Keys To Building An Effective Online Ministry | Alan George

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Today Alan George shares from his experience at life.church to build an effective online ministry and how to disciple that community.

Podcast Notes

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Email – reachalangeorge@gmail.com

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Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Bart Blair: [00:00:05] Hey, welcome to season two, episode five of Missional Marketing’s Church Growth Interviews podcast. I’m Bart Blair, joined always by the Chief Executive Officer of Missional Marketing, Jason Hamrock.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:16] Hi, Bart, how’s how’s it going today?

Bart Blair: [00:00:18] I’m doing very well. Do you like that? Chief Executive Officer?

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:22] Yeah, sure.

Bart Blair: [00:00:24] It sounds pretty fancy, that it’s a very fancy job title.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:28] Well, you know, all of us at Mission Marketing, I like to think this, is we all love our jobs. I mean, it’s really if you love your job, is it really a job? We love to, you know, work with churches and talk with churches all day long. And we’ve got a great team, a lot of great coaches and you’re one of them, so, yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:00:47] Well, every company can only have one Chief Executive Officer. The reason, ok, so the reason that I’m kind of giving you a hard time about your job title, which you humbly wear the title CEO for our team, is that our interview today with Alan George, one of the things we talked about was his job title, he doesn’t really have one, he’s had a great job title and a great job, and was very gracious to give us some time to be on our podcast. But why don’t you give a little intro to Alan George and what we talked about?

Jason Hamrock: [00:01:18] So, Alan, he’s going to kind of explain his whole, you know, his whole career, a fascinating career. But he spent about, what, 10 or 11 years at Life.Church there in Oklahoma. He was the online pastor, so he was in charge of getting that thing up and running. And Wow, has God really worked through Alan. And this interview, you’re going to be glued to it because he talks really specifically about the difference between, you know, using online to have your church services versus discipleship. And how do you actually, can you engage, and can you connect with people online? It’s one thing that you know your connecting with people face to face, you can go have coffee, sit down, shake their hand, give them a hug. But when you’re doing online, can that still happen? You’re going to enjoy his answers.

Bart Blair: [00:02:12] Yeah, absolutely. So he doesn’t have a job title right now. He shares a little bit about what he’s up to, he’s no longer on staff at Life.Church, although he and his wife are still a part of the Life.Church family.

Bart Blair: [00:02:22] In fact, his wife is still on staff at Life.Church, and he’s doing a lot of different things, he’s going to share a little bit about that in the podcast interview, but I’m glad to have met Alan and have the opportunity to call him a friend. And for those of you who are our friends on the internet and the podcast world, if you haven’t left us a rating or review, we’d love for you to do that. And if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, wherever you consume this content, you should probably do that so you don’t miss any of our awesome episodes coming up.

Jason Hamrock: [00:02:51] So we have a lot of them coming up that are awesome, Bart, we’ve got some really exciting guests coming to the podcast. So, man, you want to tune into that, go ahead and like us.

Bart Blair: [00:03:01] Absolutely, absolutely, it’s been a lot of fun. If there’s anything that we can do for you after you listen to this podcast, maybe you have some questions or need some help with some of your own digital stuff. Make sure you reach out to us, there will be links in the show notes for how you can do that. Anyway, all that being said, here’s our interview with Alan George.

 

Bart Blair: [00:00:07] Alan George, thanks for joining Jason and me on the marketing podcast today, we’re really glad to have you.

Alan George: [00:00:13] Thank you. It’s an honor to be here with you guys.

Bart Blair: [00:00:15] Hey, Alan, as we get started with all of our podcast episodes, when we have a guest on them, we want to hear their story, we want to hear your story. And for maybe like that one or two people on planet Earth that didn’t hear you tell your story on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, why don’t you, because just about everybody is listening to his, why don’t you go ahead and tell us your story so that we can kind of lay some groundwork and framework for the rest of our conversation today?

Alan George: [00:00:42] Yeah. Thank you, Bart. Thank you, Jason. I really am honored and humbled that I get to be in this conversation with you guys. Quick kind of snapshot of my journey, I’m originally from India, but I was born and raised in the Middle East. I moved here to the U.S. in 2004, I was working in corporate. I come from a Christian background, my dad, probably, I’d say when he was like somewhere in his 40s, I think, is when he actually gave his life to Christ, and he got into ministry, and became a pastor. For years I ran away from God, and long story short, He grabbed ahold of my life. And I’m an extreme personality, and so when my life was changed with God, I said, God, I will do whatever you want, you tell me, and I’ll do whatever you want. And he said something to me that I still to this day remember, he said, I want you to go to the world and just tell people what I did for you. Now I’m a logical thinker, and so for me, I’m thinking, God, you’re setting me up for failure, like, how do you go into the world? Like people spend their entire lifetimes trying to reach a community or a city or a town? But anyway, I thought, OK, I’m going to do what I can, so I’ve been involved in church and doing all of that.

