Interview with Jordan Lee – Executive Pastor of Cypress Church

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Jason speaks with Jordan Lee, Executive Pastor of Cypress Church, about the challenges of transitioning to online church in the wake of COVID-19.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: Well, hey, everyone, I have with me Jordan Lee. Jordan is the executive pastor of Cypress Church. It’s a multi campus church in the Columbus, Ohio area. Fast growing church and doing some really cool things. So thanks for joining us, Jordan.

Jordan Lee: You bet. Happy to be here.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So obviously, we’re kind of in this interesting season of Covid-19 and it’s caused every church to kind of recalibrate, flipped things upside down, maybe kicking and screaming. But tell me a little bit how you guys transitioned to doing church online now?

Jordan Lee: Yeah, well, from the very first day, you know, when our governor made the decision to limit large gatherings, you know, we made the decision even though religious organizations are exempt to follow those guidelines. So we knew we were going digital. The first thing we looked at doing was giving our staff a clear direction. And so what we ended up doing was kind of dividing our ministry staff into two different categories, one we call content creation and delivery. And then the other category of our staff, we have focused 100 percent of their time on maintaining and developing relationships.

Jordan Lee: And so for, you know, some of our central operations staff, their role really didn’t change. I mean, if you work in accounting, your job is pretty much the same. You might be doing it from home. But for our ministry staff, you know, their schedule has changed. What they do day in and day out has really changed. And so we wanted to give them a clear direction. So those are really kind of the two categories or parallel tracks we have going on. And of course, we’re trying to figure out how to do church every week at the kid level, at the student level. Then broadcasting our services online as well, which we’ve been doing. So that’s one part of it.

Jordan Lee: And then the other part, like I said, is just engaging our ministry staff to make contacts with people. It’s really about pastoring them, and discovering those ministry opportunities. And so our full time staff were you know, we set the expectation for them that they’re making 50 contacts a day. And our part time ministry staff, they’re making twenty five contacts a day. And so we’ve been doing this for about three weeks now. And the governor announced shelter-in-place is going to continue here in Ohio through Friday, May 1st. So we’ll be doing it for four more weeks, and it may be extended beyond that.

Jason Hamrock: So what’s the silver lining in that, do you think? When it comes to connecting with your congregation, almost on a one to one basis, how’s that?

Jordan Lee: We are hearing so much positive feedback from our church attenders and our volunteer leader. And really all we’re doing is checking in with them, saying hey, how are you? How is family? Can we pray for you in any way? If you have any needs, please let us know. And people are just cooped up in their house. I’m cooped up in my house with my kids and my wife for the last three weeks, and it’s going to be four more after that. And so, you know, even though we’re a sizeable ministry, we just really believe it’s important to remain personal and engage with people on that, you know, one on one level.

Jason Hamrock: Interesting. Yeah. Who knows how long this is gonna be? Seems like this is going to change a little bit about how we do church in the future.

Jordan Lee: Well, and I also, I was talking with some of our staff members earlier today in kind of pre Coronavirus, there seem to be a lot of churches over the last several years that we’re working toward leveraging technology, providing unique content, not just on weekends but throughout the week, as a differentiator, as a way to kind of add value. But now everybody has to create content and deliver it to people, because nobody can come to us, nobody can. So, I mean, that online content is important. But I actually think the differentiator, one of them, not the only one, but one of them is building those personal relationships. So we’re putting just as much into that, as we are into the content side.

Jason Hamrock: Hmm. So when you think about beyond COVID-19, and who knows when that’s going to be, and even before. How were you guys engaging and having your people that go to your church, invite their friends and family? What kind of stuff do you do to offer to spur them on to make those invitations happen?

Jordan Lee: Our senior pastor is really big on the power of an invitation. So he always starts there. And, you know, multiple times a year, he’s communicating that to the entire church, that it really is up to you in your circle to live this thing out that we call Christianity. You know, we’ve wanted to give people tools. So we used, you know, invite cards like physical invite cards where we give them five and we put them in a park and we’d hand them out a few weeks before Easter, Christmas and say all this is is a tool for you to pass on to a co-worker or a neighbor or a family member or a friend. So that was one big thing that that we did. And then just some of that kind of more traditional marketing methods as well. We’ve done mailers. For instance, we used to have a billboard kind of on one of the busy streets next to our broadcast campus. And even before this, we kind of started to get away from some of those traditional marketing tactics and trying to go more digital. But of course, now it’s you know, it’s a whole world where we sit right now in terms of how do we engage our people who invite others to church.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Which is which is interesting to get people to change their behaviors. Right. How do you extend the invitation via Facebook to your friends to connect with the site? Are there anything unique that you guys are doing?

