Rich Birch, the founder of Unseminary and all its resources, is a human treasure trove of ideas about how church’s can be innovative and reach more people for Jesus with very practical and manageable solutions. Several years ago he published “Church Growth Flywheel” outlining some basic principals that can help your church reach more people. In this conversation we discuss some of those tactics. What has changed since the pandemic? What’s the same? Where do we go from here?
Bart Blair: [00:00:14] Well, Jason and I are so excited today to have the mastermind of unSeminary on the podcast with us today. Rich Birch, thanks so much for joining us today.
Rich Birch: [00:00:25] Hey, I’m so glad I’m here. I’m super excited to be with you guys. I feel like I finally made it, I can tell my mom I’ve made it, I’m here on this podcast, I’ve reached the peak, it’s all downhill from here. So glad to be here today.
Jason Hamrock: [00:00:37] Congratulations.
Bart Blair: [00:00:38] Yeah. This conversation might all be downhill from here, but that has nothing to do with you, probably a lot more to do with us. Hey, you know what? I have been listening to your podcast for years and years. Meeting you, I met you in person for like 30 seconds a few years ago, and I had an opportunity to chat with you here. You’ve been in my AirPods as long as AirPods have existed, so I feel like I know you, I know a lot of your story. But I’m sure that some of the folks that are listening to our podcast, or watching on the YouTube channel, maybe they’re not familiar with Rich Birch, so why don’t you share a little bit of your story with us and how you ended up doing what you’re doing today in ministry?
Rich Birch: [00:01:16] Oh, thanks so much. Well, I love church leaders, I love the church, I love the local church, I’m like really stuck on that. I feel like something happened to me developmentally where I was like, that’s the thing I’m super interested in. So I’ve been in ministry for two and a half decades, heading on three decades, which is crazy to say that, and have really been in that second seat. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time is, well, all my time, has been in that kind of executive pastor seat in the church world; in really three different churches that as I was living all of that history, I didn’t really realize how unique that was. We started, all the three churches started under a thousand, and we ended up growing, two of the three ended up growing to multiple thousands, three, four, or five thousand people.
Rich Birch: [00:02:02] And through that whole process, it was just lived life, but I have really wanted to share that passion with other people. It really goes back to my early days, it’s called unSeminary, stuff we wish they taught in seminary, frankly, because I’ve noticed over the years that there are the things that seem to stick churches, the things that slow us down or restrict our mission, it’s like we’re not talking about these things in seminary, they don’t train us on these things. And so for years, we’ve been gathering up them as blog posts, or we’ve done almost six hundred, we’re closing in on six hundred podcast episodes. And so I just love it, I could talk to church leaders all day long, but really it comes from a heart of wanting to share best practices, particularly around, how do we reach more people. That’s, I would say, the heartbeat behind it all is that I’m concerned that under all of our collective leadership, the kind of degradation, the erosion of the church, I want to do anything I can to kind of push back against that, and if it’s simple stuff that we can share and be helpful, that’s even better. So that’s a little bit of who I am.
Jason Hamrock: [00:03:09] Wow. Okay, so, you, I love this, because you spent so many years working in a church.
Rich Birch: [00:03:18] Yes.
Jason Hamrock: [00:03:18] Now you get to work for churches.
Rich Birch: [00:03:21] Yeah, absolutely.
Jason Hamrock: [00:03:21] And we’re kind of in the same cut because that’s what we got to do. And so talk to me a little bit, because I’m really, I love the stuff. Talk to me about the church growth flywheel, how that happened, what is it? And if you’re listening to this podcast, tune in right now.
