How Digital Media and a Global Pandemic are Shaking Up the Local Church | Phil Cooke

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In this weeks podcast Phil Cooke shares how Church Digital Media has been shaken up during this Global Pandemic.

Podcast Transcription


Bart Blair: [00:00:01] Well, hey there friends, welcome to season two, episode three of the Missional Marketing Church Growth Interviews Podcast. Bart Blair and Jason Hamrock joining you here from Frisco, Texas, and somewhere in Phoenix.

Bart Blair: [00:00:15] Is your address Phoenix proper?

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:16] No, it’s actually Gilbert, so Gilbert is a suburb, but it’s huge now.

Bart Blair: [00:00:21] Yeah, I mean, I could have said Dallas, but I said Frisco because, well, I live in Frisco. And I didn’t think you lived in Phoenix proper, you’ve never invited me to your house, but I’ll be there someday.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:32] You’re always invited, Bart, if you’re in the neck of the woods, come on by. Elizabeth, your wife, yeah, just come on by.

Bart Blair: [00:00:41] Yeah, you know, you retiled your whole house last year. Was it like this time last year you were like tearing out all the tile in your house, right? And so you retiled your whole house? Yeah, so I haven’t had a chance to see all this beautiful tile. I guess that’s kind of a common thing when you live in a hot climate like Phoenix, people put like ceramic tile or porcelain tile or whatever on the floor to help keep your house cool.

Jason Hamrock: [00:01:00] Yeah, get rid of all the carpet, yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:01:03] Yeah. I have no idea why we’re talking about that. Let’s talk about our podcast. Hey, who’s our guest today?

Jason Hamrock: [00:01:07] I am excited about this one, ok, Phil Cooke is on the podcast today, and Phil is an amazing guy. You know, I’ve read a lot of Phil’s books, in fact, I’ve got one right here, Branding Faith. But he’s written One Big Thing, he just came out with his latest book, Maximizing Your Influence. But he’s so much more than that, he’s a producer, he’s done all kinds of stuff, Bart can share a little bit about that. But I tell you, this conversation with Phil, he’s just a genuinely great guy, he’s such a nice guy. And we learned a ton from him, we had to stop it because we could have kept going on and on and on with Phil, he’s such a generous man. So, what else has he done that our audience needs to know?

Bart Blair: [00:01:47] Well, we could go on and on. He actually offered to like, hang out with me the next time he’s in Dallas, and I am 100 percent going to take him up on that because he’s just an absolutely cool guy. Phil Cooke Media Group and his team, they have produced content for the Bible Museum in Washington, D.C., the American Bible Society, the Jesus Film Project, he’s done work with DreamWorks, he’s done work with Disney. Like this guy, when it comes to film work and production work, he’s legit, he is the real deal. But what’s so cool about Phil Cooke is that even though he’s kind of got this Hollywood aura, and this Hollywood community that he works in, he’s totally down to Earth, and he’s totally passionate about the local church and helping churches, church communications professionals, and church leaders maximize their influence. In fact, that’s the name of his latest book, Maximize Your Influence, and that is what we primarily discussed in our conversation with Phil Cooke. So, Phil, thanks, if you happen to listen to this, thanks for hanging out with us, thanks for spending the time with us that you did.

Bart Blair: [00:02:52] If you are listening to our podcast, for maybe the first time, or maybe you haven’t yet subscribed, make sure you do that on whatever platform that you listen to our podcast on. Make sure that you subscribe, so you don’t miss any episodes. And if you haven’t left us a rating or review, please do that. If you leave us a really awesome review, we might even read it and share it with our audience, just in case that might matter to you. I hear other people doing that on their podcast, we’ve never actually done it, so I thought I’d throw that out there. I might even, you know what, I might even if you leave us a really cool review, I might get Jason to send you a T-shirt. I’m just saying, you know, a Missional Marketing T-shirt, wouldn’t be cool. Not the golf shirt, the golf shirts are probably a little pricey for us.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:31] We got some really cool T-shirts around here, so yes.

Bart Blair: [00:03:33] Because we’re a low-budget podcast, so we can’t send your really nice gifts, but we can afford a T-shirt. But anyway, all that being said, thanks for tuning in, thanks for your feedback, we love the feedback that we’re getting on the podcast and you’re finding what we’re producing for you here useful. And this rambling is not useful, so I’m going to cut it short and just say, hey, let’s listen to this interview with Phil Cooke.


Bart Blair: [00:00:02] All right, I’m going to count us down three to.

Bart Blair: [00:00:06] Well, Phil Cooke, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Missional Marketing Church Growth Interviews podcast. Thanks so much for being our guest today.

Phil Cooke: [00:00:14] Hey, I’m thrilled to be here, I’m honored, this is going to be fun. I love talking to guys that are into media and communication stuff, so this will be great.

Bart Blair: [00:00:21] Well, yeah, we’re delighted to have you. You know, most of our audience are people who are church leaders, church communications professionals, you know, some in large churches, some in very small churches, long time churches like Moody in Chicago, and brand new church plants in cities all over the country. I would imagine that many of them probably have heard of you, maybe they don’t know a ton about you. Why don’t you spend a few minutes just sharing your story, how you got into the stuff that you’re doing today, and actually explain a little bit about what you’re doing today?

