Strategies To Expand Your Church’s Online Reach | Justin Dean

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Justin shares strategies for the local church and wisdom from his past experiences to expand our online reach.

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Bart Blair: [00:00:01] Well, hey, welcome to season two, episode two, of the Church Growth Interviews Podcast. I’m Bart Blair, joined by Jason Hamrock, we are part of the Missional Marketing team working with churches all over the United States, and Canada, and Australia. We have a church, we have one church in Australia? How many churches do we have in Australia?

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:19] Yeah, is it really a job when you just love what you do?

Bart Blair: [00:00:25] It’s a job, but I just love the fact that we get to love our job because not everyone gets to love their job.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:31] Yeah, we wake up every morning and we get to talk with churches, and it’s so much fun. we get to learn a lot of what’s going on in the world, the church world, and be able to carry that through to other churches, and just share experiences. And that’s such a great gift from God to us, and so we love to share that with you.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:48] And today you’re in for a treat because we’ve got a guy named Justin Dean. Justin’s on our podcast today, I’m super excited about Justin’s story. So you’re going to recognize Justin when I say That Church Conference. Does anybody recognize That Church Conference? That’s Justin Deans’ baby he created that, started that, he shares where that’s going, some big plans for That Church Conference. But there’s another piece of his background you need to know about, Justin was the Director of Communications at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. And if you know the Mars Hill story went through a little bit of transition a number of years ago, and Justin was in the thick of it, and he was there front and center stage, and he had to help navigate through that whole season, and so he shares some experiences about his time at Mars Hill.

Bart Blair: [00:01:37] Yeah, one of the things that Justin has done for the local church, is he’s written a book called The Church PR Plan, PR, meaning public relations. Justin found himself in a situation where he was dealing with some public relations issues that no church communications leader would ever imagine that they would be facing. And so he’s navigated those things, he’s provided some insight. This is another one of those little, I just put this as a notch on my belt. I set a goal last year to see how many guests we could get on our podcast, who have also been on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast. And Justin is another one of those. So we’re up to like four or five now, I think, and we’ve got a few more on the docket of people who have been on Carey Nieuwhof. Maybe one day will be as big as Carey Nieuwhof.

Jason Hamrock: [00:02:21] Well, Carey, we would love to have you on the podcast, let’s just say that. I’d love to have Carey on the podcast, he’s a great guy. I actually met him one time in Orlando, a great guy, and I’d love to have him on the podcast.

Bart Blair: [00:02:29] Yeah, I’ve driven through Ontario where he lives, because I lived in Ontario for about 12 years, but that’s the only connection I have with Carey Nieuwhof. Anyway, hey, thank you for tuning into our podcast. This is, like I said, the second season. We did fifty episodes in season one, and this is the second episode of season two. I don’t know how many episodes we’re going to do this season, but we’re getting things going. And if you haven’t subscribed on the platform that you listen to, or subscribed on our YouTube channel, we hope that you’ll do that. You’ll subscribe, you won’t miss a single episode, and if you’ll leave us a rating and review that’ll really help more people find our podcast. If there’s anything that we can do to serve you or serve your church, make sure that you reach out to us. And in the meantime, here’s our interview with Justin Dean.

Bart Blair: [00:00:07] Hey, Justin Dean, thanks so much for hanging out with Jason and me today. We’re really excited to get to know you.

Justin Dean: [00:00:12] Yeah. Hey, guys, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Bart Blair: [00:00:15] Well, this is that Justin Dean, that is your URL on your website, isn’t it?

Justin Dean: [00:00:22] It is, ThatJustinDean.com

Bart Blair: [00:00:23] ThatJustinDean.com of That Church Conference. And Justin…

Justin Dean: [00:00:28] I like to keep it simple with the naming, you know.

Bart Blair: [00:00:31] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:32] It’s clear and concise.

Bart Blair: [00:00:32] You know, I have to tell you, I was actually thinking about you the other day because I knew we were having this conversation coming up today. And I was watching Shark Tank, and there was a woman that has this insect repellent thing, and the name of her device is called That Bug Thing. And I said, hey, that’s kind of like That Justin Dean guy, That Bug Thing.

Justin Dean: [00:00:51] I’m going to send her a cease and desist right now.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:54] Right away.

Bart Blair: [00:00:58] Very good. Well, Justin, thanks again for hanging out with us. Why don’t you start just by telling your story? Tell us how you got into ministry, and kind of how your journey has led you up to what you’re doing today.