Jordan Lee: I don’t know if it’s unique anywhere. We have a social media share kit that our people can use. Now, back during this period to streaming our service on Facebook, which we had not been doing, we had been driving people to our online campus, but we’re doing that now during this season just because it’s so easy for people to share.

Jordan Lee: But no matter what we do, or what other churches do, to me, you have to reinforce it. And that’s best coming from the senior pastor is as he connects it to the why. And our senior pastor even said last week, if you think about it, it’s never been easier to invite someone to church. I mean, right now it’s not scary. Maybe they’ve never walked into church building before, it’s been 20 or 30 years, they don’t even have to do that because most churches are not open.

Jordan Lee: And the way we’re experiencing church is from the comfort and convenience of our living room, and all they have to have is some sort of device and Internet access, and they can check out church, check out Christianity.

Jason Hamrock: So a follow up question that do you think that once we get past this, that we can come back in person, it seems to me we’re not going to get a flock of people coming and wanting to rush into a room together. I mean, it could be a little bit, even the handshake could be just a different thing these days. But how do you think you guys will continue to do your church after the crisis is over, whenever that is? What’s that look like for you guys, when you think about in-person church versus online church?

Jordan Lee: Yeah, well, a couple of years ago, it was about three years ago, we actually started our online campus. You know, a lot of churches do broadcast online. Some have the capability. But actually, they’ve chosen not to. They don’t want to limit attendance at their physical campuses. And I hadn’t made the decision to do that. And I think for a lot of people who are maybe more traditional, or been in church a long time, I don’t think right away they understood online campus. What does that mean? Who is this for? And it really didn’t click.

Jordan Lee: And so it’s funny now we talk about how they’ve been hearing about this online campus. And a lot of our people maybe have never experienced it before. But now everyone, they don’t have the option, that is how we are doing church. And so for some of them, they’re getting to experience it for the very first time.

Jordan Lee: But I do think you’re right. I mean, I’m not sure even when the governor here in Ohio lifts the ban that people are going to be wanting to go to gatherings with a hundred people, five hundred people, a thousand people plus. And so it may look different. In fact, we do not have it all figured out, we’re learning as we go and talking through this. But we’re even thinking in terms of some of this, our strategies right now for kids ministry, and student ministry, and some of the things we’re doing, we’re thinking to ourselves like, why didn’t we do this before? What are those things that we need to continue even after we reopen our physical campuses? What are the key learnings that we’re going to need to continue beyond that, just to get better at, you know, being the church, really.

Jason Hamrock: Right. Yeah. Yeah. So you guys probably have annual events. I mean, obviously, every church there’s Easter, Christmas, maybe back to school. So where do those annual events that you have? And then, of course, they may look totally different or maybe through this this new kind of new thing that we have to do online, maybe that will provide some opportunities for some new kinds of things that pop up that are going to help attract people. What have been those events that you guys have traditionally had?

Jordan Lee: Yeah, well, Cypress, if you go back years and years, was a pretty event dominant church. And we made a shift a few years ago to not be so event driven. And so you mentioned the three kind of big rally points. It’s probably true for most churches, Easter, Christmas and then fall launch. You know, there’s a there’s a couple other weekends in there that we do. We do like a big move up weekend for kids and students move up and in their grade. That’s a big event weekend in kids ministry and student ministry. But any event we do, we try now to make it weekend dominant, so we’re piggybacking on the weekend series. And another thing we do that have really become rally points is two times a year, we do what we call a make a difference initiative. And it’s something the entire church does together would be like a shoe drive, a backpack drives, you know, Thanksgiving meals. But it’s how is each person in the church does their part. The thousands of backpacks that we can provide to local schools. It really does make a big difference. And so we’re strategic doing those as well. I think those have probably been big rally points, not just for us as a church, but for the communities that we have campuses in.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, that’s so cool, being the hands and feet. And you’re just helping. Yeah. Yeah. Not only does that help the community, it helps your church community, to be more generous. So, you know, we work with a lot of churches, and our job and our goal is always to help a church connect with unchurched people. And we think that’s best done through digital platforms. And so we want to get somebody in a seat. Well, these days it’s more of a view from the comfort of safety of their own home. But when you look at Cypress and how you’ve grown, and who you’ve grown with young people and old people, it’s still when you look at the big C church, it seems like it’s declining a little bit. It’s sort of going down a little bit, because people are are choosing not to go to church for whatever reason. What’s been a strategy of your of you guys to help try and figure out how to continue to grow younger.