Rich Birch: [00:03:40] Nice. So yeah, a number of years ago I wrote a book called The Church Growth Flywheel, and then we released it online course about it. And, you know, originally, to be honest, letting you in on a little insider secret, I was going to call it How To Have a Bigger Church in 1000 Days, but no one would buy a book like that, no one wants to wait 1000 days. But really, why the idea of a flywheel, when I was a kid around the corner from my house was one of those, we called it a Merry-Go-Round. I don’t know what they call it, it’s called different things in different parts of the country. It’s one of those large metal discs with like, you know, handles on it, and you put one foot on the disc and the other one on the ground and you push it around. And you know that first push, yeah, you get dizzy, you start that first push, you got to push real, real hard, but then the second push is a little less and a little less. And what happens is you go from pushing hard, to eventually hardly pushing, and then eventually holding on for dear life. And I found that really church growth was like that, the front end of it, it’s a ton of work. And so a part of what we talk about in the church growth flywheel is, that it’s really repeating processes over and over and over, it’s leveraging the fact that Sunday is always coming or the weekends always coming, there’s going to be another Easter, there’s going to be another Christmas, there’s another Mother’s Day coming. How do we leverage all of those things to really attack one idea, which is at the end of the day the difference between growing churches and stagnant churches, is growing churches cultivate an invitable culture, they cultivate their people’s ability to invite their friends and family to be a part of the church. And so it really is looking at a number of different strategies around that, how do we help churches become more invitable? How do we, you know, give them the right resources, motivation, and training to keep in front of them? That’s really what it’s all about, but it really gets at this idea of, hey, it’s going to be hard work at the beginning, it’s not easy, you’ve got to spend a lot of time, effort, and energy, but if we can apply focus over an extended period of time, man, just some amazing things can happen in the life of our church over a two or three year period.
Jason Hamrock: [00:05:41] Okay, so, I want to lean into this. We’re obviously we’re kind of coming out of COVID, but we all kind of knew stuff pre-COVID, and I think this is when you came out with The Flywheel was 2018, so pre-COVID. Covid, next three years, what’s that look like? What have you learned? What do you think are trends that you are seeing, good, bad, or ugly?
Rich Birch: [00:06:06] Yeah, great question. I do think we have moved beyond it. I don’t know if you’re seeing this with your clients, but I feel like we’ve moved beyond the time where we were trying to rebuild, where it was like we were like, wow, we’re comparing back to where it was and we just want to get back to that. And I really do want to encourage leaders that we need to move beyond that, and just get back to building, like we just need to get back to reaching people in our community, you know, seeing the people that are in front of us today, you know, serving them, caring for them, helping them, in this case, helping them reach out to their friends and family, motivating them, rather than trying to, like, beg people to come back to our services, but there are, yeah, sure, there are a number of things. One of the things, there are five different areas we talk about in the book, and there are two areas that I think in particular are probably more prescient today than they were a couple of years ago, two or three years ago.
Rich Birch: [00:06:55] The first one would be this whole area of how we talk about our weekend service teaching. So we talk about series rollouts in the book, and we talk about how we promote series, and I know that not every church does series, I get that. But however you talk about messages, what you talk about on a Sunday to year people, so there’s a study done a number of years ago by Gallu, that 71%, they went out and talked with people, why do you attend church? And they found that 71% of people attend church for the teaching, and they attend for what people are saying on the weekend. And the thing, more importantly, is what are they looking for? And the first thing they’re looking for is actually something that’s based on scripture. So they’re not looking for like just because it rhymes, it’s true kind of thing, they actually want it to be based on scripture, and then the other piece of it is they’re looking for teaching that applies to their daily life. So that it doesn’t just happen, it’s not just important on Sunday, but it’s super important on Monday through Saturday as they walk out. And why I think this is particularly true is, I do think, although I’ve spent most of my kind of career in the attractional church movement, I do think that we can get lost with how important, or it can get lost on us, how important that aspect of what we do is. We can’t over-motivate, we can’t over equip our people, on kind of telegraphing where we’re going next, particularly when it comes to our teaching piece. So we want to take extra time, effort, and energy in this season around this whole area. And we can talk more about this if you want to get into it, but we can’t overstate this, people come because of the teaching.
Rich Birch: [00:08:34] And, you know, I think this is important when we’ve been through such a hurting season, you know, so many of our people in our culture, there’s all those statistics that show, you know, that people are looking for real answers. And, you know, it’s a time of great social upheaval, there are all kinds of, you know, trouble on the horizon. And I think some of it actually echoes back to maybe the sixties and seventies, where really the Jesus People movement came out of, there was this, arguably the greatest kind of revival in recent history, came out of a very similar time. But it was about something, it was about Jesus, it was about the difference he can make in their lives. And so we can’t overstate, and I think this is particularly true in this season, we can’t overstate how important it is for us to help our people both know what’s coming up next and why that’s important to their friends, and how they can invite their friends. All of those pieces are so critically important in this season, for sure.