Alan George: [00:01:58] I come from a marketing sales background, business background, and it was, I want to say, 2008, we were praying. We, typically, towards the end of the year, pray as a family, God, what do you have in store for us for next year just to ready our hearts? And we heard God say clearly, first to me saying, do you trust me enough to quit your job and come work for me? And at that point, you know, I’d just moved to the U.S., we’re living the American dream, and I was like, God, I don’t know if I want to quit my job and come work for you because I’ve heard you don’t pay that well and I need insurance, and you know, we’re getting ready to have our first baby. But anyway, through a lot of prayer, he confirmed with my wife, and we took that step of faith, and it was a few years after that that we had the opportunity to join the staff at Life.Church.

Alan George: [00:02:51] I started in one of our physical locations, and about six months into it, I had the opportunity presented saying, hey, what do you think about church online? And now I love technology, I love the latest gadgets and things of that, but my heart was always face to face. I love the, and maybe it was the sales background, I just love meeting people, talking to them and, you know, getting to shake their hand and all that stuff. And so, when I heard about online, I was like, that just feels cold, it feels distant, like why would I want to have anything to do with that? But again, we said, OK, let’s look into it, and I’d say started doing research, and then prayed about it. I was reminded of what God said to me years ago, saying, hey, remember, I told you to go into the world, and all of a sudden a light bulb clicked of, oh my goodness, like with technology at the click of a button, you can reach the world.

Alan George: [00:03:45] Now, I don’t know how to do it, but we’ll figure it out. And so that’s what started the journey at Life.Church, and it’s been incredible to be a part of that journey, I was the church online pastor for almost 10 years. My wife is also on staff, she’s still on staff, and so as a family, we just we were grateful that we got to start, you know, working at the church that we were attending. And it’s been an incredible journey to see what God’s done, it was at the end of last year that I transitioned off the team. I felt like God was saying, hey, your chapter here is done. And I was like, OK, I don’t know what I’m doing, I obviously talked to Pastor Craig and the leadership team, and they were super supportive. So we’re in that stage where it’s like, OK, God, here I am, what do you want me to do? And so it’s been really an incredible journey to see how churches are navigating this new season and working alongside them.

Jason Hamrock: [00:04:37] Wow, I cannot wait to dig into this. Ok, so we get the privilege of talking to a lot of churches, you know because our space is in the digital space. So a lot of churches, especially in the last couple of years, covid breaks, you know, it happens and every church is online. And they’re coming to us going, OK, we think we’ve got this, we’ve been using this thing called Chop, right, Church Online Platform from Life.Church, so we’re able to stream our services, whether they put them on Facebook, or YouTube, or whatnot. But churches want to go a lot deeper than that. Ok, so I really want to hear from you on how did you guys transition from having a really great effective weekend service that was online, which anybody and a lot of people around the world tune in to that, to transitioning to actually, then how do you do ministry online and connect with people? You can’t shake their hands like you said, but you can build a relationship. How did you do that?

Alan George: [00:05:35] Yeah, before I kind of look back, I want to throw a caveat, and I think the way we did, or rather my mindset was pre-COVID, is very different post-COVID. So I’m happy to share what we did, but I also want to say that if I were to do it today, I would probably do it differently just because COVID has changed the game, but I think there’s value in what we learned earlier. So for me, because I was wired to be more face to face and no, I was not, and I don’t know if I could still say I’m a digital native, I’m more of a like a digital, you know, I don’t know, implant, I guess. I just, you know, happen to show up here.

Alan George: [00:06:22] But what I started figuring out was, when I transitioned from the campus physical location team to the online team, I thought I had to rewrite everything. I thought we had to change the game, I thought everything was going to be different. And after a couple of months, I realized, while our lobbies might look different, we’re still dealing with people. At the end of the day, it’s still ministry, it’s not about the flashy new technology, it’s about identifying what, at the heart of who we are as a church, are we able to accomplish our vision and our mission? And so for me, it was always about doing that rather than the tools. And so we would say, even as a team, if the internet was here and gone tomorrow, we’ll jump to the next thing so that we can accomplish the mission. Because, and many people have said it, you know, the way we do ministry might change, but at the heart of it, that’s never going to change. And so what I did, and it seems like really silly, but I literally pulled out a piece of paper and pen because that’s what I was used to, you know, I don’t care about iPads and all that like early on when I started. And I took just a note of OK, when I connected with people in a physical location, what did that mean? Like, what does connection, what was that? Or how did I define connection? And it was, well, I wanted to see people. OK, why did I want to see them? It’s because I wanted to know what was going on in their life. And I just wrote this list down, and then I looked on the other side is like, OK, let’s go technology, what is the equivalent of this experience online? Is there an experience online like that? You know, I want to connect with my top givers so I can’t go out for coffee with people that live in a different part of the world, well, what could I do? So rather than allowing this to be a limitation, it was, I just got to rethink my approach. Because I think sometimes we think only in terms of limitations when it comes to technology, but the reality is this whole thing is God’s. And that was a wake-up call for me, because while we can create strategies and all of that, it’s God who changes lives. And if I think church online or something online won’t work, I’m unintentionally saying that God is limited and he can’t leverage technology to do what he wants to do. And I was like, No, that’s not true, God can, so how can we, as people create the right opportunities and the right experiences so that people can encounter him? So it may sound like a vague answer, but that was the mindset that I went into. And you talk about volunteers, you talk about next steps, you talk about assimilation, small groups, we applied this thinking of if someone served in person, what would that conversation be? Well, let’s find the equivalent online. If someone got saved in person, what would that conversation be? Well, I can build email campaigns that could mimic my conversation with them and even the time frame that I would talk to them, so why not leverage that for that purpose? You know, so, I’ll go wherever you guys want to go, but that was kind of the mindset that we took as we started looking at doing ministry online.