Phil Cooke: [00:00:54] Sure, I’m a preacher’s kid from Charlotte, North Carolina. My dad was a pastor my whole life. I’ve worked behind the scenes in church since I was born, I have filled millions of communion cups, I have printed thousands of bulletins, I have mowed the church cemetery for years. And when I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just never felt called to preach. I knew everything about church, and how it worked, but I never felt called to preach. So I just was, I started college as a music major because that’s what you did back in those days, if you’re a preacher’s kid, you played the piano. But one thing I did as kind of a hobby, me and three or four buddies in high school used to take my dad’s Super 8 movie camera. Yep, that’s how old I am, and we would go out and make little three-minute movies, Army movies, mafia movies, space movies, and we just had a great time doing it. We didn’t know anything about it, it never crossed our mind that you could do this for a living, but we just loved doing it.

Phil Cooke: [00:01:48] So when I went to college, I thought, well, I’ll take my dad’s camera, and I’ll take my movies, and maybe I’ll find some guys in college. I went a thousand miles away to college, and I thought, well, maybe I’ll find some guys that want to do that there. And literally the first day, I’m unpacking my suitcase and a couple of my little films rolled out, and a guy across the hall said, hey, I’m taking a film class, I can show you how to edit those things. I didn’t even know you could cut film back in those days. And so he took me down there, and to make a long story short, we worked late into the night working on one of my little movies. And I discovered the professor was there, he was there working on a project of his own, and as he was leaving late that night, he walked by our little edit table and introduced himself and said, look, I’ve been watching your little film out of the corner of my eye. And he said, I’ve got students that have been taking two, three years of classes and they don’t do this well. Would you mind if I showed your film in my class tomorrow? So I said, yeah, if I can sit on the back row.

Phil Cooke: [00:02:41] So the next day, I sat in the back row, he showed my little movie, and trust me, it was nothing to scream about. But when it was over, the class started talking about it, they started discussing it. And I’ll tell you something, an idea hit me, It was like a revelation like I’ve never had before or since, this crystal clear moment of revelation that if I can do something with a camera that makes people talk like this, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life. And I literally changed my major that day to film, TV, communications, and I’ve never looked back. And although I’ve owned commercial companies, we’ve done Super Bowl commercials, we’ve done all kinds of secular projects over the years, I’ve always just gravitated toward the church because I’ve always felt the church needed to understand how to tell their story more effectively using media. And so over the years, we’ve worked with most major ministry organizations, a ton of effective large churches, and small churches as well, and it’s just interesting to see how God has used that. Media has come a long way in my long career, and I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:42] So are you doing more storytelling when you step into these churches and helping out? Or what’s the…

Phil Cooke: [00:03:47] Yeah, usually when pastors will call us, they’re frustrated about something, as you guys probably know. They’re frustrated about their media, we do a lot of broadcast television with clients, we do a lot of short videos with clients and other things. But, you know, I’ve gotten into this role where I’m the guy, kind of the hub, that brings everybody to the table, the website people, the social media people, the video people, the broadcast TV people if that’s part of it, and I just kind of manage the process of how it goes. I am, you know, I come from the creative side of the fence, I’m a writer, and I’ve been producing forever, directing a lot of television. But I’ve just kind of grown into a role where I kind of become the hub, I’ve just you know, I go to a lot of churches where nobody talks to each other. The Web guy is not talking to the social media people, who aren’t talking to the video guy, who is not talking to the pastor, and they’re all telling different stories. I’ve discovered the key is we’ve got to get them all together on the same page, reflecting the same vision, the same message, the same story, and when that happens, incredible things suddenly start beginning.

Jason Hamrock: [00:04:52] You know, so you have written a lot of books. So, I mean, so you got to Google Phil, Phil Cooke with an E on the end, right.

Phil Cooke: [00:05:00] Yep.

Jason Hamrock: [00:05:00] So just go to, you’re going to see all of the books he’s written. You’ve written a lot of great books that speak into leadership, structure, all these different things that you’re talking about in your books. Where did you gain all that? If you’re a filmmaker, like, is it just from your years of experience of working in a church?

Phil Cooke: [00:05:18] Well, a lot of it is hitting my head against the wall and working with churches and ministries over the years. I mean, literally, I started a long, long time ago, I started actually like to give you a little secret, I started producing programs, directing programs, for Oral Roberts back in the days when you’ll remember Oral, Billy, [inaudible] on the Catholic side, they were all doing national television programs, and Oral’s was the most-watched program in America at the time. So when I was a student my freshman year, I actually went to Oral Roberts University, and my freshman year Oral built a massive studio complex on the campus ORU, brought in heads of departments from NBC and other places in Hollywood, the director, the art director, the lighting director. And I got a job on the crew is a grip, just moving set pieces around, and worked my way up to the lighting crew, then became a camera operator, eventually the director. I eventually got a chance to be the assistant director of the program, and then when the director left, they moved me up into the director’s position. So I go all the way back there, and so since that time, I’ve worked with just more ministries and churches than I care to admit and seen a lot of changes. I mean, when you think about it, a lot of changes have happened in media during that time. So a lot of it just comes out from the agony of working with an awful lot of people over the years.