Jason Hamrock: [00:09:28] Wow.
Bart Blair: [00:09:30] I was going to say, you know, I think one of the things that I appreciate about the whole series rollout concept is that it creates on-ramps, right? The goal here is to create natural and easy on-ramps for people who are not yet connected to your church to find a way in at a logical time. And I’ve worked with pastors in churches with a pastor who will do three series in a year because he’s going to spend four months in the book of Philippians and that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re not going to use series as mechanisms for creating those easy on-ramps and those natural points of invite and connection, you’re just going to have to be creative to find them in other places. But if your rhythm, as a pastor, as a preacher, as a teaching team, is to have four weeks, six weeks, eight-week series, I think it’s really important that you’re thinking about how each of those creates a unique on-ramp and a unique starting point for people who aren’t yet connected to your church.
Rich Birch: [00:10:35] That’s so true. And I don’t, again, although we talk about series in the book and all that, because I do think there’s a good best practice there. And particularly when you look at the fastest growing churches, there is definitely a trend there towards people, you know, kind of organizing their teaching around series, not exclusively, but there is a lot of them that do that. But even if you’re not going to do that, it’s amazing how just articulating, this is where we’re going next and this is why you should invite your friends. How few churches do not do that? So taking your example of the book of Philippians, like, that’s fine, you can march verse by verse through the book of Philippians, but don’t make people guess on where you’re going next, what are the next verses that are coming up? What are the kind of themes that are being covered and why is that important? And I would say you need to go one step beyond that with, let’s give people a handout, let’s give them some sort of postcard that talks about that, let’s have a video that they can share on social media, let’s give them graphics that they can email to their friends, give them a PDF that they can explain to it.
Rich Birch: [00:11:31] You know, for years I thought that actually quality was what people were looking for, that when they came to services like, hey, look, I want my friends to know that it’s like a quality experience. I actually think it’s more subtle than that, I actually think predictability is a much bigger deal than quality. When you think about the actual transaction of, I’m inviting a friend. If I invite you, Bart, to come to my church and I describe this is what happens at my church, you show up and there’s a great band, and it’s a five-piece band normally something like that, it’s rock and roll band, it’s fantastic. They have good music, and then a teacher gets up and they are, I don’t know, maybe 25 minutes, and it’s always on something that applies to my life. So I describe that to you, Bart, my unchurched friend and you come to that. Now, the day you show up at my church, let’s say there’s a full orchestra, which is arguably better music, like it’s actually way higher quality. You’ve got a fifty-piece orchestra on the stage, and it’s not my normal teacher, it’s, insert whoever the best teacher is, whoever you think that is, it’s like this incredible person. What happens in the relationship between me and you as I invite you? My unchurched friend says, like, what? Wait for a second, like, you know, you’re going to say to me, like, you don’t even know what’s happening at your own church, there’s going to be a disconnect there. So a part of it is actually just articulating forward, this is exactly what your people can expect. This is why, and I’m talking too much, but this is why I think one of the mechanics behind why Christmas and Easter are such easy times for people to invite their friends, because why? We know exactly what the preacher is going to preach on, we know exactly the message, what’s going to happen on that day. we even know the songs, we have a good sense of what’s happening on that day. I’m just saying we need to have more of that kind of predictability throughout the entire year. This was important pre-COVID, but it’s so important now.
Jason Hamrock: [00:13:18] You know, going back to what you just said, if you’re going to invite Bart. So, because that trust was actually broken between you and your church, you’re not going to invite anybody else?
Rich Birch: [00:13:29] Absolutely. Yes, this is absolutely the issue, and so this is why, again, I think predictability, it’s like it’s forecasting ahead, this is what we’re doing as a church. And series do make it easy, hey, for the next four weeks, we’re going to talk about relationships. And, you know, if you know anyone who’s in a relationship, you should invite them, like, which is everybody, right? So that’s like an easy thing to do, but it doesn’t take much to, you know, to kind of think about other ways that you could articulate forward. And a part of what, you know, the kind of point of the book and the course is, what you need to do is stop thinking every time you come up against, like in this case, series or whatever you’re talking about next. Stop thinking about what you’re going to do, and just do it every time. So I rattled off a few examples, an invite card, I still love invite cards. I know I’m going to die on that hill as a person. I think actually in an increasingly digital world, physical assets are actually worth more.
