sounds like you’re still trying to build the model, like we want to answer their questions, reach them, connect with them, build relationship, disciple them. But, you know, it’s physically impossible for them to get to activities on campus.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, it is. And I’ve been trying to learn from different people. That’s one of the things that Jay Kranda told me at Saddleback, is he said, you know, focus on the proximity around where you are, and do that really well, and then look to expand your circles. And I think that’s such wisdom, and he’s been doing it well, and he’s been doing it for a lot longer than me, so I’m going to listen to him. But I mean, we have individuals that will pipe in from all over the place, but eventually want to get to the point where we can look at the analytics, and see what the saturation points are, and see how we can get people together. And how we could do that. And we don’t know whether, I mean, does that become a micro-church model? Does that become the new way that we launch new campuses? I mean, our brains are going crazy with all this, because it’s so new and so fresh to us.

Jason Hamrock: Right. Yeah, but that is such solid advice, to say, you know, start with what you can control around your area.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Get that down, and then start growing beyond it. That’s really good advice. So, it sounds like, it sounds like some of the challenges for you are just kind of, first of all, you’re just absorbing, and learning, and drinking through a fire hose. But you’re, you know, have you had any, like some early wins from your few months of being in the space?

Colby Engstrum: Definitely. You know, there’s one example that immediately comes to mind, that I think is a stronger advantage in online ministry than I had anticipated. So right at the end of a service, you know, and we’re so thankful for Life Church giving us the church online platform, that’s been amazingly helpful. But there’s a way that we can solicit responses to people, and one of those was asking if people want prayer. And so literally, right, as the service is ending, I get one from a dude who basically just tells me, my marriage is on the rocks, I haven’t been to church in forever, I really don’t know what I’m going to do right now. I mean, I just need prayer, I need to connect with somebody. And like, and I’ll be real, Jason, in today’s culture, I don’t know that a grown dude is going to do that in person, inside a church building, in today’s world. I just don’t know if they are? Not in our church, I don’t think they are. But there was something about feeling comfortable behind a screen, in the privacy of their home, in a private conversation like that, that he was able to get very real. You know, and I’ve been able to since follow up with him a couple of times, check in on him, encourage him, and to build that relationship and kind of shepherd him a little bit. It’s just super cool, you know, because that’s one of the things that I think we need to be aware of. Is this going to allow us to be the sort of people that might not be open to having different kinds of engagements in person, but when it comes up through screen, it’s just a little more comfortable.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah. Wow, I love hearing those stories.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, me too.

Jason Hamrock: That’s awesome, and we’ll pray for more of those.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: And just these platforms to, because there’s a ton of people like that guy out there, right? And they are not, I mean, thank goodness he checked you out. But they’re not really looking for church, but they still got this felt need, and they’re still looking for help. And you guys are perfectly positioned to be able to serve that need, and help them along the way. So in thinking about the future of online church, now you guys are in Dallas Fort Worth area, obviously there’s like…It’s like Walgreens, there is a mega-church on every corner. How do you do this really effectively, knowing that you’ve got…Is it just because there’s so many people that you’re like, yeah, we’re all in with this? Or do you really look to to be able to grow this online thing, to grow in person?

Colby Engstrum: Right. You know, this is how I’m looking at it, because if I’m real, Jason, when I first got into it, I got a little discouraged by that. Because all of a sudden I’m like, oh, great, so now we’re competing with Steve Burdick, and Craig Groeschel, and you know, Judah Smith. And, you know, all these guys that I super admire, they’re just charismatic, awesome, cool looking, communicators, and they’re very established online presences. But I think that if you view church a product, it’s really easy to be overwhelmed by it. If you view church as a means of connection, community, and connecting people with Christ, I think everything changes. That’s personal, that’s highly personal, and so I’m trying not to get wrapped up in the numbers of it, I’m trying to just be faithful with the people that God’s bringing right now, and seeing where that goes.

Colby Engstrum: The other thing that I’m really passionate about with this, is trying to raise up our people to be really authentic with the way they engage people through their online presence. I got to teach in our main service a couple of weeks ago, and that was the big crux of my message, was that, you are made in God’s image for a reason, and you need to wear it well, digitally and physically. When we do that, we get to show people who Jesus is. And that’s the new millenia, that’s the new normal for us, is if we can do that with our people well, they’re the ones that are going to bring people into personal community. And I think personal community, and growth of discipleship, is the goal. I don’t think it’s thousands of views, or thousands of this, I heard somebody liken fifteen hundred views to counting people who drive by your church building as attendance for your church service that weekend. And I’m like, yeah, I kind of like that, that helps encourage me.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. You know, thanks for that answer. Because I think that should be encouraging for all the churches that are listening, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a church of fifty, five hundred, or five thousand, or fifty thousand, this is the level playing field. Right, and all you’ve got to do is put some effort into it, and absorb, and learn, and trial and error, because you’re going to fail,

Colby Engstrum: Totally.

