Planning The Ultimate Online Christmas Experience – Bonus Christmas Episode | with Jason Hamrock and Bart Blair

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On this Special Christmas Episode we asked Bart to share his tips and tricks on what you could do this holiday to be more meaningful when it comes to the digital space.

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

JASON HAMROCK: Well, hey, guys, I’m here with Bart. Bart, glad to have you.

BART BLAIR: Jason, always fun hanging out with you, even on Zoom. I’d rather do it in person, but Zoom is good, too.

That’s OK. That’s right. It’s our world these days. Well, hey, we’re here in October and it’s kind of interesting because Christmas is literally right around the corner and it’s an odd year, to say the least, because churches, I talk to churches all the time, just like you and if you’re listening as your church, you’re probably scratching your head, going, we have no idea what Christmas looks like this year. You know, you’re kind of, it’s not up to you to how many people you can get into your room. You’re kind of wondering, do we do outside, if we can. Do we do inside? All of this kind of stuff and it just begs the question on, what are you doing for Christmas? And so, our team got together, and Bart actually spent some time and he actually wrote out some really great things that you could take with you to your discussions with your leadership team when discussing what you should do this Christmas. And I thought it was worthwhile for us to put together this little podcast and talk about what Bart wrote out. Barts a church planter. He’s a former lead pastor. He’s a digital growth expert. He’s a church growth expert. And this guy knows what he’s talking about.

JASON HAMROCK: So, I’ve asked Bart to share his tips and tricks on what you could do this Christmas to be much more meaningful when it comes to the digital space. So Bart, what ya got for us?

BART BLAIR: Well thanks Jason. One thing that I think is also relevant to the conversation is that ten years before I planted a church and pastored a church, I actually was the creative arts director and worship pastor of a church. So I spent 10 years of my ministry life sitting in the chairs where a lot of the folks that are listening to this are sitting in, in like August and September going, hmm, what are we going to do at Christmas? And, it was always a big event, right? One of the biggest events of the year. We typically had, you know, one of the largest budget items, one of the biggest marketing opportunities and we put a ton of energy into this on campus / in-person experience. And, as you mentioned, you and I have had a ton of conversations in the last few weeks with different churches trying to see what we can do to help support them as they’re promoting Christmas activities and Christmas events. And, you know, some pastors and some church leaders, I think are starting to get a feel for what they’re going to be able to do. A lot of them are still sort of scratching their heads, going, we’re kind of behind in our planning because we really don’t know if we’re going to be able to have 50 percent capacity on campus or 100 percent. Some churches that I’ve talked to have said, you know, we can do 50 percent capacity on campus, but even if we try to do that, we don’t know if we can really handle it. It’s a mess.

BART BLAIR: One of the things that occurred to me as I was having this conversation with a couple of different pastors this last week was that, regardless of what you plan to do on campus, what you do online at Christmas is still going to be super, super critical for your church. Most churches that I know, not all, but a lot of churches I know, even though they’ve gone back to in-person worship gatherings are still nurturing a pretty significant online presence on Sunday mornings. And that’ll be no different for Christmas, Christmas Eve. So, I was literally out for a run yesterday and I thought, you know, if I were planning a Christmas Eve online service, what are the things that I would be bringing to my creative planning team, what are the things that I would want to throw on the table and go, how do we have this conversation? So I wrote some stuff down and I wrote down what I think are five key components or five elements that, if they are included in an online worship experience, will make that online Christmas Eve experience impactful and engaging for an online audience. So, I’ll just share those five things with you, OK? And, you can tell me if you like them or not. You tell me if you think I’m on or off. But, this is what I got, OK? The number one thing is fun. By the way, they’re all going to start with F. I guess as a former senior pastor, using alliteration in my sermons was, I guess just something we’d do.

BART BLAIR: So, the first piece to the formula is fun.

BART BLAIR: I think all of us recognize that when we’re doing things at Christmas time with our families. If you’re a parent and you’ve got kids, there’s a certain element of fun that we expect out of Christmas celebrations and just our Christmas engagements. And certainly those of us who are leading or serving in churches that are trying to engage the unreached people in our community, being able to actually initiate the engagement, the service, the experience with something fun is really important. And, you know, fun can be a lot of different things, you know, you and I were talking about this earlier, like, you can do trivia things that are kind of fun. A lot of churches will spin up music or, you know, a video or something that kind of launches the experience, the online experience with something that is fun. The reason fun is important is that people are already having fun. People are already kind of hyped-up about the Christmas experience.