Justin Dean: [00:01:08] Yeah, sure, that sounds good. I have a background in marketing, advertising, I kind of worked for a handful of tech startups, and companies that I’ve started, and started with friends. And that kind of led me to a point where I was offered a job for a company that was for sale. They were trying to sell the company, it was a private cable company, and they gave us an offer to say, hey, can you come to Seattle for six months, help us sell the company? I ran marketing for them and helped them get a lot more subscribers during the sale. And so, you know, at the time we were married I think only a year or two, we were having our first kid. I just told my wife, I was like, hey, do you want to go on a little adventure to Seattle, and make a little money, and have some fun? And she was like, heck, yeah, let’s go. So they sent us out there, helped sell the company. And then we just fell in love with the area, like we were going to a great church in Atlanta where we were living, but when we got to Seattle, we started going to Mars Hill Church. We really started getting plugged in there, and just loved the area, Seattle is beautiful.

Justin Dean: [00:02:23] And so when that company sold, we decided let’s stick it out here and see what’s next. I was applying for jobs at like Expedia, Microsoft, and all the big tech companies out there. And one thing led to another, our lead pastor, who was at the campus that we went to at Mars Hill, said, hey, we could use a guy with like your corporate marketing experience for the church. like that would be amazing, you should apply, we need a marketing manager. And so I kind of went through that process, God really humbled me to go into ministry and kind of leave, you know, what we were doing, and the money we were making, and all that. And we just kind of took a leap of faith and made it work, and ended up running communications for Mars Hill Church and Mars Hill School. Everything that we were doing out there for about five years until, you know, unfortunately, the church closed. If that’s surprising to anybody, they can go Google it.

Justin Dean: [00:03:22] It’s been six years now, I feel like I’m just now getting introduced to people that are like Mars Hill, what, I’ve never even heard of them. I’m like, OK, it’s time to move on. So that’s kind of how I got into ministry, when that closed, I ended up starting a conference called That Church Conference, and I’ve been running that for six years now. And we actually just announced that the conference has been acquired by Tithe.ly, which is a church technology company. And I began working for them as their Director of Marketing, and I still get to run the conference, like we’re coming back in person with that soon. And some really exciting kind of stuff I’m working on now, just building church tech tools, and still running the conference, and staying a part of that community. So I just love, love what I’m doing right now.

Jason Hamrock: [00:04:17] Wow. So you have, what a great story, that’s so cool. And congratulations on that, because, you know, we’ve tuned into That Church Conference. And to see that kind of grow and explode is, you know, thank you, God, for that. So a lot of the work you do is, you know, for communication directors, church communication directors. You know, I’m a former one, you’re a former communications director. So, tell me about some of the things that you’re dealing with these days as you’re working with church communications. What are some of the hurdles, some of the pain points, and what have you seen like changing over the last 18 months?

Justin Dean: [00:04:57] Yeah, I mean, you know, especially coming through Covid and everything we’ve seen with that, I mean, churches obviously have had to embrace live streaming, online giving. Churches that didn’t have a great website before were like, we need a good website, we need a social media presence. And so that’s really accelerated a lot of these kinds of digital discussions, and how do we reach people when we can’t meet in our building type of thing? And now we’re seeing, okay, you know, everyone, for the most part, is back to meeting in person, but they saw other value in what they were doing online, so now they’re struggling with how do we do both? We’ve still only got, you know, four people on staff and no money, so, you know, how do we actually do both? And when you’re online, it opens up a whole nother spectrum of issues. It’s like, OK, now we’ve got followers and people who watch us who don’t even live near the community that we serve. Like, do we have a responsibility to steward those relationships and disciple them, or… You know, it’s all just comes down to your strategy, and mission, and vision.

Justin Dean: [00:06:03] And so, I mean, that’s a lot of the discussions that we’re having with churches now, I mean, through the conference, and the community we’re part of, the resources we put online through Sunday U and whatnot. It all comes down to how do we navigate those waters of what should we be doing? What what’s going to work? What’s going to have the most impact for the church? And we’re seeing churches do both, some are like, hey, we’re just ditch and everything we did online and we’re going to focus on our services and our local community, and I think probably the majority of churches are just trying to figure out how to do both well because they feel like they can’t kill what they were doing online. And so we’re just walking them through that, and it’s going to be different per church, honestly.

Jason Hamrock: [00:06:50] Yeah, I’ve experienced just that. They had to go into the online thing, had to, they didn’t have a choice.

Justin Dean: [00:06:58] Right.

Jason Hamrock: [00:06:59] But now that they’re coming back and, you know, they’re back in person for the most part, although who knows where that’s going to go. It’s kind of like, the question I always get is, you know, where do we put our resources? Because if we put them in both, we’re kind of watering down both. So any ideas or any advice you’d give us? You know, what kind of advice do you give a church if they ask that kind of question?