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:33] Well, I’m curious because a lot of churches will feel like when I have conversations with them, they’ll feel like, What are we missing? You know, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, but we feel like we’re missing something. And so, you know, the answer is, well, connecting literally one on one, are you having Zoom calls with people, are you interacting with them on social media? Do you have a schedule, you know, invite them to a kind of a scheduled Wednesday night small group thing? What was most effective for you guys in terms of how you were making those one-on-one connections, what platform, and what did that look like?

Alan George: [00:10:08] Sure. See, I think for us, it’s I think sometimes not all churches, but some churches might fall into the trap of, hey, we’re doing this thing in person, Covid happened, I’m just going to take what I’m doing in person and I’m just going to throw it online, you know, and then cross my fingers, I hope it works. But if we look at some of the more successful churches, you know, and success can be defined in different ways, it’s not necessarily attendance. But some of those churches where people feel engaged, where people feel like this is their home church, there’s a lot of things that you do in those moments in person that we forget we need to do online.

[00:10:46] For example, many churches have, you know, text a certain number and, you know, to access our connect card. Well, what does that, when someone texts, what do they get? Like, we don’t look at the language, it’s typically like, Click here for this, click here for this, you know, whatever. But we would never do that in person, if someone says, hey, can I have a connect card? I hope we don’t do, yeah, go, it’s right there. Like, we’ll never do that, but digitally, we tend to talk that way. And so I think, I know that’s, you know, your listeners might think, well, that’s like super tiny. Yes, but a lot of tiny little moments like that can create how someone experiences church. Before someone steps into your church building for the very first time in today’s world, they will look you up online. And if there’s not a welcoming, or a sense that, man, this church really cares about me online, they probably won’t walk into a building in person.

Jason Hamrock: [00:11:43] Hmm, so what would be your advice? Because a lot of churches, I mean, they were forced into this space with COVID, but before then, yeah, yeah, it was all about in-person, especially from the leadership down, so the communication director or a web person was trying to also get the online engagement going. I would imagine being at your church with Pastor Craig, it’s it starts with like, you know, him and going, no, this is what we’re doing. Was that the case, or was he going, I don’t know, you inform me on what we should do. How was…

Alan George: [00:12:16] Well, it was, with Pastor Craig, I think when I talked to my friends who were in similar roles, I think one of the biggest advantages I had was the fact that our leadership team was bought in, I didn’t have to continuously convince them to keep my job. You know, I was not trying to say, hey, this role matters, they believed in it 100 percent, and I felt that. There was a lot of freedom that they gave me, but the accountability was high, and so I really enjoyed the tension. And honestly, it felt like this is a ministry that God is asking me to steward, and obviously, I’m held accountable. And so that buy-in from the leadership team, that makes a world of a difference. It’s a completely different environment when your leadership team is like, I don’t really care to do this, but we’re going to try it, and every update is you trying to convince them so. And I don’t think there are a whole lot of churches in that stage anymore, I think people are moving.

Alan George: [00:13:17] But there is this tension internally where we are even organizationally, we’re structured to support a physical location and we try to add on this digital thing. But if we want to look at corporate, and we want to pull a page from their playbook, they understand that this is not like some kind of hybrid model necessarily, this is how they do what they do. Their customer that’s online, and the customer that’s in person for them, it’s their customer, they don’t differentiate or add a greater value or a lesser value, it’s that’s my customer. The advantage they have is there’s a bottom line like you’re buying a product, in the church world and I could be wrong this is just my perspective, for many years, again, this is not the only stat, but for many years attending in person was at the top of the list. And now that people have an option to not attend in person but still engage in church, many of us don’t know how. Like, whoa, whoa, whoa, you mean I have to rethink my whole approach. And that’s what I mean, post-covid, the people we’re trying to reach, they engage differently with technology. And so how can we, as the church, move to where they are instead of trying to force them to come back to where we used to be?