Jason Hamrock: [00:06:36] It’s beautiful, and it’s a mess all at the same time.

Phil Cooke: [00:06:38] It is, yes, exactly right.

Bart Blair: [00:06:42] So, Phil, you obviously work hands-on with a lot of churches, you’ve got your hands in a lot of different things, and we could take this conversation in a lot of different directions. Obviously, you know, one of the things that you help a lot of churches with is communications with their production, with their media production. And a year and a half ago, you know, the world went into Covid mode and churches had to start making a lot of significant changes and pivots, additions, subtractions, you name it. Why don’t you share a little bit with us about some of the stuff that you were doing hands-on to help churches in that transition, and then I’d like for you to also speak into maybe how some of the things that you’ve seen change in the church over the course of the last year and a half might be a permanent change.

Phil Cooke: [00:07:29] That’s a great question. You know, it’s funny, we’ve been working with live streaming with churches for many, many years, long before Covid ever, you know, anybody ever knew about Covid. And in fact, we’ve had multiple churches that we were working with years ago that were making as much as a third of their total financial income just from their live stream audience. We helped them tweak their live stream to where the audience really felt engaged, the pastor respected the audience, he talked to them. We’ve even had numerous churches where in the middle of the praise and worship, the pastor will walk off to the side of the stage, look at a camera and welcome the audience and tell them how grateful he is that they’re part of this. And the audience, you know, the people watching feel like, hey, this church respects me, they value me, and they want to be a part of that congregation.

Phil Cooke: [00:08:14] So we had some great success with the live streaming along before Covid, but when Covid came along and the churches started getting locked down, I frankly thought we’d be out of business. But suddenly we got flooded with calls from pastors who had no clue what they were doing, or no idea how to live stream, or the ones that were live streaming, how do they take it to the next level? I actually had some pastors before the shutdown tell me, you know, Phil, I don’t mind live streaming my service, but that’s not real ministry. Let me tell you, when that lockdown happened, they completely changed their tune, and so we just jumped right in.

Phil Cooke: [00:08:48] And it was really interesting, I started by watching every Sunday during the lockdown, I would watch 10, 12, maybe 15 live streams. I would just watch one after another after another, and it was just interesting to see how different churches were doing it, which ones were doing it well and which weren’t. And out of that experience in working with the churches that we work with, in fact, I’ll tell you, we had three churches during the lockdown that got such a great response from their live stream, they decided to go on broadcast television in their city.

Phil Cooke: [00:09:18] And so it’s just interesting what’s come out of this whole Covid thing, and so I wrote the book, Maximize Your Influence out of that experience. Because I started realizing, as you well know, they don’t teach pastors communication and media stuff in Bible college or seminary, and somebody needs to be out there. So I really wanted to create a reference book that every pastor in America could have on his desk, that when these issues came up, and they’re not about how to build a website or how to set up a social media platform, they’re more about how to speak that language, how to talk to your communications team, and really why we’re doing this, what’s the point of this? So many churches I go into, I’m sure you’ve seen this, they’re doing everything, they just don’t really have a good idea why they’re doing it or what the strategy is behind it, so that’s a big part of why I wrote the book.

Jason Hamrock: [00:10:02] How to do it well, either.

Phil Cooke: [00:10:04] Yeah, that’s true. Bart Blair: That’s true.

Bart Blair: [00:10:05] I want to talk about the book in just a moment, but I actually want to get you to…There’s a thread that I want to kind of pull on something that you said just a minute ago, and you were sharing some of the experience of how some churches had built such a strong online presence, or a broadcast presence, that a significant amount of their donation and revenue was coming from their online audience because they were tailoring their experience to meet the needs of both the people in the room and the people online. Y.

Bart Blair: [00:10:42] Can you speak for a minute to just the importance that churches need to place on creating an experience for the online audience, and not just to fly on the wall experience for people who are watching online?

Phil Cooke: [00:10:56] Yeah. You know, live streaming is so much more than hanging a little camera from the edge of the balcony, there are just so many pastors that don’t take that seriously, and yet, there are people out there watching. The success stories we’ve heard during the lockdown have absolutely been amazing. We worked with one church, an African-American church in the south, nine hundred members. The pastor called me about six months into the lockdown and said… You know, I mean, he really embraced this. And he called me and said before the lockdown, he said, we had twenty-eight subscribers to our YouTube channel, he said, now we have twenty three thousand. He said, we have nine hundred church members, but every Sunday, thirty to forty thousand people are watching our live stream. And he said up to now, he said, one and a half million people have seen my Easter message on YouTube. He said, I’m a pastor, so I feel guilty saying this, but I have no real desire to go back to our church building. He said we’re making more of an impact online than we’ve ever made in the history of our church.

Phil Cooke: [00:11:52] So for the record, I’m not an either-or guy, I believe it’s a both-and thing, I think we need to have both tracks. You know, have a great, amazing, compelling service in the building, invite people and build that community, but at the same time, we need to have just as a compelling online experience. Craig Rochelle at Life Church calls it a hybrid, and I totally agree. He wants the live experience, the live online experience, to be just as compelling as being in the service. And I sometimes think of sports, you know, football games, I’m a big college football fan. And when you go to a stadium to see the game live, that’s a thrilling thing, and it’s wonderful, and you have a great time. However, there are things when you’re at home watching it on TV, you get to see even more stuff, you get to see replays, you get to see in-depth interviews, you get to see backgrounds on different players, so both experiences need to be absolutely maxed out to make it effective.