Justin Dean: [00:07:25] Well, like, it can’t be one or the other, right? Like you can’t shut down your in-person services and go strictly online. Well, I mean, I do know one church is actually kind of doing that, which is funny. It’s like, OK, I don’t know. You know, everyone’s got their own vision, and so you go for it. But I think for the majority of churches think, no, that’s just not an option, like, you know, in-person services, gathering in person with our local community, however that looks is kind of the key core product that they offer, right? The advice I give is that, hey, you saw the value of what you did online, it comes down to what are the goals you have, what are the strategies you have in place. I wish churches would have the budget discussion more because I still see the kind of same excuses of we don’t have the money to do this. Like we saw, you know, online giving actually went up or plateaued for ninety-nine percent of churches through Covid. It’s like so that the money is still there, except you’ve saved a ton on, you know, having to do Sunday services like we used to do them, you’ve saved on facilities and stuff like that, nobody’s going on global missions right now.

Justin Dean: [00:08:50] I know a church that has like a two million dollar global missions budget, they haven’t sent anybody in 18 months now, but they’re still dumping money into that and they’re still planning as soon as we can, we’re going to start sending people back to Africa on these little trips. It’s like, OK, I get that, I understand the emphasis on that, I’m totally on board with that. But you cannot tell me that you’ve got a two million dollar global missions budget, but you can’t spend ten grand over here for, you know, online services, online engagement, social media, things like that. You’ve got to just look at the priorities, because I think no matter what you can do it, it doesn’t have to be fancy, beautifully produced stuff.

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:34] Right.

Justin Dean: [00:09:35] You know, our biggest suggestion through Covid was, yeah, you got to figure out how to get online. That doesn’t mean you got to go hire a production company and all these cameras, like take out your phone and pointed at your face. You know, we saw churches when they were live streaming for the first time, or first time fully, the pastor would drive on down to the empty church, turn the lights on, stand on the stage, and film themselves in front of an empty room. And that lasted a few weeks before people were like, this is weird, like, we don’t want to stare at an empty room, like, we understand what’s going on. And then you saw pastors, OK, I can stay at home, I can sit on my couch just like you are and be a little more personal, and I can talk directly to the camera and know that a hundred percent of the people watching are online, and they kind of adapted to that. And I think that’s just what we’ve got to continue to look at, what’s that strategy going forward, and how to make that work? It doesn’t have to be an expensive…

Jason Hamrock: [00:10:33] Yeah, and I think it’s also a matter of understanding who your audience is, who you’re trying to reach, and what do they prefer? I was just working with a church that’s in a really wealthy part of town, but there are older. And so, you know, connecting with younger families, there are no younger families for the most part. But the reality is, though, that sixty percent of the people that live in that community are unchurched, don’t have faith. That’s where you can reach people, right, you don’t have to get super creative, just understand who your target audience is and go for it.

Bart Blair: [00:11:05] I think that’s a really important point that you’re making there, Jason. I think when churches, you know, 14-15 months ago, that had never had an online presence were pivoting to have some sort of online engagement, their primary focus was how do we do church for our people online? And now we’ve reached a point where any church that’s talking about, you know, kind of maybe pulling back on what they’re doing online, or even killing it all together, are completely missing out on the opportunity to repurpose their online experience for the people that they haven’t yet reached. And so, you know, when I hear about a church that has an international missions budget that they’re unable to use, my first inclination is can we use some of that for local missions, and can we actually try to actually do local missions online? You know, I was actually looking at some analytics for a church that we work with this morning, and, you know, they’re kind of asking questions about website engagement and what’s happening. And the number one driver of traffic to their website through the Google Ad Grant, which is something that we manage for them, is people Googling church online and church live streams. And so even though we’re 16-17 months into this, many, many churches, most churches, I would say, probably have some in-person gathering happening, there are still people Googling every single day, church online or church livestream. And so it’s kind of you know, we’ve had to help churches make this pivot from seeing their website as solely something as a communication tool for their own people, to now saying, hey, your livestream isn’t just for your own people, it’s actually a great opportunity for you to reach people that don’t yet know you.

