How Web 3.0 & the Metaverse will Change the Church | Nils Smith

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Web 3.0, the Metaverse, how does the church fit in? Nils Smith shares how to leverage new technologies to reach those outside the church

Podcast Transcription


Bart Blair: [00:00:00] Intros. Yeah. All right. I’ll give us a little pause here, and then I’ll jump right in.

Bart Blair: [00:00:08] Hey, well, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the show, Nils Smith, Nils, thanks so much for hanging out with us today.

Nils Smith: [00:00:14] Thanks for having me, thrilled to be here.

Bart Blair: [00:00:16] Yeah, so you’re zooming in from New York City and you’ve got, you know, a great story to tell in terms of your ministry and the work that you’ve been doing with churches. And you do a lot of work with other organizations and businesses that are not churches, but like we often do with with our guests on the podcast, we’d like to start with just kind of hearing your story. So why don’t you share your story with us? How did you end up where you are today doing what you do?

Nils Smith: [00:00:43] Yeah, so I, you know, I think it’s confusing, and I appreciate the introduction. What I do, because I am a little bit all over the place in different ways, but I am based here in New York City, just as to where I am. My primary job is with a company called Dunham and Company, I’m the Chief Strategist of Social Media And Innovation for them, and I’m helping the ministries they partner with get ahead of technology like social media, and virtual reality, and cryptocurrency, and so I do a lot of consulting in that area. And then I also run a social media marketing agency called Amplify Social Media, where I help ministries execute around social media. And then have some other fun virtual reality initiatives, and cryptocurrency projects, that I’m working on on the side.

Nils Smith: [00:01:32] But I’d say that I got into that, my background started in this space in 1999. I was 19 years old, and I got my first job in ministry as a youth minister in Baytown, Texas, at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Baytown, Texas. And my first Wednesday night youth group, we had two kids, and the seventh-grade girl asked me what my aim was. And I told her my aim is to build a youth ministry to reach every teenager in Baytown, Texas. And she said, no, what’s your aim? And I said, I just told you. And she said, what’s your AOL instant messenger? And I was like, What are you talking about? She said you take that CD, you connect to the world wide web, and all my friends are on this internet, and you can come and hang out with us. And so I went and hung out with the teenagers were, as a youth minister should, and figured out what aim was. And I was Nils BYX, and we ended up, I saw a dozen kids accept Christ in a chat room that summer. And I saw more than a dozen accept Christ in our youth group as we grew from two to forty in our winter night youth group, primarily because I went to where they were on the internet and on social media, and that led to incredible ministry fruits. And so for me, I was an accidental social media marketer for ministry purposes.

Nils Smith: [00:02:53] And then that led to, you know, I did youth ministry for a decade and leaned into MySpace, and then this new website,, came along. And we started about a decade ago on the back of Facebook. And I’ve just had the privilege of leaning in early, but really with ministry goals aligned to the technology of social media to accomplish those goals, and I’ve seen some incredible fruits throughout the years. And that’s led to business developments and things like that, but to its core, it’s to accomplish a ministry goal, and so that’s been the journey.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:26] Yeah. So that’s an important thing, when I hear you say that, that’s exciting. By the way, I love that little story, that’s so cool, way to go, God. You know, a lot of churches we talk with, a lot of them are small. I just got off a podcast with the Ninety Five Network, it’s a network that reaches ninety-five percent of the churches, which are small churches, right? And most of those churches are like, why should we do social media? We don’t know about it, we don’t know how. But, you know, speak into that, why is it important for churches to even utilize, or know how to utilize social media?

Nils Smith: [00:04:05] You know, I think there’s a lot of reasons. But you know, my dad pastors a church outside of Houston, Texas, of about about about a hundred people, maybe 120 people. And so it gives me, it’s fascinating having conversations with him about how is he using Facebook, and how is he using Instagram and Twitter. Or he’s picking my brain because a lot of my work is with megachurches and some large ministries, and sometimes comparisons can be difficult for smaller churches that don’t have quite the same resources. But the reality is, is that in so many ways, social media has leveled the playing field. Where typically in media, it was only the megachurches that could even get in, that could afford the cameras, or buy the airtime, to where social media now basically created this platform for any church to kind of begin to engage communities where they are.