Bart Blair: [00:14:36] It’s interesting that you started out talking about sort of your role and how you were beginning to explore and think about how to create an online experience, and that replicated at least the components of what you would experience in person. You know, I think one of the things that I personally admire the most about Life.Church is the ability to innovate. And that’s definitely one of the things, if you’ve ever listened to any interviews with Bobby Grunwald, like that’s what you hear all the time is this creativity and this innovation. And you’re speaking to that to a great degree, that churches need to innovate? You know, one of the things that I was thinking about when you were just talking a moment ago about, you know, trying to create this online experience that isn’t just serving a physical location or a fly on the wall experience for what people would experience if they showed up in person. You know, there’s this famous guy named Jesus who had something to say about new wine in new wineskins versus old wineskins, and I think that’s one of the challenges that the local church has had historically is trying to do innovative and new and creative things without being willing to put it in new wineskins, we kind of repackage the old thing into new ways and don’t really make it fit very well.

Bart Blair: [00:16:02] You have a resource that’s available online, and we’ll make sure that we link to this in our show notes. It’s an e-book called Discipleship for a Digital Age. And what I like about the title is that it’s not just about church online, but it’s actually about discipleship, because without discipleship, we’re not really doing church online. In the first section of the book, you talk about this concept, this idea of innovation, and you quote Lyle Schaller as saying,”The innovator is not an opponent of the old, he is a proponent of the new.” Not an opponent of the old, but a proponent of the new, why do you think that that statement is an important concept for the local church to grasp?

Alan George: [00:16:44] The reason that quote stuck out to me was, I sometimes think that in the church world, we feel like technology is a threat. And technology can be viewed as a threat if our goal is to get someone into our building, to sit in our seat. If that is the main thing that we’re driving towards, I think technology could be viewed as a threat. If our goal is I want to help people grow in their relationship with God, I want to help people grow in their relationship with each other so that they’re not just living isolated lives, but they’re, you know, connecting with others, if we want to help people not just focus on themselves, but also learn to serve in the community that they were part of and give generously, and you think of all these values that we hold close, if that is our mission, then technology could be one of the greatest opportunities that we have to fulfill this mission. So I like that quote because I do not believe that technology is a threat, I think that technology is going to help us maximize what is truly at the heart of what we want to do. Now, is that going to force us to do things a little bit differently? Yes.

Alan George: [00:18:00] One of the questions that I get asked all the time is, Alan, if we have a really good online ministry, wouldn’t that lead to less people showing up in our buildings? I can tell you from personal experience at Life.Church, that is not the case, our online engagement has grown and over the years our physical locations have grown ridiculously as well. So I think the better experience you have online, actually leads, especially if people live near one of your physical locations, that leads to them going, man, this is so good online, I can’t wait to see what it looks like in person, that’s what it typically sounds like.

Alan George: [00:18:40] I’ve traveled a lot over the world over the past 10 years, and the first question I typically get when I show up is, hey, is Life.Church coming here? Is Life.Church coming here? And it’s like, no, Life.Church is already here, you are here. You know, we come up with some kind of answer like that. But that, to me, is just one simple sign of saying online…Now, are you going to find people that are going to use it as an excuse? Yes. But if we’re true with ourselves, there are a ton of people that are maybe just walking into our building, not talking to a single person, they’re probably not using what they’ve heard or learned, they’re not in small groups, they’re not in, you know, any kind of community that’s serving or anything, so they come in and they leave. Does that really count? I don’t know. So if we’re truthful with ourselves, I think there are pros and cons for both. For me, it’s, I want to be able to do, and we say this at a Life.Church all the time, we want to be able to do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ, which means you’ve got to do things that no one else is doing. And so for me, this is one of those opportunities where we can literally reach people anywhere in the world without leaving, you know, where we are. Right now, the three of us, we’re all in three different cities, but we’re having a conversation. And would it be awesome to sit together and have a cup of coffee or tea or whatever in person? Sure, but just because we can’t do that, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do this. And so that’s where my mind is, and I hope that churches, I think they are getting to this place where they’re able to understand that better.

Jason Hamrock: [00:20:17] Hmm, yeah, so much to talk about there. Wow, we could go on for a long time. What I think about is, you know, when we’re talking to churches, and no doubt you’re doing this now as you do your thing, which I can’t wait to tell our audience about what you are doing now.

Alan George: [00:20:33] That’s what I’m trying to figure out, too, Jason.