Jordan Lee: I think the first thing you have to do is figure out who you’re a church for your right demographic. Obviously, on the one hand, we’re a church that’s open to anybody and everybody who walks through our doors and that is a ministry opportunity. So on the one hand. You know, our target demographic is 100 percent of people, anybody who comes here, we want to minister to them. On the other hand, you can’t be all things to all people. So how do you really figure out, you know, who who you’re trying to minister to? And then everything you do, you know, relates to that and intersects with that. So the way we define our target demographic is we want to be a church for families that still have kids living at home, not what’s not necessarily an age range. But, you know, we tend to see a lot a lot of families have kids living at home, birth through high school, and they’re kind of 30s, 40s and 50s. And at the same time, we’re still a multigenerational church. We got people younger than that now, people older than that as well. But yeah, that that’s that’s what I think you need to start with, as is your target demographic.

Jordan Lee: And then from there, the biggest thing that we can do to reach those people, quite honestly, because there is a lot of different marketing strategies and evangelism strategies and all of that. But the biggest thing we focus on is making sure our kids ministry, and our student ministry, are the very best that they can be. Because once we get people who walk through these doors, we want them to come back. If we really can, you know, have to have kids walking out of here and students walking out of here and tell their parents they want to come back, then we’re really onto something. Because, I’m a dad, I have two kids. And I want, you know, what’s best for my kids. And I will make decisions based solely on that. That’s a good problem to have, if they’re begging me to attend church.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. There’s nothing like, don’t take me back there versus that was awesome, I to go back. You know, it’s like, okay, we’re going to go check that out because, you know, every parent wants to be the hero for their kids. You know, you don’t want to take them to a church that where they have a bad experience. And, you know, I just cringe like. Oh, because I think you know preaching, children’s ministry, worship. You know, you kind of have something going if you have those three connected.

Jordan Lee: Yeah. Those are the big the big three for sure.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So you mentioned earlier kind of not that traditional advertising is all that bad, because I think there’s some benefit to it. But leaning more towards digital, especially in this COVID-19 era where that’s all the way you can connect with people, really. So what has been your guys’s strategy to to go deeper online?

Jordan Lee: Well, in terms of content, there’s a few different things we’re doing. Again, probably not unique, I’m sure there’s other churches doing it. But it’s really a way to engage our people every day because again, most people, even if they’re working from home, they have a little more time on their hands. They’re trying to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves, or what they’re going to do as a family, during this period where we’re all not living our normal lives. And so, again, we’ve really ramped up content on social media, Facebook, Instagram. Our senior pastor has been doing kind of a daily devotional thought. That’s a few minutes. And we’re out there each day. Our kids team on Cypress Kid’s Facebook page is doing all sorts of fun, creative stuff. We` had like a March Madness serial bracket where I would vote for their favorite cereal, and they started with, you know, 64 all the way.

Jason Hamrock: Oh, that’s awesome.

Jordan Lee: And then they did a a family trivia night online as well. So we’re trying to figure out figure out ways, because that’s kind of where kids, you know, elementary and students and their parents kind of live on social media during these kind of off off peak times. So we’re trying to figure out ways to make it engaging into it, to get them to talk back at us instead of us just kind of delivering content to them.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, I like that. Yeah. Getting that interactive is critical to that. Right. Instead of just talking to some churches, I know they don’t even have that much content to talk to, let alone cause that interaction. Do you think that’s something you guys will continue even after COVID?

I think I think so. Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I just think we’re realizing the power of connecting with people outside of that 60 minute experience. This is just revealing that. I mean. If you think about it, even when we were open for business, there really only hear one hour a week, right? One hundred and fifty plus hours they’re not here, right. So how do we engage people? Both relationally, but then also like on a spiritual journey, taking them somewhere when they’re not physically present here. I mean, that’s what every church is trying to figure out right now. But it really was even even before this. Honestly, it was a problem before this because again, they were only on site here for for one hour. And how are we engaging them throughout the week? But this is just really revealed. OK, now we don’t even have them in our building for one hour. So what what are we going to do to add value to their life and help them grow on their spiritual journey?

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And I think when you get the brain power of the full church, and all the church is trying to figure this out, I think it’s going to propel the church into this new era of online. And it’s something that has needed to be done. I believe that’s God’s work, and God’s going, guys think differently. I want you to be more creative, because it’s not about the healthy, it’s about the sick. Right. We’ve got to go to them, and engage with them, and keep them, you know. And I think that’s I think the God’s up to something big here with His church. So what’s one thing that Cypress does really, really well. What’s a really good strength of you guys?