Phil Cooke: [00:12:42] And for the record, I’ll tell you, in my experience, I’m believing that will have a significant number of people that will probably cut back in-person worship to one Sunday a month, maybe two Sundays a month, and stay at home and watch. I’ve had a lot of pastors tell me, Phil, I spent almost two years telling people how awesome online worship is. How in the world am I ever going to get them back in the church? My first response is, if that’s all that gets them in, you’ve got bigger problems, if they just watch stuff, then you got bigger problems than that. But the second thing is, you need to make that online experience compelling. In fact, this is not the time, for what it’s worth, this is not the time to take your foot off the gas when it comes to your live stream, I think it’s going to be more important than ever as we go into the future.

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:26] Yeah, it’s really important that you say that, because you know before Covid, the sacred cow was getting them into the room, and rightfully so, it’s like your biggest giving, you know, it all happens right there. Covid happens now there online, and it is interesting to hear churches go, yeah, we’re really cutting back on the online so we can get back in person.

Phil Cooke: [00:13:45] Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:46] Why are you lifting that sacred cow back up? Like, come on, they need to tune in and talk to you. Because it’s like what you’re saying there, and the amount of like a small church, but, you know, preaching the gospel and using media to convey a message and it’s exploding.

Phil Cooke: [00:14:04] Well, you know, for the record, let me just say that when it comes to small churches, don’t think you can’t do this because you don’t have a ten-man communication team, or five cameras or more. Everybody today has a studio in their pocket, I mean, literally in their pocket. There are two feature film festivals in America now for movies, for feature films, shot on iPhones. In fact, I have a friend who’s a camera operator, she’s a director of photography, and she’s built her whole business around filming all of her projects on an iPhone. She’s got this amazing rig that she uses, and slaps the iPhone in there, and she shoots on that. So the truth is, you have no excuse anymore, there’s no reason even with no budget, just pull your phone out and you can do some really remarkable things.

Bart Blair: [00:14:49] I will testify, as a pastor myself, I have to say, you know, there’s really nothing for me that can replace or replicate the incarnational experience of the church body being together. But I will speak from firsthand that, you know, as a pastor, even before we were, you know, really able to pull out all the stops on a church online type of experience, between my 12-year-old son operating a camera, and my son-in-law who’s going to be editing this podcast, the two of them, we were posting content online. Which led to people finding our content online, engaging in a new relationship, and actually having an incarnational connection at some point. It wasn’t overnight, in one case, and I tell this story over and over again, so I won’t tell the story now, but it was a full year. I had a couple tell me they’ve been watching online before they ever took the chance of stepping into the space where we were meeting in person, but once they did, it was a life-changing experience for them. And that life change started not the minute they walked in the door, but when they discovered our teaching online and began to engage with us online. So you’re right, I think it’s just part of what we have to see as a holistic ministry effort now, it can’t all be in person, it can’t all be online, we have to figure out how to make those two things work together for the sake of people who are far from God.

Phil Cooke: [00:16:19] That’s really good. You know, one of the most exciting things I’m seeing that kind of gets my blood pumping is the number of pastors who are saying…You know, I was telling the story recently that I have a friend who was a baseball player, he got hit in the head with a line drive, and everybody panicked, and he knocked him out. And they rushed him to the hospital and they did a CAT scan, and they did all the procedures and stuff and realized, you know, eventually, he came to and he was OK, and there was no problem from that baseball hit. However, the CAT scan discovered he had a tiny tumor deep into his brain. And the doctor said they found it early only because of the baseball hit. And he did the CAT scan, they found it early enough that they could take it out. And the doctor said any later it would have grown to a place, and where it was located, they could have never taken it out and it would have killed him. And I often think Covid is that baseball just slamming right into our head here because it’s showing us new ways of doing things that are shaking us up and making us look at things differently. I’ve had so many pastors tell me, you know, now that I started live streaming, I realize we’ve been doing church the same way for two or 300 years. I mean, we may have switched to contemporary music, but our order of service is pretty much the same, we’re still in the sanctuary, we’re doing this, most of the things we do are almost identical in our lifetime and far beyond. And so I’m seeing pastors, for instance, there’s a group of pastors that are kind of following a Catholic daily mass model. And what they’re doing is every morning at seven o’clock, they’re having a group of people that they do ministry, and worship, and teaching to, online in a Facebook group. And one pastor I know in Florida has three or four hundred people every morning that meet him at seven a.m., Monday through Friday, and then three or four thousand will watch it replayed over the course of the day. Another pastor is has been doing communion for three hundred and forty days in a row. One pastor I talked to at the big church in the south, he’s going to continue live streaming for three Sundays, even though they don’t have to, he’s going to keep live streaming for three Sundays a month. And then the fourth weekend, on Friday night, they’re going to have a big worship concert, on Saturday that the congregation is going into the streets to do heavy-duty ministry to people, and then they’ll have a big blowout worship service in their church. So whether you like those ideas or not, it’s really interesting to me that pastors are suddenly thinking, hey, why do we keep doing this the same old way? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and look for other ways that we can share the gospel in a more powerful way with people. So I think that’s really fascinating to me.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:46] Yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:18:47] Love it. We can talk about that all day long, But I do want to get to the book. Jason, Jason, help us transition into the conversation about the book now.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:55] Yeah. So, you know, you kind of mentioned you who you wrote the book for, right?