BART BLAIR: As they sit down at, you know, 5:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve night with their family around the TV screen or the computer screen, I want them to be engaged right out of the gate.

BART BLAIR: So doing something fun to start it off, to me, is, it’s a critical place to start. What do you think Jason?

JASON HAMROCK: I can’t agree more. Don’t make it boring. Be creative in that fun. Right? I like videos of little kids talking about Santa, or just different things, just make it exciting, make it fun for people.

BART BLAIR: Yeah, I’m thinking about families. You know, you and I both have teenage sons and so we’re kind of, at a different stage of life than where they might have been if they were six or seven or eight. But, we want to make sure that what we do and what we kick things off with is, kind of, high energy sets the mood, sets the tone for something that’s going to be impactful. So, the number one thing, is to do something fun.

BART BLAIR: Now, the second thing is probably not what most people would think they need to include, but I think it’s really important, especially for the online experience. And that’s something funny and funny is different than fun, right? Fun can be defined as something that just kind of creates an energy and an excitement and anticipation, whereas funny is something that actually makes us laugh. And, I know from my family 2020 has been a year where we’ve laughed a lot but it’s not been very funny, right? It’s not a funny year.

BART BLAIR: And, Christmas season can be kind of stressful for people. It’s been a stressful year. You’ve probably got families and people in your church that maybe have lost jobs, maybe they’ve lost family members. Maybe they’re just super stressed out about kids being home for school. Things just didn’t go in 2020 the way any of us had expected or hoped. And, you know, laughter is great medicine. You know, it’s scientifically proven that when people laugh, endorphins are released and and we simply feel better. And so, my advice is you got to include something funny in your online engagement.

JASON HAMROCK: You can’t go wrong with, like a, Christmas gift fail video. Right? You know, that was a perfect Christmas gift and somebody goes…really? Just funny stuff like that. There’s so many, just go to YouTube, like there’s probably a ton of different videos you could show that just make people laugh.

BART BLAIR: Yeah. I don’t know what the copyright laws on that would be, you know, in terms of using somebody else’s YouTube videos. I mean, for years, even in on-site in-person worship services. I mean, I’m showing my age here, because I don’t know if they’re still around and still relevant, but we used Skit Guys videos all the time. You know The Skit Guys, you remember The Skit Guys? Those guys were funny and they would always come up with some great Christmas videos. There’s a lot of stuff out there that you can beg, steal, borrow, license. Make sure you license anything that you’re using. We’re not suggesting that you break any laws by any stretch of the imagination. That would not be funny. That would not be funny if you got in trouble or got shut down on Christmas Eve with your livestream for using something you didn’t have permission to. But, I would say the second thing to make sure that you you incorporate in that online experience is something funny. The third thing, the third F is something familiar. This is probably obvious, but people get real nostalgic at Christmas time. You know, we have Christmas ornaments in our house that we have collected since our kids were really little.

BART BLAIR: That nostalgia of putting those familiar Christmas ornaments on the tree every year, even though the tree changes and the house might change. There’s a lot of things that change. There’s a familiarity there, that always makes the Christmas experience better. And with a church online experience, this is not something with which people are really familiar. It’s going to be new. It’s going to be different. You’re maybe establishing, you’re starting new traditions. You’re not able to do some of your former traditions, maybe a candlelight experience or something on site.

BART BLAIR: But, it’s important that you bring things into the program, into the experience that are familiar. The easiest way to do that is simply through song, right? People want to sing Christmas carols. They want to sing along. As a former worship pastor, creative arts director, I was probably guilty of this on more than one occasion. But I highly suggest, especially for this year, that worship pastors are really careful about getting too creative with the musical arrangements of some of those familiar carols.

BART BLAIR: I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. But I think people want to sing Silent Night the way that Silent Night is supposed to be sung. I’m guessing. I’m guessing. You know, I think there’s a familiarity thing that people really want and need to have. And so, delivering on that, in that experience, I think will make it better for your audience.

JASON HAMROCK: I agree. I agree.

BART BLAIR: Nothing to add to that?

JASON HAMROCK: No. To me, it’s like, it’s telling the story. It’s, you know, people have traditions, right?