Jason Hamrock: [00:14:21] I’ll be right there with you.
Rich Birch: [00:14:21] Yeah, I think I still like them. So what I’m saying is like you come into, on this one, you come into a new series, it’s like we always make it invite card, we always make a video. we always have, the pastor does a selfie, and this could be five or six different things you do every single time. Let’s decide on what those things are upfront and then do them, and kind of the point of it is, do them for the next three years and see what happens. Like, let’s keep on top of being predictable, always casting it in the what’s in it for me, for my guests, the friends who I’m inviting, always thinking about it from their perspective, not from ours. We’re not, you know, it’s not exciting that we’re talking about the Book of Romans. it’s the Book of Romans is important because of these three things going on in your friends and family’s lives, these things are happening there, that’s why they should come and hear us talk about the Book of Romans.
Jason Hamrock: [00:15:10] Well, a couple of thoughts on that. To me, first of all, you have to condition your congregation. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with doing handouts on Easter and Christmas. But what about the rest of the year? I mean, you’ve got to do it all the time, so you’re training your people, right? And then I’m always telling churches, especially pastors, to stop overthinking. Like you come up with a sermon series called Uncharted, what are you talking about? How about just the felt need of, how to how to deal with fear? Now I know what to invite my friend to if I know somebody who’s dealing with that, or maybe it’s grief, or whatever it might be. But we come up with, we sort of, church, we try to get too cute and creative, I think sometimes to our own demise because it does it doesn’t allow us to bridge the gap for our the congregation to invite that friend with that card.
Rich Birch: [00:16:05] Absolutely, so listen, I’m such a fan of church coms people I know there are a few of them listening in today. And I have overseen a lot of church coms people, and it’s like you’re professionals in this area, I feel like I play one on TV, but I’ve said this so many times to church coms people, our goal is to be clear, not clever. Our goal is to be clear, not clever, we do not want to wow people with, wow, things are so amazingly clever. No, no, no, people have like 4 seconds to think about what we do, and we’ve got to narrow it down, we’ve got to dumb it down. A good friend of mine, Tim Lucas, the Lead Pastor at Liquid Church in New Jersey, I worked out with for years. He talks about we’ve got to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, like, we have got to make the main thing, the biggest thing that we’re talking about. You know, we don’t want to we don’t want to make people think, and this was true ten years ago, it is even more true now with the decreased amount of bandwidth that people have to pay attention to stuff. Like they are, you know, we’re so oversaturated, so over messaged, so many Facebook ads coming my way, it has to be so clear, again, not clever. When we venture into the realm of clever, man, it blunts our effectiveness for sure.
Jason Hamrock: [00:17:22] Yeah.
Bart Blair: [00:17:23] It makes me think of, I’m just going to call him out because he deserves to be called out, Ed Young Jr did a sermon series years ago called, Cantaloupe. To this day, I can’t tell you what the sermon series was about.
Rich Birch: [00:17:36] Yes, yes.
Bart Blair: [00:17:37] But I do remember him having a big pile of cantaloupes on the stage in the church service, Cantaloupe.
Rich Birch: [00:17:42] And some of that, and I know you guys relate to this from an SEO point of view, I know that’s a part of the kind of service that you provide. But like, man, there’s real power in using some of those words that people actually use in real life, if you can get content, make content that pushes in that direction, again, this is your area, not mine, man, that just translates into long term, that’s like an asset that your church has, that’s like a tent pole, that like when someone searches, hey, I’m looking for help with divorce, I’m thinking about leaving my wife. Wow, like, if you actually use that kind of language, man, you would you’d start to see people who would be interested in what you had to say.
Jason Hamrock: [00:18:25] Right, and it goes all through that funnel that we’re taught about to try to get them to engage. You know, I love your five points, and I’m looking at them here on my screen about churches that do things. And to me, because, church, we’re so busy every week, we got the big show to put on, and then there are bigger shows every now and then. And yet, I think during the softer seasons, or the gaps, where you’ve got to be able to create things that are reproducible, and that allows us to get that flywheel going. If you start pushing, and you imagine if you had to stop, and to push again, stop, and then push again, you’re never going to get anywhere.
Rich Birch: [00:19:09] No, no. Absolutely.
Jason Hamrock: [00:19:10] So how do people get ahead? You know, how do you do that?