Nils Smith: [00:05:00] A church that I do a lot of work with now is Transformation Church and Tulsa, Oklahoma. There were Church Plant just six years ago, and they leaned into YouTube and Instagram, and now there are Church of, you know, they reach over a million people a week without spending any money, without buying any TV and airtime, they literally just have a camera and they streamed to the internet, and in the possibilities, this is a six-year-old church, and so I think any church can basically go anywhere now with social media.

Nils Smith: [00:05:29] But the reality is, even my dad’s church of 100 people that are predominantly an older congregation, they’re spending an average of two hours a day, the average American spends two hours a day on social media. Whether that’s unhealthy or not, that’s where they are. And I think that it’s, you know, I think God calls us to go to where people are to reach people, and sometimes that’s for evangelistic purposes. But I think social media allows for fellowship opportunities throughout the week, I think it allows for discipleship opportunities, I think it allows for missional engagement in a very significant way. So I think the bottom line is, if people are there, we should probably prioritize those opportunities.

Jason Hamrock: [00:06:11] So what’s that been like in the last 18 months? How has that changed?

Nils Smith: [00:06:15] You know, a couple of things have changed with the internet. And I think, you know, one of the things that the technology from my perspective, especially from a social media standpoint, is video conferencing. I think while Skype has been around for a long time, but people would use it here and there when they had to, I think people realize, though, like it’s significant. You know while we’re doing this call, we can see each other’s facial expressions, we can interact in a way beyond if we were just recording audio. It’s not the same as if we were in the room, and I think we can own that and accept that, but the reality is for me to get on an airplane and fly to you in Arizona, you know, or to Bart in Texas, you know, in New York, that’s going to take me days, that’s going to be, you know, it’s exhausting, but we can have a very real personal interaction here through social media.

Nils Smith: [00:07:03] And I think what we found too, we’re in a small group at our church, we have young kids and all the other families in there have young kids, that means we probably skipped every other week because we had a sick child or we had a meltdown, or it was hard for us to have…Do you know that we had about a hundred percent attendance for almost a year in our small group because Zoom didn’t go down, Zoom was always there, and if our kids were sick, then they could go in their rooms and be sick. And so actually technology has enhanced and created opportunities for interactions that aren’t just, some people see technology as OK, we can go global with this, it actually creates opportunities for local engagement to happen throughout the week that we often prioritized it had to be in person. Well, sometimes some of those connections can be digital too, even when they’re on a local context.

Bart Blair: [00:07:56] I want to just drill down on something that you said just a minute ago, kind of rewind a little bit. You know, you said that social media has kind of leveled the playing field, big churches, small churches. In one of our recent episodes, we interviewed Darrel Girardier, who is the Communications Director at Brentwood Baptist. And he made a statement that kind of became sort of the through-line for a lot of our conversation, which was that one of the biggest mistakes that churches make on social media is by looking at other churches and just imitating what they’re doing. And I think that it was a very astute statement because I see, like a lot of small churches, simply trying to imitate what they see the larger church is doing, and to Darrel’s point, it was without really understanding what their purpose was behind doing, what they were doing.

Bart Blair: [00:08:48] So you said that you work with a lot of larger churches, your dad pastors a smaller church, and I’m sure that you interface with smaller churches as well. What are some of the things that you, if you were working with or coaching smaller churches, how would you coach them to develop their own voice for social media, or to find their own way, rather than simply looking at what Elevation church is doing in trying to imitate that?

Nils Smith: [00:09:16] Sure, there’s a lot of thoughts here, and I think Elevation is a great example of there are so many churches that are like, can you just help me be Elevation? And I am like let’s be realistic, Elevation has like 20 staff people just focused on this content development, and they’re running probably hundreds of thousand dollars worth of ads, it’s not a realistic comparison. Now that said, with Transformation Church, Mike Todd was editing all of his sermons on iMovie on his computer up until 18 months ago. And so I’ve seen basically a smaller church still have that kind of impact with a pastor that leaned in, but I also still think that’s an exception, and Pastor Mike is a unique leader from an understanding media context.