Justin Dean: [00:12:57] Well, and honestly, that’s a great point I made about using it locally, but you can even still stay on the same strategy and mission to use it globally. My friend Steve Bog, who is from Australia, I think he’s in the U.K. now somewhere, but, you know, he’s an online pastor for a church. And they have a global mission to reach far and wide, and they have a ton of people, you know, hundreds of thousands of people who watch their live stream every week from all over the world. And they have this strategy of, OK, we are going to try and reach literally every nation, and he’s very strategic with the way they target that through Facebook Ads to different countries, they look at pockets of the world and they say, OK, this little pocket in Africa, we want to reach it. And it’s interesting, like, I’ve actually been to Uganda and the villages that we visited, you know, none of them have shoes, their houses are kind of just put together with whatever materials they could have, they walk forever to get water and food. But nearly everybody, like even the kids, had iPhones. You know, somehow they prioritized getting iPhones, they have, you know, chip cards that they pay for the service, or they get donated from different companies, and they’re all connected, they all use WhatsApp, like, I still am in contact with people who live there through the WhatsApp App. But like you can literally target this is a village that has really no Internet access, they barely have homes or shoes, but they’re watching live streams and we can target that. And honestly, for a hundred dollars, you could target that through Facebook Ads, it’s just not even like it’s that expensive. So the tools are there to reach the world, we don’t have to physically send a team of 10 people and spend 100 grand to go and do that for a week. We could do it every day, all throughout the year, and it really doesn’t cost that much money.

Jason Hamrock: [00:15:02] Yeah. Ok, so I want to turn the corner a little bit here. So you have, you wrote a book, you’ve got a lot of experience as a communication director, you’ve got this amazing conference. Between you and me, I think we know the answer to this, but I’m really curious to hear what you have to say about it. But a lot of the people that listen to this podcast are in church communications. Either, you know, they’re the director or they do some kind of, you know, social media, or marketing, or they build web, or whatever they do for their church. What would you say are some of the key skill sets that you need to possess that every church communication person should be developing, especially these days?

Justin Dean: [00:15:45] Right. Yeah. I mean, you know, you guys know this well with what you do, but I think in general, a church communications person, they really need to be marketing professionals. It’s more than just updating the bulletin, or helping distribute the sermon each week, it’s content creation, it’s content marketing and social media, public relations, crisis management definitely comes into it, you don’t want to put that on the back burner, been there, advertising, promotion, like you’ve got to dabble in all of that at the very least. And churches are just, they’re so far behind on this stuff still, it’s definitely come a long way. But, you know, churches, pastors, are one of the best content creators out there, we’ve got weekly sermon content, we’ve got recurring events almost every week and season, you’ve got ministries, you got classes. It’s all consistent, it’s all weekly, but hardly anyone is using that content to reach more people, it’s all about Sunday morning. And it’s like, man, we have all this content that we’re already producing, what can we do with that? How can we create lead magnets out of that? How can we optimize it for content marketing, and SEO, and pick up those searches, and use the Google Grant to accelerate that. There’s just so much opportunity, and churches just really aren’t focusing their people and resources on this like a business would, and they’re so afraid of even being looked at as a business, that they’re scared to jump into it. But I think they could really, really have some big wins if their communications people were empowered, and equipped, and educated, to just really be, you know, a full-on marketing director, like communications in my mind, should almost fall under marketing.

Jason Hamrock: [00:17:41] Absolutely. Yeah, I would agree with you. In fact, you went there with my next question, which was really, how does an executive team kind of support that? Well, you support it through, first of all, budget. We’ve already talked about that, I mean, you can’t do this without any money, you have to invest money. But resources like, you know, people, like technology, vendors, you know, it’s not like you have to hire a whole huge staff. There are so many people out there, like you and I, that we do this for a living. And so, you know, a little bit of a budget would go a long way when you hire an expert who can go deep with you on that, so I think those are other important aspects.

Justin Dean: [00:18:18] Yeah. I mean, you can’t so often, too often, we see, you know, OK, who’s in charge of your website? Oh, the worship pastor, you know, he doesn’t really do much, he’s got some extra time throughout the week, he manages the website because he’s twenty-five and that makes sense.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:38] He should know this.

Justin Dean: [00:18:39] Or, you know, the admin, or the secretary, or whoever is in charge of the bulletin and the messaging and updating things. And it’s like, OK, I get it, at some point you’ve got to just have people do the work, I get it. But you can’t, like that can’t be a bigger picture thing, like you need a communications person, you need a marketing person, you need to have somebody owning this stuff and making use of it. Because there’s honestly just way too much opportunity that the church is just leaving on the table.