Jason Hamrock: But hey, you are going to have some of those wins, because God’s good.

Colby Engstrum: And if the goal is discipleship and community, the local church has that advantage, because as bad as it sounds, it’s going to be harder for them to connect with a megachurch that’s a thousand miles away. They’re going to connect with the church they have relationship with that’s in their town. And so that’s the thing, and if anybody’s listening that’s from a church that’s under two hundred, is going, oh, my goodness, there’s no way we could compete. Well, we need to not use that language, is not about competing, it’s about cooperating with what God’s doing with the tools he’s given us right now to help people build relationships. But if all of us are faithful in our cities to do that, that’s when this thing blows up in a healthy way.

Jason Hamrock: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We’re all on the same team here people, right, let’s remember that a little. Okay, so you’re like just knee deep in this stuff, right? You’ve been learning, it sounds like you’ve been just trial and erroring things. What’s been the best resource you’ve gone to, to learn what to do? Who you been talking to? Share with us this knowledge that you’ve got.

Colby Engstrum: Sure, You know, Stadia, has done some cool stuff. I was part of, I was part of like a, I don’t know, it’s almost like a, I came into it after our church already signed up for it. So it was almost like a, it’s almost like a boot camp for people to be a physical and digital world, they called it Phygital, that was super encouraging and helpful. I talked with the dude at Cross Point, just outside of Nashville, and he was the onlinge pastor there, he was super helpful. I talked with another, I’ve talked with Jay Kranda over at Saddleback, he was really helpful. And then I haven’t talked with anybody yet for Life Church based out of Oklahoma, but I mean, they are just so, so generous with their materials. So, I mean, I’ve watched several things they put on YouTube to help out with online ministry, I’ve watched their stuff on Facebook, they have materials and resources that they’ve just been very kind about sharing with people. There is just so many great things. Tony Morgan’s put out some great things, in fact, right now, he got a series of podcasts about what it means to be a disciple online. And that’s been super helpful as I’m trying to figure out how do I shepherd people, in half steps, from point A to their next step on their journey, that’s been super, super helpful. Yeah, I mean, there’s just been a lot of, there’s just so much out there right now. Carey Nieuwhof is, I don’t know, I feel like that guy just accidentally breathes out genius at times with how the church could be relevant in an online platform right now, and so I’m inhaling a lot of what he is saying on Church Pulse, and then his own leadership podcast too.

Jason Hamrock: Well, it’s got to be also really encouraging for you to know that you’ve got the full support of your leadership team.

Colby Engstrum: One hundred percent. Yeah, that’s the thing that’s exciting, because we realize this is kind of the next, I think the next thing I think for us to continue to reach, and encourage, and help people grow, I think this is it, and our leadership fully gets it. [inaudible] It’s actually part of our next of giving campaign, is to grow and go. And so we’re actually the process of figuring out how to put together a studio, so that we can actually build different kinds of content that’s both outward facing into the community for those felt needs we talked about earlier, as well as doing stuff for our church family to care for them really, really well. And our church leadership team is involved in helping create content, research for content, and have just been highly empowering and kind with resources, time, and energy, about this. It’s been great.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. You know, when I think about, which I’m curious to learn about your team that you’ve assembled, and how many more people you want to add on, so I’ll ask that question a second. But before that, it’s really great to know that, you know, you have content generators. I mean, your weekend worship, that sermon alone is a phenomenal content generator, you’ve got three or four thousand words that were preached. But are you getting other staff involved in content creation? And then, what does your immediate team look like?

Colby Engstrum: That’s great questions. As far as my team, that’s the one thing that’s, because I’m so fresh to this, I don’t even have an official job description yet. The closest thing I have from a from a job description is from one of our lead pastors, who said, Colby, we want you to connect with people, care for people, build relationships with people, online. I’m like, I can do that. But as far as my team goes, my team is primarily volunteers right now. So I’m in the process of building my team of volunteers that’s helping me create lists of questions that we can answer for the community. Volunteers that are helping be part of the host team, to expand what that looks like. A follow up team, people that we’re on our Facebook and we’re on our church online platform, that’s connected with that. And so that’s kind of my area, then different ministries in our church have been given the green light to create things that are both church family facing and outward facing content.

Colby Engstrum: And so probably, to kind of lead into now, that second part of your question. Probably the most successful stuff we have right now, because of our community is a lot of young families who take the success of their kids highly, highly, highly, highly seriously. And so like we have Marriage Mondays where the lady who oversees our Marriage Ministry and her husband, that’s our worship pastor, the two of them sit down and talk serious marriage stuff every evening. It is probably our most engaged item that we offer people right now, it’s got a ton of engagement. The other thing that we do is our NexGen ministry is trying to do things that are directly engaging families to answer questions, and help with things that they need help with. So we actually just did a birds and the bees one, about talking with the different age groups about about the birds and the bees. And so one of our senior pastors did kind of the overlaying one, and then it was able to break out in spokes, that was age specific. And so our kids pastor did one for how to talk with younger kids. Because I’ve been working with Student Ministry for so long, they pulled me back to do the one for middle school. And then we offered like five different ones for it, and that got a ton of engagement from people in and out of our church.