Nils Smith: [00:10:05] But I think that it’s the biggest shift that I see where ministries begin to move the needle on social media. and this has been the last 10 years. this isn’t a new development, but it’s when ministries decide that they’re going to use social media for ministry and not marketing. And so the thing that I see churches doing is they’re like, oh, this is another place to give our announcements. And the reality is, so is your Sunday service, but if your Sunday service was ninety percent announcements and ten percent sermon, nobody would come to your service anymore. Or they would come ninety minutes late and skip the announcements and hear the message. People need to hear your announcements, but they’re really connecting to your church because they need to be ministered to and they want to connect with other believers. And announcements are a part of how they get engaged and connected in your community, but you can’t lead with that. I think you lead with ministry, and then you share the information that people need. And I think making that shift, so even if it’s just a text-based, we’re going to push a Bible verse every day, that’s significant ministry, that we know the word of God can transform people’s lives. And so maybe it’s not a fancy video, it’s just something you copy off of YouVersion and you post to your social media accounts. So I think it’s really taking that shift of how can we do ministry on these platforms first, and then and then market? And that shift alone, just a mindset shift is… And I say that to go back, you’re creating great social media content every Sunday when you’re creating your sermon. And so that gives you such a great foundation of just taking that work you’ve already done as a pastor and basically repurposing that. And it doesn’t have to be fancy videos like [inaudible], it could be text quotes, it can be just very simple, or just the scripture passages right out of your message, so it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Jason Hamrock: [00:12:02] Wow. Yeah, you’re planning a lot of digital seeds in that.

Bart Blair: [00:12:05] A hundred percent. And you’re singing our song, our song is, hey, pastor, you spent a ton of time studying, writing, preparing, and delivering a sermon on Sunday. Let’s take that and extrapolate as much content out of it as we can to help it live on between the Sundays, beyond the Sundays, so that is right up our alley. You may have just answered the next question that I’m going to ask you here, but you know if there’s one thing that you can get every church communications leader or every church to stop doing with their social media, what’s one thing that you would have them stop doing?

Nils Smith: [00:12:45] You know, I think I spoke to that of like stop making it a marketing platform first. But I’ll add to this a big mistake that I see church leaders engaging in that I’d love to see them stop doing, is just engaging in debate on social media, and even allowing unhealthy debate on their social media platforms. Like I’ve yet to see a fruitful debate on a church Facebook page or Instagram account, it’s just unhealthy for the most part, and those conversations either need to be moved to a private platform or an in-person interaction or Zoom call. But a text thread on a Facebook page that’s owned by the church is so unhealthy, and it happens so much. And a lot of times it’s somebody negative in the community that has a bad perception of a church, and the church members start backing up the church, and they get into a debate with the community member. It just is unhealthy, it’s not good for your community, it’s not good for your church, and I squash those kinds of debates on your social media channels.

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:55] Ok, so what’s one thing you’d have them start doing?

Nils Smith: [00:13:59] Start doing, is I think just what’s one way that you can minister or inspire your congregation or your community today? And I think just think about that if you just took five minutes of what’s a word that I want to share, what’s a Bible verse, what’s a message? And the truth is, I say you don’t have to do video, you’ve got a great camera in your pocket. And if you don’t, you can get one for like fifty dollars, you know, a cheap Android, my kids have these cheap Android phones, they are like 50 bucks. The videos they create, you know, my 12-year-old what she can create with a cheap Android phone is amazing. You’ve got a video camera that you can use on a low budget, I feel like that excuse is out the window. What’s a way you can inspire, minister, and even just say a prayer for your congregation?