BART BLAIR: Yup.

JASON HAMROCK: And, we all have those CNEs that attend our churches.

BART BLAIR: Yup.

JASON HAMROCK: This year, those CNEs are probably not coming in person. They’re sitting at home. And so, there’s a lot of distractions and I think if you can get back to the meaning and the story of Christmas and don’t try to be creative in that element of it, just hit the basics. The basics are needed this time of year, especially this year.

BART BLAIR: Yeah.

JASON HAMROCK: And don’t get too crazy with that.

BART BLAIR: One of the things, it literally just occurred to me. I hadn’t thought about this when I wrote it, but, familiar. When we’re trying to connect with unchurched people, people who are not part of our spiritual family or spiritual community, those old carols and things are often familiar to them. Now, if you live in a community that’s very multi-ethnic or with lots of international immigrants, you know, maybe Hark the Herald Angels Sing or, you know, Joy to the world, maybe that isn’t going to be familiar to them. But, for the most part, our neighbors, our friends, our family, people that we’re trying to connect to Jesus are going to be familiar with those songs. So you actually create something that allows them to participate, even though they might not attend your church regularly or be connected to God in a personal way. So, I think that was just something that kind of came to me as we were talking about this.

BART BLAIR: The fourth thing, the fourth F is focused. Obviously, the central story of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. And, you know, it’s F number four only because I was thinking in terms of how I would program my event. But it’s, without a doubt, the most important part of what we do because we want to highlight the birth of Jesus, the purpose of his life here on Earth. And, you know, it’s the reason that we’re celebrating Christmas in the first place. So, having a focused time, whether that’s a devotional from your pastor, an opportunity to read some scripture, to read the Christmas story, to tell the Christmas story, and then to create the context for why it’s so important and why it’s significant. The families in your church, you know, especially those with small children, will appreciate you making that really easy and really clear for everybody to process and really everybody to understand. And remember that, when you’re delivering that message, that you’ve got multiple generations, you know, watching in and listening. And, you’ve probably got people from all different backgrounds, from a faith standpoint that are potentially listening in. So, the better you can refine what you want to say. Put the cookies on the bottom shelf as far as Jesus is concerned. We want to make sure, He is the one. These are not Santa’s cookies. That’s a different jar of cookies. Cookies on the bottom shelf, as far as people really hearing and understanding the gospel of Jesus. Really focus in on that.

BART BLAIR: And then from there, the fifth F is forward.

BART BLAIR: You want to actually leave people with an action step, a call to action. Something that can actually propel them forward in their spiritual journey, regardless of where people are on their faith journey, when they tune in with you on Christmas Eve, or whatever day that you’re playing this, showing this, livestreaming this. We want people to be compelled to take a step towards God, to take a step towards Jesus. So, be really sensitive to the fact that you’ve got people on all ends of the spectrum. People who have been following Jesus for maybe decades. People who are exploring God, the Bible, claims of faith for the very first time and create and establish clear calls to action and next steps for them. That might be connecting with you at the church. That might be, you know, something that’s connected to one of your ministries. You be creative in terms of how you want to inspire people to take that next step. But actually, don’t finish your service without calling people to some level of action. Finally…

BART BLAIR: Go ahead Jason.

JASON HAMROCK: I’m always a big fan of taking that opportunity to talk about what you’re doing next, in terms of a sermon series. Give them a reason to come back either online or in person. Invite them in person. What are you deploying in January? You know, don’t forget to talk about that. Don’t put it in the pre-service slides. Talk about it. Hey, we want to invite you back because we’re going to talk about family, right? We’re going to talk about the nucleus of a family and how does a family thrive in 2021, so join us, you know, whenever you’re going to kick that off or whatever you’re going to do. Maybe it’s finances, you know, whatever it might be. That’s a great call to action because I think it’s so important. The church I go to, we always tended to either give them a gift or we talk about what we’re going to be deploying in the new year.

JASON HAMROCK: Otherwise, you’re not going to see those people again, probably till Easter. So, I would take advantage of your offer, like you said, that forward thinking, the call to action to rejoin us.