Rich Birch: [00:19:13] Yeah, great question. Yeah, absolutely, you’re hitting on one of the core ideas that we just, I think we have to keep coming back to. And again, I think people in our world, in the church world, we joke about it. We’re like, oh, my goodness, Sunday’s always coming, right? Like, the weekend is always coming, it’s relentless. And so what I’m saying is, friends, let’s use that for us. Like, instead of fighting that trend, let’s say what are the things that we’re going to do? What do we do every week? What do we do every month? What do we do every quarter? What do we do every year? Like, let’s pick those ahead of time, and say we’re just not going to debate whether we’re doing them because there’s a lot of sideways energy at that point, where we’re like, ah, should we do it this time? Let’s just keep on top of it, time in, time out, and you’d be amazed, actually, how much you can you know, you can give to it.
Rich Birch: [00:19:56] I’ll give you an example. One of the areas, earlier, I’d said there are two areas that I think, particularly, post-pandemic, or whatever we’re in mid-Pandemic, I don’t know what season we’re in, who knows where we are. You know, the other area that I touch on, kind of as a fifth piece, is this whole idea of internal communication. And, you know, one of the things it really comes out of talking with leaders from fast-growing churches, and most of this book is about the front door, right? It’s really about how do we create, you know, bigger front doors? And I’m like unabashedly a front door guy, I’m happy to talk about that all day long, I’m super interested in those things. But there is a false dichotomy in the leader’s minds, who lead the fastest growing churches, where they see the front door and the back door are very closely connected. There’s not like, well, we’re just all about the back door, we’re just all about, you know, assimilation, we’re just all about guests. They would say, no, we’re about both of those things, we’re hoping that there’s a bunch of people coming in through the front door that are new, and at the same time, we’re hoping that people will get connected. So the other area that I do think that we have to spend time on, and it gets back to this repeating thing, is, and this is just purely intuitive in talking with a lot of leaders…I keep hearing stuff like this, hey, you know, Rich, pre-pandemic, we used to do a monthly class for new people, and you know, we would have people sign up for that new people class. And you know what, eight out of ten people who signed up for that class would actually show up to that class, but now it’s like six out of ten show up. And, you know, this is funnel math, that at every one of those steps, if you lose people out of your funnel, man, you become way and way less effective through the whole thing.
Rich Birch: [00:21:39] And I do think in this season, another area that we’ve been coaching people on, is we’ve got to think more about how we get more aggressive on actually connecting with people in a deep way as they walk through our processes from I’m a first-time guest, to like I come to whatever that class is, and ultimately end up in teams and groups. Whatever we used to do pre-pandemic is not cutting it from an aggressiveness on our side, not from an intentionality on our side, we’ve got to do more to keep in front of them. There has been a shift in people’s social expectations, or maybe it’s a shift in their ability to kind of throw off social norms, and they’re like, ah, whatever, I’m not really interested anyway. And so we’ve got to get more aggressive around how, at each one of those steps through that, and that’s what this internal communication thing really talks about, it’s really about guest assimilation, it’s how do we move people through that kind of funnel. The thing I would say post-pandemic that has changed is we’ve got to stay on top of that, how does that connect to the rhythm thing, is oftentimes we look at, I think as church leaders, we are excited by big rooms filled with lots of people. But actually, assimilation is about how do we help people one step at a time, almost, it’s like a hand-to-hand combat sort of way. What are we doing to get in front of them and provide traction in a way that is maybe more aggressive on our side? Like, maybe it actually costs us more from a time, effort, energy, you know, passion, point of view, to connect with folks now than it did before. But we’ve got to do it week in, week out, because, you know what? If we can connect even in a, you know, a reasonable sized church, if you could connect with eight guests a week, five guests a week, two guests, whatever the number is, man, you do that over two or three years, you’re going to see real impact, you’re going to see a real connection with folks. So we can dig more into that, but I do think that in this season particularly…
Rich Birch: [00:23:35] And like, I’ll give you another example, there was a church I was talking to six weeks ago. They called me up and they said, Hey, Rich, we’re a little embarrassed by this, but we’ve been focusing on the fact that our return attendance is like, it’s lower than it was. And like they heard me say that thing about, it’s not about rebuilding, it’s about building. And they’re like, we’re a little bit ashamed of this, we keep focusing on the number, the metric, we keep using, is what percentage of our people are here that were in 2019. And then we got looking, and we realized we’ve had 1200 first-time guests come to our church in the last four months, and we’re like, where are all those people? Our system that we were using before is not capturing those, and frankly, we’re a little bit embarrassed because if we would have just kept any reasonable number of those, man, we would be growing gangbusters and influencing all new people. And so we got talking about this, and I’m like, yeah, I think this is the thing, we can’t just take our old systems from a couple of years ago on this front, we’ve got to spend more time, effort, energy on the connection side of it. How do we actually get them plugged into the assimilation funnels or whatever we call it, process, pathway, whatever that looks like to get them more plugged in, and it’s on a week in, week out basis? It’s not, which is frankly just not that sexy, it’s like, we’ve got to do it every week, we’ve got to get on top of it, we’ve got to crank on it every week, connect with first time guests, send them whatever we need to send them. You know, there’s a certain amount of it that can be automated, but frankly, there’s some of it’s not automated. It’s like some that you’ve got to actually have somebody who’s thinking about it, and wakes up on Monday and thinks, what are we doing to get guests who are here yesterday connected, more of them connected next week. I don’t know if that’s helpful.