Bart Blair: [00:19:16] Yeah, I think a lot of church communications people, or even if they’re just the part-time communications person, they’re not even really sure where to look for resources and for help. And, you know, we’re big fans of Katie Allred, and Kenny Jahng, and The Church Communications team, and Greg Atkinson’s groups on, you know, social media. And there’s a lot of inside the church resources, and even the stuff that you do is great for inside the church. But I’ll be honest with you, everything I know about marketing, I learned on HubSpot, you know, I’m a HubSpot, YouTube guy. Like, I need to learn something, if it’s not a free tutorial or lesson on HubSpot, I go to YouTube. And then I’m just taking what I’m learning there, and trying to apply it in the context of the local church. You know, you talked about, you know, lead generators, and repurposing content, and that’s something that I’ve been kind of preaching at churches here for the last couple of years and going, you know, personal data, that email address, is far more valuable then you know. Your email list is the most important tool that you have that you’re not effectively using, what kinds of things can we learn about what’s happening in the non-church marketing world that we can leverage to initiate and build relationships with people for the Kingdom? And I just think there’s just a world of resources out there that churches can and should tap into.

Justin Dean: [00:20:34] Yeah. I mean, you know, you put out, they’ve discovered, OK, we need to be online, we need to be advertising. But then it all comes down to, you know, come to church on Sunday, that’s the message they keep putting out, or come to this next event. And I think what would be more effective is, OK, spend some resources and time to build like a lead magnet Ebook of, you know, I don’t know the seven fun things to do in X City, whatever city you’re in. Like how easy would it be to put that together? Or you know, the top 10 restaurants in X City or whatever, have that as a download, run a Facebook Ad for 50 bucks where people can download that, and they’ve got to put in their email to get it. Now you’ve got their email address, you can start sending them different content, a weekly newsletter, or something like that. You know, it all can be very subtle, just, you know, brought to you by, put together by, Hope Baptist Church or whatever. Like, I don’t know, like that’s one example, there’s so much you can do along those lines of let’s try to bring value to the community through the content that we put out. Don’t just post your hour-long sermons, break it up into a clip on different topics, and put that out. And just provide value, try to capture those emails, and then just start continuing the conversation with people. And they’re going to keep consuming your content, they’re going to come to church, you know, you may end up helping them find another church near them, and I think that’s fine, it’s like isn’t that kind of the broader vision anyway?

Jason Hamrock: [00:22:10] We’re all on the same team.

Justin Dean: [00:22:12] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:22:13] Yeah, and I think it’s, I always kind of paint the picture of if you got this bull’s eye, you know, on the target. Yeah, we want to hit the bull’s eye because a bull’s eye might be that they’ve accepted Jesus, they’re following him, and they’re doing it at your church. Like they’re bought in, you know, they are being a disciple and all that. Yeah, but you can’t expect that to be that every single time. Sometimes they’re way out on the fray, on the outside edges, because they’ve got a problem with their marriage or something. And if you could just speak into and help them, hey, awesome. Of course, you want to try to lead them closer and closer and closer, but I think so many churches think just get to the bull’s-eye.

Justin Dean: [00:22:49] Well, and it’s because we’re measuring the wrong things, and we’re being asked to measure the wrong things. So the lead pastor is saying, you know, hey, there’s only a hundred people on Sundays, nobody’s coming back after Covid, like everything’s a failure. We need to kick up, you know, communications and marketing, get more people here on Sunday. And it’s like, OK, that’s a goal, sure, that’s something that is important, I understand that. But what if I give you a report every week, pretend yearly pastor, I’m the communications guy. I’m giving you a report every week, OK, yeah, we had one hundred people there on Sunday, that’s not great, we used to have five hundred. But look at these next metrics, you know, because of what we’re doing online, forty-seven people declared that they got saved. Two people were talking about their marriage problems, and we were able to connect them with the counselor. This guy Facebook messaged us and was about to commit suicide, but we were able to talk to him and a pastor went out and had coffee with him. Like if you got a report like that as a lead pastor, you be like, oh, my gosh, we’re doing amazing, God is moving, great things are happening through this church, who cares if we only have a hundred people on Sunday? You would begin to see, OK, maybe we should just dump everything into online and put more resources behind that, because that’s where we’re seeing the proof. The problem is nobody’s creating reports like that, nobody’s measuring that stuff, nobody’s being equipped or authorized to even, you know, create reports like that. And I think that that’s where we’re really, really missing out on a ton of opportunity.