Nils Smith: [00:14:52] I would say the other thing that at Community Bible Church we learned this, and I continue to see it to be very effective is every Wednesday we used to just post the exact same post, how can we pray for you today? And that was it, it was the exact same post, it was not text, no graphic. And the engagement we would get, and we would respond to every single one, but really, what was happening, is the community itself was responding and praying for each other, and it just created this just prayer wall every Wednesday, that was our rhythm. That could be Monday, that could be today, but just how can you minister to your congregation today? And don’t take more than 10 minutes, give yourself 10 minutes and do it in the next 10 minutes. I think you’ll be surprised how fruitful that 10-minute investment will be into the life of your congregation.

Bart Blair: [00:15:41] Hey, Jason, that reminds me of something, and I think it was you. That during COVID you were connected with, or talking to, I think if I get my facts straight, it was a small church or a church plant out in California where the pastor was actually using Facebook Live to do prayer, to take prayer requests, and was actually praying. Do you remember having that conversation?

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:02] Yeah, what he did was, he actually ran a little paid campaign, spent a little bit of money, and he would do it every day, we’re talking like ten dollars, and his thing was, we want to pray for you right now. And so he would get on Facebook, a chat going on with somebody who would say, here’s my prayer request. He and his wife would record that prayer and send it to the person.

Nils Smith: [00:16:27] Wow.

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:28] And he goes, we would do 10 to 15 a day, you know, we wouldn’t do it every day because we just don’t have the time, but we do 10 to 15 on a session. And he goes, that was the best way to do our church because people are like, now, what church are you with? And they just had this conversation, and sure enough, those people would show up on Sunday saying, thank you so much for the prayer. And I was blown away by that, you know, this little tiny church was exploding.

Bart Blair: [00:16:55] Yeah, that’s pretty interesting, that’s pretty interesting.

Nils Smith: [00:16:58] That’s incredible.

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:59] Yeah, the power of prayer.

Bart Blair: [00:17:01] So, Nils, I’m going to ask you to kind of be a prophet here. You’ve been in the social media space since the AOL AIM days, and I’m sure you had a MySpace account and the whole nine yards. What do you see the role of social media becoming? How do you see the role of social media impacting the ministry of the local church in the upcoming years? You know, we’ve just come through a significant shift in the last 18-20 months where churches have realized that church online is no longer really an option, it has to be in some capacity a function of what we do. I heard someone say recently, you reminded me of this in the early part of our conversation today, but I heard someone say recently that, you know, the harvest is plentiful, but the church is not online. And you know, you said, as you were sharing your story earlier, that you went where people are, and we know people are on social media. So what are some of the things that you look forward to, some of the things that you think we might see in social media as churches leverage it for more gospel-centered conversations and more evangelistic outreach in the future?

Nils Smith: [00:18:16] Yes. That’s a great question. There is a lot of research right now around Blockchain technology, and we’re actually, I believe, in a significant internet shift. Of what was AOL, you know, was essentially perceived to be Web 1.0, where it was the information superhighway. What then became Web 2.0, which was social media, mobile technology, and high-speed internet, which allowed for live streaming, and mass media through social media. Web 3.0, is really interesting, is we’re seeing a shift now in Facebook changing there in the Meta, with a lot of the conversation around the Metaverse and what that looks like in virtual reality, what it looks like with Blockchain technology, with decentralization, or there are terms like interoperable. Where Google and Facebook and Apple, they don’t play very well together today, but in the metaverse, they have to.

Nils Smith: [00:19:16] Now, it’s unclear where this is going. Who could have predicted when we’re in Web 1.0, that Web 2.0 would have looked like this? And I think when we would even see it, if you remember what the conversations about social media we’re like, it is like, that’s dumb, these teenagers are wasting so much time on this dumb site. Where now, who’s the biggest audience on Facebook? It’s old people, you know? Right? And their spending, you know, like hours, I would guess, I would assume, that now those over 60 are spending more time than those under 20 on social media in many, many cases. And so we’ve seen this kind of mass adoption now, so where this is going, what seems weird of putting on a virtual reality headset is, I think, becoming more commonplace with things like working from home, and doing things, you know, and going places in virtual reality, virtual experiences, or video conferencing.