Jason Hamrock: [00:25:06] Yeah, it is. Okay, so it sounds like you need to write a book called Church Growth Flywheel 2023 or something like that.
Bart Blair: [00:25:14] Just 2.0.
Jason Hamrock: [00:25:15] 2.0. But between now and then, yeah, a lot of communication directors listen to this podcast and they’re going, Rich. you’re speaking my language, keep preaching brother. What would you say to the, because you’ve sat in the ExP position. Like you were an ExP, how does a communication director go to their boss, if that’s their boss, and say, this is stuff we need to be thinking about? Like what kind of encouragement or advice would you give to them to move the needle?
Rich Birch: [00:25:46] Yeah, so I think, so the broad advice I always give to young leaders when they say, how do I lead my leader? Is you have to find out what’s important to them, and then you’ve got to connect the dots between whatever you’re interested in, how that actually helps their thing. So people are, and this is, we talked about this earlier, people are inherently selfish. I, and that’s not a value statement, that’s just true, like we are oriented towards that. And I’m not saying that your executive pastor is a selfish person, that’s just who they are, that’s just how we’re wired. And so I would say you’ve got to learn and understand what is it that’s important to them. You may not understand what’s important to them, so I would say the first thing would be to go and listen to them and say like, hey, what is really important to the church and this coming year? I would love it if a coms came to me and said, what can I do to use coms to help the church be better? What is it that’s kind of our overarching goals, what is that? And then, you know, what if they just sat and listened for half an hour or forty-five minutes, man, you’d be amazed at what you can learn.
Rich Birch: [00:26:51] Now, I think specifically in this area, we think too, and hopefully, this is okay. Hopefully, I might be stepping on toes, you may not want to use this. I think in church com’s, we get way too sexy on like shiny object syndrome. And I love what you guys do, and I think everyone should call them up and like, use them as a vendor, and like, you should buy everything they sell. But frankly, a lot of what I say to church leaders is like, don’t think about Facebook ads, don’t think about SEO, do you know why? Because you’re not handing out invite cards to people who are in your church today. It’s like, I literally just said this to a campus pastor who’s like, I don’t know, getting people to return. I’m like, you have everyone’s mailing address of everyone who’s attended your church in the last three years, instead of trying to come up with some fancy Facebook ad, what if you sent a piece of lumpy mail to their house? Like, what if you motivated people to like, there’s that great person in your church that makes incredible cookies? What if you went to them and said, what we’re going to do is we’re going to, I want you to make 15 dozen cookies every single week, and we’re going to find people in the church who are going to go and deliver those dozens of cookies every week for the next ten weeks, that’s 150 families that we’re going to, you know, to do that for, I can almost guarantee you that’s going to get a better return than, not what you guys do, but if I was to try to do some sort of Facebook ads on my own, it’s like you get attracted to sexy stuff.