Jason Hamrock: [00:20:34] Yeah, aren’t we all? But in this space, like the way we talk to churches is, you really have three different rings to your audience. Ring one, are people that go to your church, and then ring two, are people looking for a church, then there’s ring three, people dealing with a felt need issue. You know, marriage, or parenting, or addictions, or grief, or finances, stress, whatever it might be. And yet, we’re always telling churches that you need to be using digital tools to reach people outside the church, yes, maybe they’ll show up one day in person, but maybe they physically can’t, they’re so far away. You know, when I think about what you are doing now, what you did at Life.Church, and what you’re doing now, it goes so far. Because Life.Church is huge, you have so many people in your church that have, you know, a lot of felt need issues, so not only do you want to connect with people in the church, you also want to reach people outside the church. So when you think of, like, discipleship, I’m kind of curious to how do you unpack that, how do you turn that into discipling somebody digitally? And did you guys, you know, what was the end game for those relationships that you’ve established online?

Alan George: [00:21:52] So one of the things that really made a difference for us was Donald Miller’s book Story Brand. And I’m sure you guys probably, from a marketing perspective it’s I mean, it’s an unsaid statement, like you don’t want to be talking about yourself, you want to provide value for the person you’re trying to reach. And I think, like, move the church online services aside, let’s look at social media. I think there are a lot of churches that really use social media as this new version of their, you know, church bulletin board, here’s what’s happening this Sunday, here’s what’s happening on Wednesday. But imagine if we could flip that on top of its head and go, instead of telling people about us, what if we were to reach out and ask people about them? And we saw opportunities like, how can we pray for you? A simple question like that, would invite people to share their prayer requests, but it doesn’t end there, it’s not about them just responding. So again, this goes back to kind of what I wrote down, if I encounter, if I ask somebody for their prayer request in person, the conversation would be something like, imagine if I’m talking to Bart. Bart, how can I be praying for you? Bart shares this prayer request. Imagine how awkward it would be if he shares his prayer request, and I just look at him and get up and walk away. Like, what, where are you going, like was my prayer request that’s bad? I mean, we would never do that, we would, either, for those of us who may not feel comfortable praying in person, we might at least at the minimum say, you know, Bart, I’m going to be praying for you, I’ll check in on you. Or we might say, hey, let’s pray right now and we’ll pray, and then we’ll check in on them. If we do that in person, imagine what it would feel like if we could do that online. So if someone shares their prayer requests on social media instead of just remaining silent and walking away, what if we could respond and not just say, hey, I’m praying for you? What if we could type out a prayer request? I can tell you guys story after story where we’ve actually typed out our prayers, like what we’re praying, people have taken screenshots of that and printed it and had it stuck on their fridge and on their mirror, because for many of them, that was that moment of hope that they needed. And if the church could grab a hold of this, can you imagine how we could connect with people and reach people and remind ourselves it’s not about us, but if we can meet them where they’re at, we can be the church 24-7 because of technology. And again, if you think, well, it’s only two people on staff or three on staff. Well, now you’ve got an opportunity to invite people to serve with you, and you can build a volunteer team around that, and you can train people to do ministry where they too can pray with people halfway across the world. Again, we’re not limited, there’s no time barrier, distance barrier, even in some cases, there’s no language barrier because of technology, so nothing is stopping us from being the church except for potentially us.

Bart Blair: [00:24:53] Alan, I’ve been a small church pastor, I’ve been a church planter, I’ve been a small church pastor and I have the opportunity of talking to and coaching a lot of normal size, small church pastors, and everything that you’re saying there resonates with me, it all makes sense, and it all sounds like a whole lot of work. It just sounds like you, you basically everything that I’m doing as a pastor to train, and equip, and preach, and lead, my local congregation now becomes exponentially more complex, and my schedule becomes exponentially more full, because I have this online component. I’m thinking specifically in this moment about a church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that I’ve been working with, that has literally doubled in size from about two hundred and eighty to about five hundred through the COVID season. And what’s interesting is that while their in-person attendance has doubled, their online engagement and online views has continued to grow, grow, grow, grow, and at this particular stage, all their weekend live stream is is merely the fly on the wall experience. And so I know the next question for them is going to be how do we leverage this online audience that we have to actually engage and do ministry and to do discipleship? So one of the things I’d like for you to speak to is, if you’re talking to this church that only has a handful of staff members, how do they staff that? How do you staff it? How do you build a volunteer team? You spoke on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, and you said a couple of things that really resonated with me when you talked about how churches typically staff it. You also write about that in the e-book that I mentioned earlier. What would your dream be, when you’re coaching churches and you say this is what you need to do to build this online engagement and to be able to to minister to people online, how are we going to staff it as a church?

Alan George: [00:26:48] I mean, it’s interesting that you bring that up, Bart, because I think that is a question that a lot of pastors ask. Especially, when it comes to, you know, yeah, we saw some people watching online, and so I just reached out to our part-time youth pastor and, you know, he and his girlfriend, they kind of handle this, but we’re not seeing results. And I’m going, well, there’s a reason why you’re not seeing results, you know? So I think it would first start with, you know, where does this team, when they look at the online ministry of their church or where it is currently, where do they want to see it go? What’s their desire for it? Because you’re right, whether it’s a large church or a little church, there’s a limit to how many things you can do. And this is something we’ve learned from Pastor Craig, you know, if you try to do too many things, you’re only going to be average at them, so pick a handful of things that you can really excel at. And so I think it would start with just a heart check of, is this really a priority? If it is a priority, then maybe there might be something we need to stop doing in order to start doing something new, and so obviously, go through that conversation with them.