Bart Blair: [00:24:20] Oh, I think there’s some generational challenge there as well. And I’ll say, I’m fifty-one, I’m not a digital native, I’m a former pastor, and I will tell you, and prior to going into ministry, I was in the performing arts, so I was a musician and an actor. And so there is something, I did some video works, and television and film type stuff early in my professional career, I never loved that as much as I love being on stage in front of people. And that translated to years later, being a worship leader, and eventually, a senior pastor, and preaching in front of a crowd is a completely different experience than preaching to a camera. And I watching now, and I’m seeing younger pastors embrace YouTube, and embrace, the whole video piece at a much greater level than those of us who are a little, you know, a little older. And so I see that there are some generational things there that we’re still kind of pushing up against in trying to help churches with an older executive team, and when I say older, they could be in their late forties and fifties like me, they’re not necessarily old. I don’t think I’m old, if I’m old, Jason’s old. So, you know, I don’t consider myself an old guy, but generationally, you know, when I’m working with church planters that are twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, years old, and they are digital natives, they don’t remember not having a cell phone, it’s a completely different ball of wax.

Justin Dean: [00:25:51] Yeah. No, that’s a really great point, I think you’re right on, and we’ve got to navigate those types of things. But you know, that’s where we really need, you know, guys like me and you guys, need to really drive that home with the senior leader, you know, the older crowd that’s kind of still doing things the way we always have. You know, a lot of what we do is just trying to turn that conversation around and show the value of what can be done. And it comes down to literally creating reports like that, show the data, like if you show a lead pastor something like that, when it comes down to it that’s all they care about. And you’ve got to dig in and think, why do they care so much about filling the seats on Sunday? It’s because they want to see lives transformed, they want to see people come to Christ, they want to see people get baptized, they have an emphasis on the sacraments, and that’s very important, we understand that biblically. So how does everything that I wanted to do digitally, how can that support that instead of, you know, butt up against it? And just working with them in that way, but showing the data to show, hey, this is what we can actually do, and then go on from there. And if it comes down to, nope, we don’t want to do any of that, I don’t care that forty-seven people got saved online, we want them to get saved in our church. Then it’s a different conversation, I might find a church with a different leader.

Jason Hamrock: [00:27:14] You might be looking for a new job.

Justin Dean: [00:27:16] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:27:18] So let’s go back to Mars Hill, you guys were doing church online back in the day, way before the big wave. What kind of things would you have changed now? Or what kind of advice can you give knowing what you know?

Justin Dean: [00:27:35] Yeah, I mean, we definitely focused on church online a ton, we were one of the first churches to really do that. I mean, even early on before my time there, you know, if not the first, one of the first churches. I know Larry Osborne was very involved in that Northcoast, and even Bill [inaudible] Church. I mean, there was all kind of influences there. And so, I mean, 90 percent of what my department did was was support our online efforts to reach a massive audience all over the world. So I think the key, you know, again, for churches is just focusing on it, prioritizing it, you can’t just wait for that influence or an audience to happen, you have to deliberately go after that. We certainly had put a ton behind making that happen. I think where we got in trouble or struggled was just how to differentiate between our global online audience and our local churches. And so it was almost like two different visions, or two different missions, we were very much all about the local church getting people into church, but we loved being able to influence the world and reach people, you know, with great biblical content in so many different countries. We literally had, when we first started tracking, I remember this, that we weren’t even tracking it, and we built all these tools to track it. And we were just watching week after week how many people were actually engaging on our website, watching these videos, you know, just the recordings of the sermons. And we were getting consistently two hundred and fifty thousand people watching the sermons every week from all over the world, it was just insane. Like churches even today just don’t even touch that, like it was crazy how many people were engaging with that content. And so, you know, we took that and we planted churches with that and tried to kind of combine these missions. But we didn’t have that plan when we began, and so I think that’s where we’re it struggled, and the messaging struggled, all of our marketing struggled with it, and it became a mess.

Justin Dean: [00:29:51] But what we did is we kind of looked at, OK, who’s been watching us online and where are they located, where are they consuming that content? We would narrow it down by location, and when we saw that a ton of people, like, for example, our Portland campus, when we launched that church, we saw that a ton of people were watching every week, consistently from the Portland, Oregon area. And so we started a team down in Portland, and we made plans for that. And we said, OK, you know, we’re going to train up a lead pastor, we’re going to send him down there, and he’s going to start by getting these people into home community groups. And so we put the message out there, hey, we’re starting community groups in the Portland area that would meet weekly. We said, OK, when we get a hundred people meeting regularly in person in their homes, watching the sermon, discussing the questions, then we’ll plant a church there. That happened pretty quick, then OK, then we rented a school and planned the church, and then we bought a building and planted a church. And so we did that over and over five or six times with each campus, just looking at our online audience and saying, well, this is where we’re going to plant next because we already have basically a church going there already, we just need a building to get them going. And we knew that we weren’t pulling from other churches because these people were already engaging consistently with our content.