Colby Engstrum: And then we’re trying to figure out what our next steps are, what are some basic question people have? I met with one of our young adults at church, literally this weekend, and he’s like, you know, people have theological questions that we need to help him with, and we need to make it bite size, and easy, but smart. And I’m like, I could agree more. And one of our senior pastors has been working diligently on that, in getting those down to about ten minute pieces that we can start to put out there, that can help answer those questions. And so that’s just phase one, I mean, we’re going to continue to go out there. I mean, our vision for it is they come to a place where it’s almost like when we were kids and we got to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. And they would come out, the TV channel, would release what the lineup was that they were so excited about with these shows that were coming out every week. Where we want to have something similar to that, where we’re able to have things that face out into the community, that are meeting felt needs. Some stuff that just literally is as matter of fact about how do you cook a great meal in under two hours for a busy family. You know, and how do you coach your kid to keep their head in the game, when they’re losing their mind? You know, different things like that. What can we do to help with some of those things? That’s going to be step two, is figuring out those kinds of things that we could do in our community.

Jason Hamrock: Wow. It sounds…I mean, thanks for that input and going deeper there. Because it seems like, I guess I have in my mind, the picture is you’re a conduit. So sometimes you are end of the conduit, but your conduit, people as they have these…Like this gentleman you talked about, what a great way to say, go check out this ministry over here, because they are totally helping guys like you, and you’re just walking along with them.

Colby Engstrum: That’s right.

Jason Hamrock: But you don’t have to have the burden of, oh, my goodness, you’ve got one hundred people you’ve got a minister to and disciple, that’s overwhelming. But if you can just be a person to receive them, listen, develop a friendship, and then get them in the right direction, it seems like that’s a huge win.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, I’m part pastor, part concierge, part [inaudible], part facilitator. I mean, I’m wearing a lot of different hats with this right now as we continue to figure it out.

Jason Hamrock: Well, I love your answer about volunteers, because that tells me you don’t need to have a million bucks allocated.

Colby Engstrum: That sure would be nice.

Jason Hamrock: But sometimes you just got to start off with just the bare minimums, and just start building from there. So that should be encouraging for a lot of churches, that you don’t have to have it all figured out.

Colby Engstrum: That’s right. Yeah, I mean that goes all the way back to the first century church, right. Jesus pulled a group of people who had technically been turned down, and turned out, by other rabbis, to say, I see something in you. I’m going to give you something to do, now you can go do it. You’re available, you’re willing, your heart’s in the right place, I can work with the rest. And I think we have that mentality, we can include a lot of people, it’s a pretty exciting ministry.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Wow. Well cool, well Colby, thanks, man. This has been incredibly insightful, very helpful, encouraging for people that are getting into this space. And, you know, our prayer is that we just go deeper in this and figure things out, and get these early success wins like you’ve been getting. But along the way, we’re going to learn more and more, and the Lord willing, he keeps blessing it.

Colby Engstrum: Yeah, that’s the goal, keep growing, keep get better, and keep helping people.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Well, thanks man, I appreciate you.

Colby Engstrum: Thanks a lot, Jason. Thanks for having me today, I hope you have a great day.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, you too.

Jason Hamrock: Well, Colby, amazing job, thank you so much for sharing your insight, your wisdom, and what you’ve experienced so far. It’s really cool to see you are already making an impact, reaching more people, and connecting with people. So this should be some good news for us out there, that maybe have a smaller church, don’t have much of a budget. That it doesn’t matter how big you are, anybody and everybody should, and can, be doing this online ministry, connecting with people digitally. And no doubt Colby and his team are going to be making some headway here, will be tuning in to them and watching them along the way. But I would encourage you, I want to encourage you that if you’re not sure what to do, or you’re not exactly comfortable with getting this online space, do what Colby did. Do some research, right, check out some of the resources that he’s checked out, learn, engage, ask questions, and you can as well create an online ministry to reach people, not only your people, but people in your community and even beyond.

Jason Hamrock: Now, at Missional Marketing, that’s our focus. Our focus is fully to help churches reach people outside of their reach. To connect those who might be searching for a church, but maybe they’re searching for felt need type of issues and connecting them with a local church. We’ve got a lot of solutions to offer you, so if you’re interested, check that out, go to our website, you can learn a lot about that. But I’d also have you check out Preston Trail and get connected with Colby. And he’d be more than happy to talk with you and share his insights and what he’s learned as he moves down this path. So thanks again for connecting. God bless you. We’ll talk to you soon.

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