Phil Cooke: [00:18:58] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:59] In fact, I think it’s, you know, any church staff. I mean, honestly, you need to get your hands on this book and read it.

Bart Blair: [00:19:06] Maximizing Your Influence, that’s the name of the book, Maximizing Your Influence. I’ve got mine on my Kindle, so you can’t really see it.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:15] I’ve got in on my Kindle, it’s right there.

Phil Cooke: [00:19:17] Okay.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:19] So, hey, there are multiple ways you get your hands on this book. So, communication directors, and I’m a former communications director, and I get to talk with communication directors all day long and it’s a joy. They’re the second most influential person in the church.

Phil Cooke: [00:19:35] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:36] Explain.

Phil Cooke: [00:19:38] Well, the fact is, it’s a communications director. You know, it’s funny, most churches, a lot of churches I’ve been into over the years, the communication director isn’t even allowed a seat at the table. It’s just funny that everybody’s in there, the youth directors there, the pastor has a staff meeting, everybody comes, but the media or communication guys are just kind of left in the wind. And yet, it’s the communication team that’s responsible for taking that pastor’s message and getting it far beyond the walls of the church to hundreds, thousands, potentially millions of people out there. So I’ll tell you what, in the churches that I work with that are doing some amazing things, and incredibly effective, in almost every case, the communication director is probably the second most influential person in the church. Certainly, an executive pastor runs the place, and that’s all important and really great, but I’ll tell you, that communication’s director’s job is to really enhance the message that pastor shares, which means they have to be in close communication, they have to be on the same wavelength, they need to be talking back and forth with suggestions going back and forth. So I just think that we don’t realize just how important that communication director’s role really is in a church setting.

Jason Hamrock: [00:20:46] Well, you’re my new favorite person.

Bart Blair: [00:20:48] And you know what? And probably a lot of people listening to this podcast are going, yes, I should get my senior pastor and my executive pastor to listen to this.

Phil Cooke: [00:20:54] Well, let me give you a tip real quick here, Jason. A lot of these communication directors will tell me, particularly media guys, will tell me, you know, the pastor doesn’t listen to me, he doesn’t meet with me, you know, we never get together on stuff. Well, the problem is, in most cases, the communication person or the media person is speaking their language when they go to a pastor. Let me tell you, a pastor could care less about sound levels, he could care less about light levels, he doesn’t care about video edits, he doesn’t care about any of that technical stuff or what it takes to build a website, he doesn’t care about analytics, all a pastor cares about is mission, he cares about ministry. So I always am telling media guys and communication guys, look, speak the pastor’s language, and suddenly you’re going to find out he’s your best friend. And the other thing, too, is feed him ideas, you should be constantly feeding the pastor and the teaching team ideas. You do those two things, and suddenly you’ll be their best friend.

Jason Hamrock: [00:21:49] Yeah. Yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:21:50] So, this morning, this is very interesting, I walk most mornings, you know, three or four or five miles, and I listen to podcasts and I have a long list of podcasts that I listen to, and I’m usually weeks behind as they’re populating my phone. And ironically, this morning, I took off for my walk, and hear I hear an interview with Phil Cooke and Katie Allred on the church communications podcast. And I’m like, oh, this is great, I’m going to listen to Phil talk about his book before I interview about his book. One of the things that you talked about with Katie, and you did write about in the book, but you really fleshed this out really well in the interview that she did with you, was on the centrality of the church’s website, the importance of the church’s website in relation to social media and other means of communication. Can you talk for a few minutes about why you think the church website is so important?

Phil Cooke: [00:22:41] Yeah, I really feel that the church website is the hub of everything a church does. It’s interesting that when social media really exploded and became so popular, suddenly churches got on board with Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter, and other platforms, and they kind of left their website behind. But the truth is, as we’ve seen in the last year or two, social media platforms can censor you, they can delete you at a minute’s notice, and everything you’ve built over all those years is suddenly gone. And yet your website is on a server, which hopefully is going to keep you on for a long, long time, your live stream sits on your church website, so many things you do is on your website. And I have discovered that the vast majority of churches, vast majority of potential. You know, one of the things, I’m sorry, I’m not saying this very well, but one of the potential mistakes churches make is they don’t realize that the vast, vast, vast majority of people will check them out online before they go visit the church, and so I want your website to rock, that’s number one. But number two, trust me, nobody at your church ever checks your church website. I mean, your church members know who the pastor is, they know where the church is located, they know when the Christmas pageant is coming up, they don’t have to go to your website. But virtually all of potential new visitors will check the site before they come and visit, which means your website needs to really be focused on what it would take to get somebody to make that step to come and actually visit. So I just am a big believer that the website is the central focus of everything you do, you can have your social media on your website, you can do so many other short videos, sermon content, and other things. I mean, I think YouTube channels and things like that are really critical, but I just think that it all starts with a church website and it goes out from there.