Nils Smith: [00:20:14] So it’s hard to say where so much of this is going, but I do think virtual reality is going to be a bigger part of our future. I think 360 video is probably going to be one of the entry points into that, so I think what you’ll see is churches beginning to live stream, where right now it’s a rectangle of what we stream, where 360 video allows us to basically create an immersive video environment that you can consume through a VR headset, I think that’s a big deal.

Nils Smith: [00:20:45] I think that, honestly, I think cryptocurrency is a big part of our future. I think right now I heard somebody say the other day of if you want to undercut the church, you just cut their credit card processor and they are dead, that liability is more significant than people realize. I think Blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, will actually allow for better exchange within churches and giving that’s a little less controlled. So there are some interesting layers to it, and so where some technology is going.

Nils Smith: [00:21:20] The bottom line, though, is if I were to think maybe even two to three years, digital advertising, I think, is the biggest opportunity today, and will be for the next three years. I think churches, when I started at Community Bible Church 10 years ago, we grew our page to eight hundred thousand organically because we could because we’re early. Well, today, it’s unlikely, maybe on Tik Tok, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to see that kind of organic growth. Digital advertising allows us to target people in such a localized way, I think next door is one of the most underutilized platforms from a digital advertising perspective. So I think digital advertising, when it comes to social media, we focus so much on organic engagement, paying, just like that pastor did, of ten dollars a day…We’ve always paid, I say most churches have paid money through yellow page ads, you know, back in the day, or little billboards, or signage. So spending some money on digital advertising is just a smart use of where social media technology is.

Nils Smith: [00:22:22] And then, I think prioritizing social media for discipleship and fellowship opportunities is really where I think we can see more development. I think pastors saw it from an evangelism perspective initially, and I think it’s really beginning to see the community aspect. And the platform that I’ll kind of speak to is Discord, I think Discord is going to be one of the more significant ministry tools out there in the next three to five years because it’s really built around community, and engagement, and learning. And I think so much of what we have to share is, these current platforms are very micro media content distribution platforms, where I think we’ve actually moved away from the social aspect of social media. And I think Discord is really going to bring that fellowship, discipleship tool to social media here in the next three to five years. So those are the things I’ll throw out, you know, there are so many different paths, so who knows where this is all going?

Jason Hamrock: [00:23:28] Yeah, things are saying, I’m echoing as well. I think virtual reality is going to be here before you know it. I mean, our church is already experimenting with it.

Nils Smith: [00:23:28] Nice.

Jason Hamrock: [00:23:41] And so my plea to churches is don’t sit on this, right, you can’t be the last one to the table when it comes to these changes. And the church, the big C church, is so historically so far behind, you know, and we can’t let that happen. And so, you know, because it’s like this stuff changes like this, and if you’re not staying up to it, you’re going to be left behind. And we can’t allow that to happen, church, right? So I totally agree with you on that, where virtual reality is going to make things so much easier to engage with, and people are hungry for it, they really are. You know, we’re seeing a lot of churches we talk with, a lot of people are showing up to church for the first time. I can’t explain it, I don’t know why, but they’re like we’ve got new people coming, you know, and they’re hungry for answers. And I’m going, oh, wait, God’s up to something cool, we need to understand and adapt to that.

Nils Smith: [00:24:45] Yeah, I love it.

Bart Blair: [00:24:46] Now, Nils, I’m going to back up. We have a couple more minutes left here, and so I just want you to explain something to me. Ok, Discord, I hear people talking about it, I follow the guys over at Black Bar. I don’t know if you’re connected with those guys?

Nils Smith: [00:25:01] No.

Bart Blair: [00:25:01] I do follow them, a great YouTube channel, they do a lot of church communication stuff, but they talk all the time about their Discord. And I’m like, I have no idea what this Discord thing is. And I was talking to a youth pastor at a church a couple of weeks ago, and he was talking about his Discord. For the uninitiated, and the old ignorant people like me, can you just give us a brief rundown of what Discord is?