BART BLAIR: Yeah, I agree with that 100%. That’s a great idea. I’ve actually got a bonus F, Ok, and this one actually, I may have actually been inclined to start with it. And that the the bonus F that doesn’t fit into the five, it’s the number six is 40 minutes. OK? 40 minutes maximum. OK? Here’s one thing that I believe I have heightened awareness to, and I think a lot of pastors would agree. Is that, the online church experience simply cannot sustain people’s attention as long as an in-person experience and gathering does. I’ve seen more and more churches go from, you know, when we first started doing livestreaming back in, you know, March and April, when COVID shut us down, we were running our regular 1 hour 10, 1 hour 15 minute service. By July, we were at one hour. By August, we’re at 55 minutes because we realize that when people are at home, there are all kinds of distractions. I’m guilty of it too. How many times do I go to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup? I got my cell phone. You know, I’m more likely to check my cell phone when I’m engaged with the service online or put it this way, watching the service online, sitting in my chair in my living room that I am to check my cell phone when I’m sitting in the church service in the church building. Right?

Because I may or may not be checking fantasy football. Just saying.

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And you live in a time zone where the football games start before you get out of church.

They’re already going on. So that’s the downside of that.

But you really need to be super-considerate and aware of the fact that when people are at home and they’re tuning in with you, they have all kinds of other stuff going on. And especially if they have children, younger children, being able to be really concise, deliver well, deliver the five pieces that we talked about. There’s five pieces. That’s if, you know, do the math. That’s eight minutes per section, eight minutes of fun, eight minutes of funny, eight minutes, a familiar eight minutes of focus, eight minutes of forward. Now, you don’t have to break it down that way, but, hey, that’s maybe an easy way to do it. Or go six minutes of each of those. Six minutes of each of those, you got a half hour service. I’m not saying that the message of Jesus is not important and doesn’t deserve lots of time. But I am saying that you want to deliver and be impactful and your audience will thank you that you were, we’ll use the word brief or at least compact on Christmas Eve. Yeah. And let them get on to the rest of their Christmas Eve celebration as they as they turn the calendar.

JASON HAMROCK: Yeah I have, I have another Bonus “F” if that’s OK.

BART BLAIR: Oh you got another bonus. OK. Yeah. All right. Sure.

JASON HAMROCK: I think this is a big deal.

This kind of goes into mom and dad. OK, so church, you got the family to watch. I think it’s awesome if you give mom and dad some appropriate follow up.

JASON HAMROCK: Follow up. Right. So they watch it engaged with you, but put the onus on mom and dad to kind of lead their family. And so I think it’d be really cool if you put together a small, short devotion that would be age appropriate, you know, so for its younger kids, talk about the, you know, give mom and dad a few things to talk about. A couple of questions.

If it’s teens do this, if it’s college age or adults do this, whatever it might be, but allow mom and dad, help them lead their family and maybe break down a little bit about what does Christmas really mean to you?

Right? What does Jesus mean to you? Are you a follower of him? Are you owning your faith? You know, just things about that that you could, just five or ten minutes, that you could be giving parents the opportunity to kind of own their family time and leading those kind of discussions?

I would absolutely encourage that because I just don’t want people to feel like it’s the church’s job to educate and lead their children and their families in their discipleship. Right. I believe it’s the parent’s job to disciple and lead their kids and themselves. So that’s my only extra is add a follow up to your to your Christmas package, if you will.

BART BLAIR: I think that is a fantastic idea. Hey, Jason, thanks for letting me take the time to share this. I’m hoping and prayerful that it is helpful to pastors, church leaders, people that are working on their Christmas Eve stuff. We’re going to try to publish this and push this out as quickly as we can, because hopefully it’s not too late for some people to really start thinking through the kinds of things that they can do to create a great online experience. And I also just want to encourage anybody that’s listening or watching this that we’re here to help. One of the things that we do day in, day out is help churches take the things that they’re doing in the context of their ministry and helping them expand their digital footprint through advertising campaigns and digital online outreach. So if you’re listening, or you’re watching and you want some ideas or want some help with that, make sure that you reach out to us. You can click to our website at missionalmarketing.com, schedule an appointment, send a message in. We’d be more than happy to set up a time to meet with you and talk about what you’re doing this Christmas and how we can actually help you reach more people.

Yeah, yeah. As as always, Bart, you brought it. Thanks for those five plus one, plus one tips on how to have a more impactful digital Christmas.

Thanks, buddy. Appreciate you.

BART BLAIR: Thanks, Jason.

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