Jason Hamrock: [00:24:27] Well, that’s that kind of talk we do all the time with churches, so it’s really good to have a guy like Phil Cooke back up what we tell churches every day, and that’s your website is a growing, living thing and it’s not made for your people.

Phil Cooke: [00:24:43] Yeah, that’s so true, and there’s a reason we call them Web surfers and not Web readers. So the pastor’s biography should not be four pages long, let me just tell you, everything needs to be cut way, way down, because people just gloss over stuff. And make it simple, easy to find the statistics of, you know, the statistics are overwhelming of the number of people that if they can’t find it within a matter of seconds, they’ll move on. So whatever you want them to do, grease the skids. That’s one of the frustrating things about live streaming, I went to some websites during the lockdown, it took me five, six, seven clicks, seven different pages before I could finally get to their website. Let me tell you, put it out there on the homepage, get it out front on Sundays because that’s where it needs to be. Make it easy for people

Jason Hamrock: [00:25:26] Yeah, one click.

Bart Blair: [00:25:28] Ok, so one of the things that I highlighted in your book as I was reading it was something that you didn’t say, you copied from somebody else. Which is the smartest

Phil Cooke: [00:25:38] Which is the smartest thing I do.

Bart Blair: [00:25:39] They say it’s a sign of a great leader. One of your one of your staff members, I did not write down who it was, but hopefully you remember the quote. You quoted this, she said, I believe it was a female on your team said, “What holds many organizations back is simply being afraid of failure because others are watching.” I’m assuming you agree with that statement since you used it in your book, even though you did say it?

Phil Cooke: [00:26:06] That’s Dawn Nicole Baldwin, who is really brilliant at this stuff, I mean, she’s absolutely brilliant. And she was the communication director at Willow Creek Church back in their heyday, she left them to go launch Veggie Tales nationwide, to lead the team that did that. And more recently, she’s been with working with us for about 12 years, and she’s just brilliant, she’s exactly right. Say the quote again, because I think it’s worth people listening.

Bart Blair: [00:26:30] “What holds many organizations back is simply being afraid of failure because others are watching.”

Phil Cooke: [00:26:38] Yeah. Oh, man.

Bart Blair: [00:26:39] And I’ll highlight this, too, others are watching because we’re putting it all online now, right? I mean, it’s all online. And so the risk the risk is high, but the reward, I think, is also high.

Phil Cooke: [00:26:53] Yeah. Well, you know, there’s a lot of leadership teaching out there about learning from your mistakes, you know, pushing the limits, constantly failing. I don’t believe in a culture of failure, but I do believe if you’re not failing every once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. And she’s exactly right, we all were so worried about what other people think. And I actually think the greatest sin short of maybe pride might be comparison, and that probably is an offshoot of pride, we’re just constantly trying to look so good in front of everybody else. And I think, what the irony of all that is, one thing I discovered online, particularly with social media, is the very thing that makes people want to connect with you is your imperfections, they want to see your authentic, real self. And so if we’re constantly projecting this theme of how awesome we are, that turns people off really, really quick. I was talking to someone this morning about how pastors under brag on social media, you know when a pastor will post, praise God, we had 5000 cars in the parking lot today, God’s really moving in this church. You know, it’s just kind of patting yourself on the back without sounding like it. People know. People know. So I think be real, don’t be afraid to show your mistakes. I think very often that’s the thing, the most important thing to get people to want to connect with you.

Bart Blair: [00:28:05] Yeah. Yeah. You write in the book, and you cite YouVersion and Life Church’s development of the YouVersion as a pivotal aspect of online and digital media. And Bobby Gruenwald talks about the fact that the YouVersion Bible app came out of a failure. Like they had a completely different plan for what it was going to be, and YouVersion came out of a failure. I need to fail at something like that, that bounces. I mean, that ball bounced high.

Phil Cooke: [00:28:36] Sorry, I’m choking to death because that’s so funny. You know, one of the great things about Craig Rochelle is that he’s virtually created, he and Bobby have virtually created our research and development division at Life Church. I mean, they have a team of guys that that’s all they do is try stuff and see if it works or not, throw it up against the wall. And I wish more churches had that spirit, were never going to push the envelope very far if we’re not out there trying new things. And yet, I still, after all the years I’ve been doing this, I still hear, but, Phil, that’s the way we’ve always done it. And I just want to jump out a window whenever I hear that because it drives me nuts. So I’m a big believer in allowing your team enough rope to hang themselves, let them go out there and try it, let’s see what happens and go from there.

Jason Hamrock: [00:29:21] Every business that’s successful has been there.

Phil Cooke: [00:29:23] Yeah, true.

Bart Blair: [00:29:26] So, you know, organizationally, you know, we work with hundreds of churches across the country, and we offer paid services to churches that need them because we want to help them get better at what they do. But one of the things that Jason has really led our organization well in is helping our team members really see themselves as coaches and cheerleaders first. And so when we’re working with churches, we give away far more teaching, training, and coaching than we ever charge churches for. And so much of that is because what churches, church leaders, communications directors, what they need to know, is really so much of it is at their fingertips and so much of it is free and accessible to them.