Justin Dean: [00:31:19] And so, you know, I think as far as like what I would do differently, kind of looking back now, I think we would have slowed down. Like we had somewhat of a plan, but at the same time, like we were one of the only churches doing it, the only church doing it on that scale or with that many resources behind it. Plenty of churches at the time were live streaming, or putting their sermons online, but not in the way we were doing, we were a content machine with that stuff. And so a lot of pressure just to get that out and keep it up. And I mean, we had no examples to look at, we were really trying to figure it out as we go. And, you know, like I said, the messaging got very confusing, very controversial, because we called it our global audience, but then we also had like our global fund for missions, and people were like, wait, what are we giving to? And it just got weird.

Justin Dean: [00:32:18] And so, you know, we had a million different things going on at the same time, music label, and books, and someone decided to start a full-on an accredited Bible college in the middle of it all. And so I would just say, like, if I look back, I would slow it down, plan it out, have much more purpose and clarity with what we’re doing with our online audience and how that, you know, kind of folds into our grander vision and missions so that we can just steward and influence those people with some purpose.

Jason Hamrock: [00:32:53] Yeah, that’s good advice for any business, you know, not just the church, to any ministry or for-profit business. Good advice.

Bart Blair: [00:33:05] I’m muted myself, I was trying to talk, I muted myself, I don’t do that very often. I was just saying there is this tension, I think, between what we see in churches wanting to go too fast, and churches not wanting to put enough gas, you know, in the machine. Right. There is that tension, you have some, you know, obviously, you were working under a leader who at this point looks like he was a very driven leader, driven to do things. And there are leaders out there that are, you know, driven to make the biggest splash, and the biggest impact they can, as fast as they can. And then there are others that maybe underestimate the impact they could have if they would actually leverage the gifts and the talents that they have along with digital media. And I love hearing stories,

Bart Blair: [00:34:01] Jason and I are friends with the team that run 95Network, and they have a podcast. And even just this week, they featured a guest from a small church in Oklahoma who’s leveraging online media to launch a discipleship pathway for new Christians. And I kind of downloaded it, and I’m going through it, and, you know, it’s not a highly produced, high budget thing, but it’s super well done and super practical. And here’s a small church pastor in a community in Oklahoma who’s leveraging the Internet to help people grow in their faith in Jesus. And, you know, I wouldn’t even say he’s necessarily a super-driven leader, not from what I can hear, but he’s got gifts and he’s got a calling and he’s using the Internet in addition to his local church to leverage that. And so that’s that tension that we’re always kind of working in when you say you don’t want to go too far too fast, but at the same time, you want to make sure that you’re being a good steward of the gifts and the resources that you do have in leveraging those tools for the Kingdom.

Justin Dean: [00:35:03] And I think it’s looking at the motivations behind it too. Like you don’t want to go too slow out of fear or, you know, because you just don’t know what you’re getting into. Like you’ve got to find that that good rhythm for what fits for you and the resources that you have, but don’t by any means just don’t do this stuff because you don’t know how to do it. Like figure it out, and look at what others are doing. I mean, the beauty of it now is there’s plenty of examples of all this stuff, and there’s plenty to figure out and plenty to innovate. Like we’ve been doing this a while now, so there’s some templates out there that you can use.

Bart Blair: [00:35:47] Well, Justin, we’re kind of coming to the close of our time here today, so I just want to kind of wrap up with a couple of questions. Now, you know, you live in the woods of northern Georgia, your Internet actually is pretty good. You know, when you told me where you’re living, I was like, man, I hope that we can sustain this Zoom call.

Justin Dean: [00:36:02] It is good day for the Internet, it’s definitely hit or miss out here.

Bart Blair: [00:36:07] You live out in the sticks, so I’m guessing that, you know, by nature of the work that you do, and by nature of the fact that you live in the middle of the woods, that you probably spent a fair bit of time on the Internet. You know, what is your social media life look like? Do you spend much time on social media? And if you do, like who do you follow? Who are you connected with? Who are you learning from online?

Justin Dean: [00:36:29] Well, I’ll put aside the category of politics. So, I mean, that definitely takes up a lot of time these days bringing up politics. But when it comes to the context of what we’re talking about, I would say Ryan Wakefield, the Church Marketing University, doesn’t get enough credit. That guy’s a machine, putting out amazing content for churches, and so I follow a lot of what Ryan does. Phil Cooke is another good follow, just informative, but also very fun, you know, he’s a great guy to follow. And then there’s a group of guys they call themselves Blackbar, they’re doing amazing YouTube videos, very, very practical, well-produced, great videos. They just reached like ten thousand subscribers on YouTube, and they’re growing like crazy, and I love those guys. We’re actually trying to get them to come out to the conference and do some workshops because just, you know, I love when people focus on this practical communications, and marketing, and production, kind of content because the church needs a ton of help. There’s a lot of leadership, high-level stuff, for pastors, and not a lot for people kind of in the trenches doing it. And so they’re just rocking it with that kind of content. So, yeah, I mean, that’s stuff I’m paying attention to, guys like Malachi O’Brien, former SBC Vice President, and just a great marketer, helping out churches, it’s very, very inspirational stuff. So, yeah, I mean, actually, if you go to like my Twitter, so I’m @JustinJDean, if you click on my Twitter lists, I’ve got a bunch of lists that people can follow of all these guys.