Alan George: [00:27:58] And then I’ve always felt in my heart that this is, especially where technology is today, this is a critical role in any organization, not just church, but you look at corporate, you look anywhere, it’s critical. But I didn’t have any theory behind it, like I didn’t have like, you know, who can I talk to that can confirm this? Because it was me, I’m in the role, it looks like I’m trying to, you know, make my role seem important.

Alan George: [00:28:26] Until I got the opportunity to talk to Frank Blake, Frank was ex-CEO of Home Depot, and he was the guy that just led to Home Depot being one of the leading, you know, organizations here in the nation, and it was because of his approach to leveraging technology. And I asked him about this, I said when you looked at the future, you knew that OK, technology was important, what was your first, you know, what did you want to do? And he said, well, I knew I had to find somebody, and he admitted that he kind of did his version of the youth pastor where he found some guy and he was like, hey, you run it, and it didn’t really turn out that well. And so they had to come back to the drawing board and he went, OK, if I want to do this, I need to find somebody. And as he was describing that person he realized, internally, that if he were to pick the next person to be CEO after him, that’s the kind of person that he wanted to run this thing. And I thought, now that’s a conversation to have. You know, because I don’t know how many senior pastors would be willing to take their most, you know, the staff member that’s kicking it, that’s killing it, that’s doing everything above and beyond, would you take them and move them into this spot? But I think it’s that kind of leadership, that kind of heart, and vision, mission, for the house that you need, if this was, you could kind of write your own ticket, that would be the person that I would be looking for. And I’m not saying it has to be the person that takes over after you, but I hope you understand that it’s more about the caliber of person. You are looking for the bottom rung people, you’re looking for that game-changing person. If you were launching a new campus in a different city, who is the campus pastor that you would say, man, that’s the kind of guy, that’s the kind of gal, that I would love to send there? That’s the person that you’d want to see leading this thing, because it’s not one of those, eh, we’ll just have somebody else do it. So I don’t know if, Bart, if that’s kind of where you wanted me to go, but I think wherever the leader goes, that’s where you see the rest of the organization go. And if this is important to you, then I would find a leader, and the strategy will follow. I guarantee you, you find the right leader, don’t do the strategy, and then hope to find a leader, find a leader, and that leader will be able to create the strategy. Because they’ll know, we’re not trying to do what that church or this church is doing, we need to create a strategy that’s right for our church, and so that would be my advice to that church.

Jason Hamrock: [00:31:02] We’ve been doing this for, I think I came on staff in 2016, and the reason we decided as a company, decided to go deep in this space is because we saw that this was already happening, right, this idea, this concept, of a digital, and online, and doing church online, all this kind of stuff. We were emploring pastors, please take this seriously. You’ve got to put the right people, budget, time, you got to put all that in motion now. Covid just sped it up really fast, right, and so to kind of second what you just said, it’s still, we’re emploring leaders, please don’t, this is not a season, it’s not a wave, you know, this is reality, from here on out it’s just going to get stronger. Right?

Alan George: [00:31:50] And I think sometimes when pastors hear us talk, they think it’s either-or, and it’s like, no, no, no, it’s not either-or. It’s not, now we have to forget the building. like. I think there’s so much power in meeting in person, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t leverage every skill or tool we have today to further the mission. So it’s not an either-or it’s a both-and, and if we do it well, man, we could see results like we’ve never seen before.

Jason Hamrock: [00:32:18] So talk about those results. I’m kind of curious about this using, you know, data, I mean, we’re in the digital space, so data is like, we love data around here, I’m sure you do, too. So how do you guys, how have you, what would you say to churches when you’re trying to figure out what those key metrics are? And how do you measure the results of your digital efforts?

Alan George: [00:32:40] Sure. I think you’re right, data, it’s so important, and in this world, there’s so much of it. And so it can feel very paralyzing, it can feel like I don’t know what all I should track and how I should track things. And this is where it does get, I feel like this has been like the thought of my flesh for many years because I see the importance of it, I see the value of it, but it’s one of the hardest things that we’ve had to navigate. Because even the tools, the platforms that are out there, that maybe corporate uses, there’s not necessarily a lot of like CRM’s that are built for the church, or marketing software that’s built for the church, because most of those tools, they have this end product that you’re trying to sell and that will define the win. Well in the church world, the end product is life-changing, and you can’t measure that, you know, so it’s like, well, you lose before you can even start. So how do we figure out data points,