Nils Smith: [00:25:25] Yeah, that’s a great question. So Discord is very similar to Slack if you’ve used Slack at all for business, and it’s essentially, you know, you’ve got an app or a web portal, but it’s basically chat threads, and so you can choose to be a part of different chat threads. But you know one of the things that I really value about Discord is it has, you know, they have built-in a lot of the audio functionality of Clubhouse and some of that engagement, there are engagement pieces. The reason I think Discord, Discord is very popular in the gaming community, even if you look at their app currently, it’s a little game-like controller, that’s a part of it. It’s very popular in the virtual reality, and in the technology and cryptocurrency communities, so it’s kind of a geek platform today. But honestly, that’s how Twitter started, that’s how a lot of early social media, you know, develops is, in some ways while the technology is being built out, the technologists are pioneering how it’s used. But then it develops out towards the masses and mass engagement, and so that’s where I perceive that it’s going.

Nils Smith: [00:26:34] Now, it might not be Discord, it might be another platform that comes along, or Twitter might copy it, or Facebook might buy it, or who knows where this will go. I just believe that I think it’s the community aspect of conversations that people are hungry for. And I think to the side of Zoom, I think that’s been interesting is, there’s a lot of people that actually don’t want to be seen all the time. They want to be heard and they want to interact, but they like that audio side, and they like that chat side, of being involved in some community in that way.

Nils Smith: [00:27:07] So, Discord, it’s an interesting platform, it’s not real user-friendly yet, it’s a little complicated for new users to use, it gets a little cluttered. And so that’s where I think a year from now, it’s going to be a lot more common. But I’m seeing here in New York, they’re investing a lot of money in subway ads, and so all over the subways now you see Discord banners and signs, and so that tells me they’re really looking to kind of move it to the masses from a marketing standpoint.

Bart Blair: [00:27:37] Either that or they’re marketing it to Facebook, so Facebook will buy it.

Nils Smith: [00:27:41] Yeah, maybe.

Bart Blair: [00:27:42] If I’m a betting man, I’m sure that there have been some conversations at Facebook headquarters about what they’re going to do with Discord.

Nils Smith: [00:27:49] Or copy, that seems to be Facebook’s path in recent years,

Bart Blair: [00:27:55] Yeah. Hey, as we wrap things up here, Nils, I want to say again, we really appreciate you taking the time with us. Just kind of on a side note, is there anything that you wish we would have asked you today that we didn’t ask you about? Anything that you’re like, hey, this is my soapbox these days, and I really want to be on it.

Nils Smith: [00:28:13] I don’t have a soapbox, but I would say the thing that I am just geeking out over right now is Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. I think that it’s NFTs, you know, I think that that technology pathway even is probably more significant than virtual reality in my mind, I think it’s a significant shift on the internet. And I think that, I mean one, I think every church should be taking cryptocurrency. If you’re not yet accepting cryptocurrency, I had a church that I work with the other day, they got a million-dollar gift in bitcoin, and I just think that it’s changing, the internet is changing. And so that’s why my soapbox right now is, pay attention to Blockchain, even if it’s confusing. We don’t understand, the truth is most people don’t understand how the internet works still, we just know that we get on it and it’s amazing and it improves our lives. You don’t need to understand Blockchain technology and decentralization, I think what you need to understand is that it’s changing and understanding what it’s changing and how it’s changing those things. And right now, it’s changing money, but it’s going to be changing media, and it’s going to be changing a lot of different aspects, and it’s changing ownership. And so the NFT side it’s, I think, going to be interesting in the near future as well. So, that’s my soapbox right now.

Bart Blair: [00:29:41] Ok, that’s good enough. Hey, if any of our listeners or viewers want to connect with you, have questions, maybe they’re curious about what you’re doing with businesses and this whole cryptocurrency Blockchain stuff. How how can they connect with you?

Nils Smith: [00:29:56] Yeah, so I’m on social media everywhere, so @NilsSmith. And then LinkedIn is where I’m probably spending the most time right now in content distribution engagement, and talking about Blockchain stuff a lot. So, yeah, I’d love to connect on wherever you are on social media, but LinkedIn is where I’m hanging out the most these days.

Bart Blair: [00:30:17] That is where I connected with you, and we will link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes of this episode. Nils Smith, thanks again for taking the time with us today.

Nils Smith: [00:30:26] Thank you.

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