Bart Blair: [00:28:22] Yeah, so I just want to clarify one thing, and Jason does this, and I do this, every single time we sit down with the church and we start entertaining the prospect of them spending their money on digital ads, digital marketing, SEO, and some churches have lots and lots of money that they can spend in these areas. The first thing that we remind them, is that you can spend all of this money, but the most important, or the most effective, marketing tool that you have in your church sits in the chairs every Sunday morning. The people in your church, you have got to leverage the people that God has brought to be a part of your church, the people who know your church, the people who love your church, and the people who know the people in your community, who need to know your church because they need to know Jesus, you’ve got to make that a priority. So I have heard, I listen to your podcast a lot and I’ve heard you talk disparagingly at times about Facebook ads and the shiny object syndrome, but we’re with you 100% on that. Like, I see pastors and church leaders trying to find the silver bullet all the time, and in reality, the silver bullet is within the context of the relationships that they already have, it’s the people, it’s mobilizing people to do the work of the ministry.
Jason Hamrock: [00:29:42] Yeah.
Rich Birch: [00:29:42] Yeah, and like on that, to that executive pastor question. I think, like I think, to be honest, that church coms people might position themselves, or they feel like they’re kind of worthy to the organization, by being like the latest, like, I’ve got the latest tricks that I can give you around. So like if you want to talk about TikTok, I’m good on TikTok, and if you want to talk about whatever, I can tell you how to do that. And I would say, I actually think most executive pastors, that’s not the space they live in. They are, in fact, they might even be suspicious of that. They might be like, I don’t know, like do we really need to do that? As opposed to saying like, hey, again, I think it gets back to what’s actually important to you, and say, let’s understand the goals of the church, and then how do we bring all these tools to bear on those people? I also do think there’s an insidious thing, which, again, you may not use this, but that’s fine. I think there’s an insidious part of it where we think that if I can sit behind a computer, make decisions, and somehow that will translate to people arriving at our church. Where actually that can support, and I do think, and this is where I think what you guys do is brilliant, I think for a church that actually is cultivating and inevitable culture, that they are actually cultivating the kind of place where people who don’t normally attend church will come, then, man, that is like, what you guys do, it is like gas on a fire. It’s like, wow, there’s something great already happening, that’s the fire, and then you guys come along and pour gas on it, and man, it’s amazing. But if there’s not already that fire burning there, it’s you’re just pouring gas over the ground, it’s just going to stink, it’s not really actually that interesting.
Jason Hamrock: [00:31:21] Oh, sure. Yeah. First of all, if you show up at my house with a cookie, yeah, I’ll go anywhere if it’s a really good baked cookie. The second best would be a postcard, like some kind of a card, right?
Rich Birch: [00:31:34] Yes. Yes.
Jason Hamrock: [00:31:34] And then I see something in the mail, and then I see stuff on social media, which I don’t really do social media, but, you know. Yeah, now you are really utilizing marketing to its fullest extent. But as Bart said, your own people are your best engine you’ve got. Quit forgetting about them, right, stop that.
Rich Birch: [00:31:53] Totally. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I do think, again, the cookie example might be an extreme one, but it’s the how do we leverage our existing contacts? Because we all know that the gym in town, like actually, interestingly, is trying to do a very similar thing. They’re like, we’re trying to get people to show up and like do something that’s about improvement, it’s about kind of making yourself better, but it’s kind of a hassle, which spiritual development absolutely is, and it challenges me to live in a way that I’m not living today, I would rather eat McDonald’s than to eat the right food. Like there’s a lot of interesting connections between those two, but the gym, they’re going to like, do, you know, some sort of distant stuff that is trying to reach me. But we’ve got a whole bunch of people who have been changed, even if you’re a church of 100 people, you know, you’ve got a whole bunch, that’s huge…Do you know what a gym in town would pay to say, I’ve got 100 people who are willing to talk about the gym this week while they go home. They would be like, I cannot, that’s like worth gold to me, I don’t know how to, what do I do for that? I would love to make that happen. And so I agree, we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of all those things for sure.
Jason Hamrock: [00:33:07] Yeah. Wow.
Bart Blair: [00:33:08] Okay. The danger of a podcast with three guys who have zero passion about the local church, and zero passion about connecting people to Jesus, is that we can talk forever and probably never land the plane. So, I’m obviously being very sarcastic.
Rich Birch: [00:33:25] Yes.