[00:33:34] I think, and I’m going to keep saying it until I go blue in the face, the biggest mistake that a church can make is do something because another church is doing it. I think that’s been the temptation, because we tend to look at some other churches and go, oh, if they’re doing it and they seem successful, then we’re going to do exactly what they do. I can promise you most of those churches, they have specific goals, and specific things, that they’re working towards, and the data that they track is based on the goals that they value. You can take two different churches, and with the friends I have currently that are in different churches, we all track different things because the end goal or the end win for us is different. For some, it might be, you know, around engagement, it might be around small groups, it might be around the number of people serving. For some, it might be reach, it might be how many people can we reach, how wide can we cast this net? Both of those things are two different approaches, can you do this and can you combine it? Absolutely, but the metrics you choose will be determined by the goal you’ve selected first. So instead of looking at all these other churches, my advice would be to look inside, look at your church, look at your ministry and go, OK, what are the things that we value? Why were we, when we launched as a church, why did we launch? What was at the heart of what we were passionate about? I promise you, you can find an equivalent version of that, it might not be exact, but you can find a somewhat kind of an equivalent version of that online, and then you begin to create.

[00:35:19] A friend of mine, she, calls and says, you need to create a data dictionary where you identify the data points that you’re tracking, and why you’re tracking them, and what they mean. One of the things that I had to navigate was, obviously, everyone wants to know attendance. How do you track attendance? And I, to this day, have not been able to find the equivalent of a like a physical attendance in the digital world. Yeah, because physical attendance is you’re talking about a person that’s sitting in a seat in a room. In the digital space, whether you track unique IP addresses, or with Facebook, it’s the three-second, the ten-second, the one minute, you know, you’ve got all these different things, it’s very hard to find the equivalent of that. It’s almost like saying when someone’s sitting in their seat at church, if we could track how many times they were distracted, how many times they weren’t paying attention, how many times somebody texted them and their mind…Like that is what people experience online because a notification can take them away, and online you can track that, in person, you can’t, and so it’s not equal. So then what do we do? I think you’ve got to identify, as a church, what do you value. For us, we did value people attending a service, we did value small groups, we did value serving, we valued that they would come as often as possible, we valued generosity. So the metrics we tracked were around that, we wanted to identify our people doing what we’re leading them to do. Can we measure life change? We can’t, but to the best of our ability, we can measure the actions people take that to us would define what a fully devoted follower of Christ might be. So that was, you know, at kind of a basic level.

Alan George: [00:37:09] But let me, if I have a quick moment, I want to kind of harp on this thing too, you hear the whole vanity metric thing? And many people give vanity metrics a hard time, and I get it, you don’t want to hang your hat on the top level number and pretend like, oh, that’s how many people are part of my community. But when you talk to somebody in marketing or advertising, that is a valuable number because you can, and you guys know, you can do retargeting campaigns and you can mark it back to them. If they’ve seen your content, you can connect with them in the future. So the marketing person or the advertising person on your staff will value that number a lot higher than you may value it, so depending on the team, your teams might need different metrics to identify what they’re tracking, but all together, you will hope that you get to see a picture of the ministry impact and where you’re going. So again, I know that’s kind of a long-winded answer, but it is a little complex. But chances are, even if you don’t have the expertise as the leader, or the pastoral team, there are things that you value in your church, start asking questions and say, hey, I value this. What metric do you think means the same thing? And the more questions you can ask, I promise you there’s a lot of people today that can help you find an answer close to that.

Jason Hamrock: [00:38:29] Well, and I think the takeaway here is don’t compare the two. Yes, it’s a dead-end, stop, just stop right now because it won’t work.

Bart Blair: [00:38:37] I think the most important thing is, I think this is kind of where you’re getting Alan is, determine what you think you need to be measuring in order to move the ball down the field and just be consistent in measuring those things.

Alan George: [00:38:51] Yes.

Bart Blair: [00:38:51] And don’t worry about what other churches are measuring, don’t worry about what someone else is deciding is a view, or an online attendance, or whatever, just decide what your path, your plan, is going to be for each person that’s engaging with your content online and then measure those things. Because if you measure those things over the long haul, then you can see where you’re either making progress or you’re not, and then you can iterate and pivot as you need to to get the results that you’re ultimately looking for.

Bart Blair: [00:39:22] We’re running really short here on time, and there’s a whole lot more that we could actually discuss. I actually have more notes and more questions to ask, but I’m going to skip them because I want to pivot and give you a few minutes just to share about what it is that you’re doing now. You said earlier that after your season at Life.Church, that God has led you to try some new things. So why don’t you share with our audience what some of these new things are that you’re venturing into these days?