Bart Blair: [00:38:17] I will echo, we actually have Phil Cooke coming up on the podcast here in a couple of weeks, so we’re excited about having a conversation with him. And I’m going to reach out to the Blackbar guys, I’ve actually been watching their YouTube videos and stealing some stuff, it’s really, really good. The stuff that they’re doing is really good, it’s different, right? They’re very practical in terms of what they’re teaching, but really creative in terms of the way that they present it.

Justin Dean: [00:38:43] Yeah, it’s like entertaining. I mean, they’re the, they’ve got to be young, I mean, they’re the YouTube generation. It’s just going to be amazing to see actually over the next 10, 20 years, this next generation creating content for the church like that, because it’s just going to keep getting better. It’s already surpassed, like I look at the guys at Blackbar, I’m just like, I can’t do that. I’m not going to become the YouTube personality that these guys are, it’s just that I’m too old.

Bart Blair: [00:39:11] Yeah. Just to spend the time figuring out what gear I need to set out in my office to make my videos look like their videos…

Justin Dean: [00:39:17] I’m just happy that I’m not blurry right now.

Bart Blair: [00:39:23] No, no, the camera has stayed in focus, the camera stayed in focus. But, yeah, I totally get what you mean. So you mentioned Twitter, you gave us your Twitter handle. What are the other ways that people can connect with you if they want more information about the conference, or just wanted to connect with you about some of the other stuff that you’re doing?

Justin Dean: [00:39:39] Yeah, I mean, you can find the conference at thatcc.com. I think by the time this is out, we’ll have, you know, the announcement of what we’re doing next, coming back in person next year in 2022. And it’s going to be huge, we’ve got a great lineup of speakers, so thatcc.com to sign up for that. We’ll have live streaming as well if you can’t make it or don’t want to. And just, you know, to follow me, you can go to thatJustinDean.com and find links to everything, you can find the link to my book and stuff on there, so that’s probably the best place to go to find everything.

Jason Hamrock: [00:40:12] Yeah, very cool.

Bart Blair: [00:40:14] Jason, you want the last word?

Jason Hamrock: [00:40:15] Yeah, it’s been fun getting to know you and, and what God’s doing through you and your ministry. And I love, I love, I love when God is doing some cool stuff, and you see what’s happening. You’re really kind of a cool thing for people to tune into, so if you haven’t checked out that church conference, you got to go check it out. And I think there’s so many things that, you know, we’re all on the same team. `We have one goal, you know, and that’s what I tell churches all the time, it’s all about being great commission focused, trying to expand, and reach more people for Jesus, and let people know there is hope in a really, really sick world that we’re in right now. So thanks for all the ministry you’re doing, we really appreciate that.

Justin Dean: [00:41:08] No, and I love you guys, I’m glad the podcast is gearing back up, and I just appreciate what you guys do. You know, I feel like there’s a lot of church consultants, and companies, and agencies, and the like half of them, you know, might not have the best motivations, and we kind of always got to work against the stigma of just people trying to earn money in the church world. And then there are guys like you who are, like, you’re really just trying to help. Like, you know, we could go do this for businesses and actually make money if you cared about that. Like we care about the church, we care about growing the Kingdom, we care about spreading the Gospel. And we just see an opportunity to help churches do that better because they need a lot of help, and so I love that we’re on the same team, you guys are great.

Jason Hamrock: [00:41:57] So we said this earlier, God’s got a sense of humor because I wasn’t planning on working at a church, you weren’t playing on working at a church, I mean, come on. He’s going to use us.

Bart Blair: [00:42:05] In high school, I was voted least likely to ever work in a church. So, it’s amazing that it’s happened.

Justin Dean: [00:42:14] I was voted least likely to go to church. You did not want to know me back then.

Bart Blair: [00:42:22] Well, Justin, thanks again for your time today. We really appreciate you being on the show.

Justin Dean: [00:42:26] Yeah, thanks, guys.

 

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