Bart Blair: [00:33:25] We should land the plane out of respect for your time, and also to just make sure that this is a sizable podcast that people can actually digest and process. We’ve talked about a lot of different things. I want to just land with one final question here, Rich, as we wrap things up, and that is, you have a lot of opportunities to have a lot of conversations with a lot of different churches, both on your podcast, as well as a lot of the coaching and the consulting work that you do, and you’re just a friend of many, many churches, and many church leaders. As kind of a parting shot, what are the things that you’re seeing these days in the local church, churches that are actually beginning to figure out how to do ministry in this really rapidly changing culture, what are some things that you’re seeing that really encourage you and some things that give you hope?
Rich Birch: [00:34:15] That’s a great question. You know, I would say that one of the things that, it’s going to sound like apple pie, like it’s like back to just the normal stuff, but I really don’t think that there is any replacement for a clear vision from the leadership of the church about why we even exist. That our church is, the local church, and this is a part of why I love the church, the local church is the only organization in the world that exists for people who aren’t here today. Like our whole mission, the reason why God doesn’t just suck us up to heaven, we become a Christ-follower, and then we just vanish like that. He could have made it that way, right? He could have been like, you know, well, yeah, if you want to escape, you know, you do this and then you just go back to heaven. The reason why we’re still here is because he wants to use us, he wants to use the people in our churches, to make a tangible difference in the communities that they’re in. And that is, to me, that’s still, it’s like, that’s such a profound idea to me. Like, how do we motivate our people to love the communities we’re in? And so I think the thing that I would say to church leaders in this season particularly is how do we re-fall in love with that vision? How do we re-fall in love with what God’s called us to do? How do we re-fall in love with the communities God’s put us in?
Rich Birch: [00:35:36] You know, there’s some story about why your church exists in the community that you’re in. And I would go back and try to archeologically mine that out and say, well, why is it that God got our church going? What is it about this town, this community, this county, that he’s placed us here? And what is unique about us? What has he called us uniquely to do? Who are the people he’s called us uniquely to reach? Because I really do think that if that’s clear in people’s minds, the rest of it just becomes details, the rest becomes how do we work this thing out. And it really is an unstoppable force at that point if a group of people who are motivated by a mission to reach their community can make such a huge difference day in, day out. You know, I would say that’s always been true in the local church, I think it’s doubly true now. I think people are asking in this season, what difference does that place make? What difference does that community make? Should it make any difference?
Rich Birch: [00:36:36] You know, years ago had a friend of mine, I was asking him this question. I said, you know, what would be your kind of, your biggest vision for the church? And he said something that I was like, wow, that really stuck with me. He said, imagine if when we opened a new campus, like a new location in that community if the value of the homes in that community went up because there actually was a tangible difference, people knew that when our church opens in that community, or when we open a new campus in that community, that actually the value of that community went up, the actual people were like, I want to be in that kind of community. And I was like, dude, that is a massive vision for what it would mean to be the kind of church we want to be. But you know what? That’s always stuck with me, that is the kind of thing that we should be thinking about. What difference can we make? What’s God called us to? What’s the mission that we’re called to be on? And how do we make the places we live in better? And how do we double down on that, and focus our team and people on that more in this age, I think would be a great starting point.
Jason Hamrock: [00:37:39] That’d be cool. I’ve never had a conversation with a church where it was like, hey, we’re going to plant a campus because we want the community value to go up.
Bart Blair: [00:37:46] Yes, I might have just set a new goal for myself.
Jason Hamrock: [00:37:49] Here we go.
Bart Blair: [00:37:50] That’s fantastic. Rich, thanks so much for sharing that, and thanks for sharing your time, we eally appreciate you taking the time to hang out with us. I know that you probably get a lot of requests for a lot of podcasts and have an opportunity to say no, probably more than you say yes, so we appreciate you saying yes to us. As just kind of a wrap up here, if any of our listeners or viewers would like to connect with you, they’d like more information about what you do and how you do it, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
Rich Birch: [00:38:19] Well, I appreciate you guys, I love what you do. I really do think that, you know, more leaders should lean in and, you know, avail themselves of your your services, everything you guys provide is so great. But yeah, if you want to learn more about us, you can just go to unSeminary.com just like it sounds. And we’ve got blogs, and another podcast, and courses and all that, but I’d love to connect. But yeah, cheering for you guys. I love what you do, I love your heart of trying to help church leaders for sure.