Bart Blair: [00:30:10] And one of the chapters that you wrote in the book is about non-budget marketing and promotion. There are ways for churches to actually market themselves, promote themselves, to do outreach, without having to throw a lot of dollars behind it. Why don’t you spend a few minutes just talking about some of the things that you’ve seen churches do, or that you would encourage churches to do, to capitalize on the resources that are available that they don’t have to pay for?

Phil Cooke: [00:30:35] Well, I learned that principle years and years and years ago when we first came to Los Angeles many, many years ago, our pastor was Jack Hayford at Church on the Way here in Los Angeles. And he’s just the Protestant pope as far as I’m concerned, I just adore Jack, and he’s long since been retired from ministry. But when he launched Church on the Way, probably 50 years ago now, 40 or 50 years ago, in that first few years of launching the church, he called up the religion editor of The Los Angeles Times and said, I’d like to take you to lunch. And so they went to lunch and Jack said, look, I know you’re having to cover every religious faith, every religious group there is, and you’re probably overwhelmed. He said, I’ll tell you what, I would be happy to put my staff at your disposal any time you need them, if you need research, if you have questions, or if you just want to find out about some things, or maybe network with somebody, you give me a call. Here’s my phone, give me a call any time. Well, let me tell you, since that time, Jack Hayford has been quoted in The Los Angeles Times probably hundreds of times, more than anybody in the history of the world. And it’s only because he offered that so many years ago, hasn’t paid a penny for it, and yet he’s probably gotten millions of dollars worth of advertising locally in the L.A. Times.

Phil Cooke: [00:31:45] So there are so many ways you can reach out to people. Today, most newspapers don’t have a religion editor anymore. But there are ways you can reach out to the local television, newspaper, or other media sources, there are lots of things you can do, plus blogs and things like that. We don’t advertise, our team at Cooke Media Group, probably much like you guys, we don’t ever advertise, and it’s mostly word of mouth because we’re out there constantly making connections with people. So I just think that there’s so much we could do. I think many pastors, and communication directors, media directors, get hung up on the fact that I don’t have a massive budget. Well, let me tell you, there’s a lot of things you could do without a budget.

Phil Cooke: [00:32:21] And the other issue along this line is volunteers. Over and over. I’m in meetings with churches that say, well, we can’t do what Elevation Church does, or Life Church does, or Hillsong does, because they have a huge, highly-paid staff. Well, no, they don’t. I was in a meeting the other day and we were talking about Steven Fertik at Elevation, and I texted his television director and I said, how many of your camera crew and your whole TV production team are paid? He said, one guy, just one guy, everybody else is a volunteer. If you’ll take the time to train your volunteers, you’d be stunned at how much you can learn from them, and how much you can get them to do stuff, it’s really quite remarkable.

Phil Cooke: [00:32:57] And let me say one last thing and that is, who goes to your church? Ken Forman, a pastor up in San Jose, I went to college with him. A number of years ago, he was thinking, you know what, I really don’t know what my church members do for a living. So he literally did a survey, and he discovered they had something like 18 dentists in his church. So he got them over to his house one night, said, guys, what can we do? And they launched a ministry that today is the largest free dental clinic in the entire San Francisco Bay area. It’s been featured in USA Today, or on ABC, on NBC. In fact, USA Network sent me up there to do a story about it for the USA Network, no Christian sources, these were all secular sources that are blown away by how extensive this free dental clinic is up there. And it all started from just finding out who goes to your church, what do they do for a living?

Phil Cooke: [00:33:47] Another church in Vancouver did the same thing and discovered they had tons of beauticians in their church, hairstylist, and they launched a ministry to homeless women in the Vancouver area, helping them do makeovers because they said, boy, I tell you, you do a makeover with a homeless woman, it completely changes her perspective. And so just finding out what your people do, how to mobilize volunteers, you can do some remarkable, remarkable things.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:09] Well, at my church, when we went from one campus to two campuses, this is a while ago, that’s a big deal because you have to dual broadcast. Unbeknownst to us sitting in our congregation, a member of our church was the producer for Arizona Diamondback Baseball. I think maybe he has an idea on how to take this from one to two campuses.

Phil Cooke: [00:34:28] No kidding. No kidding.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:30] So you’re absolutely right, you have no idea who’s sitting in your congregation.

Phil Cooke: [00:34:34] Yeah, it’s amazing.

Bart Blair: [00:34:35] That is a really good point. Well, let’s kind of bring things to a close here, we could go on forever. There’s actually a whole other list of questions that I wanted to talk to you about, and hopefully, we’ve made a good impression and we can you to do this again.

Phil Cooke: [00:34:47] Sorry, I’ve been ranting, I apologize.

Bart Blair: [00:34:50] No, no, this has been fantastic. But yeah, I mean, I’ve got a note sheet here, but I’ve got a whole other set of questions and things that I wanted to talk to you about, and I knew we weren’t going to get to them in this time that we had together today, so maybe we can do it again sometime. Why don’t you share with us, like what’s next for Phil Cooke, what are the things that you have coming up on the horizon? And what are some things that we can be looking for from you?