Jordan Lee: I would say Next Generation Ministries would be one, just kids and student ministries, and then the other thing I would say now we continually hear from people is they like our worship, our music.And then our senior pastor style is practical biblical teaching. So we talk about how we want to connect church and home. Yes, it’s important to teach scripture, inspire people with stories on the weekend. But how do we get them to actually apply it to their life on Monday morning and throughout the week? So we have a heavy emphasis on that, helping people take next steps to put what they’re learning and hearing into practice.

Jason Hamrock: So as the executive pastor, what’s one of the weaknesses that you see that you guys need to work on?

Jordan Lee: You know, I think and I hear this from other people at churches that I know. I think student ministries, the landscape there has really shifted the last several years, and the traditional model of student ministries. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I grew up in the church. And back when I was a teenager, and where I went to church, it was like you had a youth service night. And it was Wednesday night at this time, and it was 52 weeks a year, and that’s just kind of what you did. And I think we’ve seen here at Cypress that that kind of that traditional model is not as effective as it as it once was. And so we’re trying to figure out student ministries, how do we get better, learn from other churches that are maybe a little further along in that area.

Jordan Lee: And another part is just the complexity of being multi-site. How do you do student ministries consistently across all of your campuses, when they’re all at a different kind of life stage as a campus? And then the size and scale of the campus is different. I mean, if you have a campus of 250 total people and twenty five of them are students, how do you how do you offer them the same thing that a campus over here has two thousand five hundred people and two hundred and fifty students? That’s something we’re really grappling with to try to figure out. How do we have a consistent strategy that really is effective in all of the environments we have?

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And something that’s going to be, I think for the next decade, the church has got to figure out.

Jordan Lee: Oh, yeah. No, I mean, it’s going to change again, even beyond that.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, they will, they will as each generation grows up. What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge of the church over the next decade?

Jordan Lee: Yeah, that’s a great that’s a great question. Man, if I had if I had a crystal ball and I knew that answer, I’d be hard at work at it already. But I think some of the trends we’ve seen before this will continue. You know, I think churches, the churches that are growing across the country, a lot of them have been larger. The trend is larger churches are growing, and they’re growing by multi-site. I think sites may probably continue to be an effective strategy. I think small neighborhood churches, they may continue to struggle, they may not have the resources to be able to continue. And I know there’s a lot churches worried right now about that as well. So I think those two things are probably likely to likely to continue.

Jordan Lee: Another thing I’d say is, it’s kind of an obvious point, but this whole Covid-19 thing from a ministry perspective, it’s really revealed the power of technology. Some churches are playing catch up. Some churches are kind of halfway there, and now they’re trying to get all the way there. Some churches have really put a lot into it leading up to now, and they’re positioned, you know, well. But I and I think in our environment, one of the things we’ve seen, even the short time we’ve been doing this is just the power of technology to leverage relationships. I mean, a number of our small groups, I mean, they literally haven’t stopped meeting. They just aren’t meeting in person. They’re doing Zoom calls, or they’re they’re using a different platform, to connect with each other. And there probably are some churches that are doing that really well. But my guess is most of us have put almost all of our eggs in the in-person gathering basket, even when it comes to some of these midweek gatherings, not weekend services, like small groups, or serve teams, or whatever. And if we can figure out how to how to take this power of technology, and leverage it to what’s happening right now, to capitalize on on it in terms of building relationships, literally through technology. I just think that could be huge in the years to come.

Jason Hamrock: I agree with you. And you put that where we can also get back in person, you have both those going on, that seems to me to be where obviously where it’s where we’re headed. But there’s a lot of good things, and conversations I’m having, like the conversation we’re having today about how you’ve seen a lot of great growth and great feedback from your volunteers and your staff. They’re making those phone calls just to connect, because we’re built to be in community, we’re built to be in relationship. And even if we can’t rub shoulders or shake hands, you know, we can least connect with people digitally. So I think that there’s a lot of power in that. To me, churches that can overcome that, that really thrive from that, are going to be the churches that make it, I guess you could say.

Jordan Lee: Yes, I agree with you. Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Cool. Well, thank you, Jordan. I appreciate your time and your insight. Thanks for just giving us a glimpse into what Cypress is doing, and how you’re reacting and coping with where we are today. But just in general, how your church is growing. So I appreciate your time.

Jordan Lee: Yeah, you bet.

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