Alan George: [00:39:51] Yeah, it’s really been an incredible season. And I think, you know, it’s interesting, you know, when you walk with God, you think you know him and then all of a sudden it’s like, wait, I didn’t know this side of you. You know, and it’s like, so what’s really cool is it’s a really meaningful moment for me right now because I’m able to see God in a completely new and different way, and I’m able to experience him in a new and different way. The past 10 years have been incredible, and as I’ve transitioned into this new season, really, it feels… Not that I haven’t had to walk by faith in the past, this is a different way of walking by faith, and I’ve been given the opportunity to just trust Him. And as doors open, I walk through them, and what’s been interesting is a lot of churches have been reaching out and saying, hey, would you mind helping us out, helping us figure out digital strategy, and figure out how to do online ministry and all of that? And so it’s been an incredible joy for me to partner with churches here in the U.S., and a few outside, and just help them figure this out because it is complex. And it’s, you know, we’re all trying to figure this out, I’m not an expert by any means, I probably made a few more mistakes than other people. And so I can at least tell you, hey, I tried this, it didn’t work back then, but hey, we can try it again and see if it works. So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m partnering with churches and I’m helping them figure this out, and it’s really a joy for me because I get to, and you guys understand this, as you see God working in different churches, it’s almost like you get a peek at the horizon and you get to see this beautiful picture of how he’s working across the world. And you see the different ways he’s working, and really with online ministry, I don’t know how long we can say this, but it is still blue ocean, there are so many different lanes you could take, and so many different strategies, so many different approaches, I’m watching this total rabbit trail. But there’s this, I don’t know, have you guys watched this thing called, Who Killed the Electric Car?

Bart Blair: [00:42:03] No, I haven’t, but I want to watch that.

Alan George: [00:42:06] Yeah, it’s on Amazon, right? And so because I was watching, I was thinking, like, you know, who invented the first hybrid car? Because there’s a lot of similarities there with completely electric cars and hybrid cars. I think it was late like 1890 or something when the first electric car was created, and so this is not like a brand new thing, but it’s interesting to see how over time, because of, you know, oil and gas and all that stuff, how all of that was manipulated. And so it just made me wonder, like, I don’t think this whole leveraging technology and trying a new way of doing ministry is very new. When we go back to Acts, and you look at the first church, innovation was always a part of who we were as the body of Christ. The body of Christ was never designed to be comfortable, there was always challenge, there was always persecution, there was always trouble, but the church was innovative. I had a professor teach us this, the fish sign that people, you know, back in the day had that represented, that was actually a code word for people so that they knew who was a Christian and who wasn’t. And he said in some way that was innovation, and so when we look at churches today and we think, man, we are at the cutting edge, like no one’s innovating like we do. No, I think the church historically has always been innovating, there’s always been a culture of innovation, and so I believe that God’s raising up men and women that are dreaming this up, and trying to figure out what this, you know, how do we continue to reach more people? And so for me, it’s a joy to be able to partner with them. So I get to hear some cool ideas that you know, that people are trying to bring new technology and new products, and so it’s a fun season and I’m embracing it, and I’m also grateful for conversations like this, so it’s a really cool time.

Bart Blair: [00:43:58] Hmm. Alan, you are very humble in your lack of willingness to call yourself an expert in this space, and maybe expert isn’t the right word, but there’s definitely a sense that you’re a few laps around the track more than most people, just because of the role that you played at Life.Church, and just the front row seat that you had to a lot of innovation that was happening in the church online space. And so we want to encourage our listeners and our audience that if they’re asking some of those hard questions about what the next steps are with their church, about how to maximize their digital presence, their church online experience, online discipleship, we want them to connect with you to ask the questions, maybe there’s a good partnership opportunity for you in the coaching and the consulting that you can do with churches to really help them take those next steps. If people want to get in touch with you, if they want to ask you some more questions or find out if you are a good fit for helping them solve some of those problems, how can they get in touch with you?

Alan George: [00:45:03] Well, the easiest way, so I’ve got a website, there’s like one page on it, so it’s not like in-depth or anything, but it has my contact information. It’s alanvgeorge.com, or you can email me at reachalangeorge@gmail.com. So super easy, but yeah, happy to chat. If you want to share some stories, I’d love to talk to you.

Jason Hamrock: [00:45:24] We’ll put those in the show notes.

Bart Blair: [00:45:26] Yeah, we’ll put those in the show notes. What’s the V stand for in the Allen V. George?

Alan George: [00:45:30] It’s part of our family name, I’m from Kerala, India, and so the V stands for Vettumannil which is it’s my father’s, I guess, parental name, you know that house name.

Bart Blair: [00:45:45] So yeah, okay. Well, this will be very interesting for the lady who goes through the transcripts and cleans up the transcript of this podcast to figure out how to spell that,

Alan George: [00:45:53] You know, a special prize from this team if you can spell that name correctly. So, yeah, there you go.

Bart Blair: [00:45:59] Ok, Cindi, you can just use a V and a blank, after that. We didn’t really make that clear. All right. Hey, Alan, thanks again for taking the time to hang out with us today, it’s been a real pleasure.

Jason Hamrock: [00:46:09] Huge blessing.

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