Phil Cooke: [00:35:16] Well, you know, it’s funny. The thing that really gets my blood pumping is ministries and churches that have a real vision for something different. We got the call a few years ago from a small ministry, one woman ministry in Atlanta, Ann White, and she asked me to come in and just talk to her about branding her ministry, kind of repositioning it to help her launch. And she was so small, I didn’t want to do it, and my wife talked me into it. And we go down there, we met with her, and we ended up redoing her website, renaming her ministry, completely changing everything about it. She has a passion for teaching the Bible to at-risk women. So she was training teachers to go into the Cook County prison system, jail system, there in Atlanta and teach the Bible to these women who were battered women, addicted people who had been addicted to drugs and alcohol, women who are in prison. And we did some research, and we found out that she’s a brilliant writer, she decided she wanted to make a study Bible with all her study notes in it for these women. And so we started researching and discovered, hey, if you’re running from a husband who’s beaten you for the last few years, you’re just taking the clothes on your back, maybe your kids, you don’t have time for a big, thick study Bible, lugging that around. And so we decided, everybody’s got a phone, and even in prison, they have phones, so maybe we start making an app to use on phones or digital tablets.

Phil Cooke: [00:36:38] And then we discovered that women who have been beaten by men for the last six or eight years, the last thing in the world they want to hear is the Bible read by a man’s voice. And so we started looking for apps, you know, Bible apps, the Bible recordings with women, and there were none. Nobody had ever recorded the Bible entirely with women’s voices, so we did it, we did the whole project, the entire Bible, we did it out here in a big studio here in Los Angeles. And it’s up at Courage for Life is the name of the ministry, and right now, that app is on sixty-eight thousand digital tablets in the prison systems in Missouri, Georgia, and I think it’s moving into Alabama, and now we’re working on the same thing in a Spanish version. So just, you know, ministries that are open to trying new things just really interest me. And she was just willing to say, OK, let’s look at the research, let’s see what’s working, what’s not working, and let’s try something different. And as a result, we ended up with the first audio bible ever recorded with entirely women’s voices. So it’s not my normal television thing, it’s not our normal video thing, but it was just a fascinating thing. And it’s made such a huge, the White House now has the team that’s working on prison reform, they’re looking at it to see how they could use it because it’s made such an impact out there. So it’s just, I’m just constantly fascinated with ministry leaders that have a real vision.

Jason Hamrock: [00:38:03] Well, the point there is to listen to your wife.

Phil Cooke: [00:38:05] Well, yeah, that’s for sure. Yeah, Kathleen’s a lot smarter than me, there’s no question about that. So that’s a good point, good point.

Bart Blair: [00:38:12] Phil, that’s really neat, I appreciate you sharing that with us. Because, you know, I mean, obviously when someone writes books and you read their books, you kind of get a feel, or you think you get a feel for who that person is. And of course, we see your media, we see your production, we see the stories that you tell. And, of course, you know, you kind of make some assumptions and draw some conclusions. But, you know, sharing that story right there, thanks to Kathleen, that’s just gold, that’s just absolute gold.

Phil Cooke: [00:38:39] Thank you.

Bart Blair: [00:38:40] Hey, Phil, thank you so much for spending the time with us today. If any of our listeners or video watchers are interested in finding out more about what you’re doing, or they want to connect with you, what are the best ways for them to do that?

Phil Cooke: [00:38:51] Well, the hub for me is That’s my blog, and you can find my social media there, I’m @PhilCooke with an E on Instagram, on Twitter, and Phil Cooke on Facebook. But my blog is really everything starts there, and you can reach out to me from the blog. If you have questions or something you want to run by me, feel free to do it, you can do it through my blog. So check out, you can order the book from there if you want to, there’s so many options there. So that’d be the place.

Bart Blair: [00:39:15] Hey, this is kind of a side note, and if I’m wrong, you can correct me. But I heard this when you were interviewed by Katie. Did you start a nonprofit?

Phil Cooke: [00:39:25] Yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:39:26] That is kind of connected with the book in some way. I’m sorry, we could have talked about this earlier.

Phil Cooke: [00:39:30] Yeah, you guys would actually love this. We’ve been inundated over the years with people, Christians, reaching out internationally, people in Africa, Asia, South America, wanting to have media training. They want to know how do I use short films and social media to really reach the lost in our area? And so we’ve had a couple of things where we’ve taken groups from Hollywood, high-level Christians in the industry, directors of photography, producers, screenwriters, social media experts, we’ve taken teams, we took one team to Cairo, did a week training with a church there that’s producing eighty hours of broadcast television beamed into the Muslim world via satellite. And we were just paying for it ourselves, and so we finally, that was beginning to be a struggle. So we’ve got so many requests, we launched a non-profit called the Influence Lab, you can check it out at And we just use it to kind of raise enough money to help us continue that work of teaching international folks how to use media for the gospel. And you could actually go to, order my book, do a donation there, I’ll autograph it for you, and that would be a great way to donate to the influence lab and get a copy of the book, so would be that place. Thank you for asking about that, by the way.

Bart Blair: [00:40:46] You’re very welcome, I’m glad that I did, that’s awesome. We really appreciate you, thanks again for spending the time with us today Phil.

Phil Cooke: [00:40:53] It’s been great.

Jason Hamrock: [00:40:54] Phil, thanks for your ministry, we appreciate it.

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