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PODCAST 021: Danielle Hicks & Elevation’s Watch Parties


The challenge before Church Online is that it is guilty of being church in isolation, allowing people to abandon biblical communities. These views are often short-sighted, not realizing that technology is capable of allowing biblical community to still happen using digital platforms, but larger than that Church Online is capable of creating communities. Potentially leaving one community to start another physical community utilizing Church Online. This is the conversation of today.

Enter Danielle Hicks, Watch Party Pastor at Elevation Church. Elevation utilizes Church Online to reach thousands and thousands of people. Their strategy doesn’t stop with just broadcasting the service, but challenging those listening to gather together in watch parties… to be missional with the broadcast and use the broadcast as a front door to…

Well, tell you what, you’re just going to have to listen to find that out. Jump on in as we explore Elevation’s Watch Parties.

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Guest: Danielle Hicks
Elevation Church
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Host: Jeff Reed
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Co-Host: Rey DeArmas
Christ Fellowship Miami Online
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We know these conversations are out there are hard. Even the best of churches haven't figured out... If this podcast is helping you and your church work through what Church Online is, then help us impact other churches! Take a moment and leave us a brief review!
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Love you all! Praying for your Churches and your Ministry Online.
Jeff Reed


Jeff Reed: 00:00 Welcome to The Church Digital Podcast. My name is Jeff and once again, it's a pleasure to have you all join us for the podcast today. We're on Episode 21 and I love this. This is actually, and I'm going to call myself out publicly here, this is the first podcast we've had where we've invited a woman on the podcast. It took us 21 of these. Publicly, I apologize for this. Secondly, I need to get more women involved in Church Online because, yeah, we need a better representation of that, but we've got a great episode here to kick it off. Danielle Hicks, you'll hear me call her Dani occasionally on the podcast. She is the Watch Party Pastor at Elevation Church. Now, if you're not familiar with watch parties and we talk a lot about it, obviously in this episode, it's Elevation Church's attempt to gather people together, to cluster people together in community, to watch these broadcasts and so Elevation's had a long history of these, obviously, with their broadcast, centered out of the Charlotte and North Carolina area.

Jeff Reed: 01:03 Their broadcasts have become quite large and people from across the country, have started gathering together to watch these services almost becoming like a house church or a micro location gathering together to come together for community to do church that's broadcast in over the Internet. We talked about a similar model, obviously with First Capital Christian's Church Anywhere program. Spent a couple of episodes talking about that in a 17, 18, 19 Episode. We also going way back to Jay Kranda over at Saddleback, talked a lot about that with their house groups as well. They're also ramping up into more of this. So there's a popular movement here with some churches that have been successful with Church Online to take that next step, to start to cluster together, to create biblical communities, to create new communities of gathering together to do this expression of church anywhere utilizing church online. And so we really break this down and it was a fascinating conversation with Danielle, with Dani, and I'm excited for you to hear it. So once again, we've got Rey DeArmas, Online Pastor at Christ Fellowship Miami, Danielle Hicks, Watch Party Pastor at Elevation Church and myself, Jeff Reed, TheChurch.Digital breaking down watch parties through Elevation Church. Here y'all go. So Danielle, just tell us a little bit here about what you do at Elevation and maybe life at Elevation, what that looks like.

Danielle Hicks: 02:34 Yeah, for sure. So my role here at the church is Watch Party Pastor, which sometimes sounds like a fake title I feel like a little bit. People tell them like, what is that, define that. It's actually the first Watch Party Pastor role that we've had at our church and the heart of that is really putting some new emphasis and infrastructure to watch parties as we figure out what that looks like, as we're ministering, utilizing the resources online to reach people face to face and in person. I actually though I've been on staff for a little over six years. I was a campus pastor prior to this and before that was associate pastor at our broadcast location. So it's been very interesting seeing so many different atmospheres of our church from being at, you know, where we're broadcasting from, to then being at one of our other locations and now getting to see really expressions of the local church reproduced in all of these different pockets.

Jeff Reed: 03:25 That's awesome. You may be the only person in the world who works at a church and has party in their title.

Danielle Hicks: 03:33 I know. People always give me a funny look, when I say that and I'm like, no, it's good.

Jeff Reed: 03:38 Well and just knowing the idea, and we've talked in previous episodes, with First Capital Christian Church, whose got 16 of these micro locations, where they're utilizing similar to you, the online broadcast to kind of cluster people together. You know, and he talked a lot through those, episodes 17, 18, 19, I think, but talked a lot about kind of clustering and gathering the people together, the tying in of using the virtual technology to create the physical, the community, the people together. So like what's been the path for Elevation, kind of you were doing the broadcast, you were all over the place and now you're gathering them together. Like what has that genesis looked like?

Danielle Hicks: 04:25 Yeah, so we've actually been having pockets or gatherings of people for years in our church. Now, we've never had it quite to this scale and this number. But if we go back even, you know, seven, eight, nine years, there were groups of people. A couple of our campuses actually started as watch parties, as small groups of people gathering together to watch the sermon. So that's been happening for a while. We've called it different things. So we had what were called extension sites for awhile, which were gatherings of people. A couple were at schools, at colleges, a couple in cities. And that was just where organic pockets of people were created and people that wanted a campus near them, but there wasn't one. So they kind of started doing their own thing. Now the difference then with extension or back in that season was we created really intentional benchmarks, where almost these extension sites were kind of considered on a continuum or considered to be on a continuum to becoming a location would be the goal one day.

Danielle Hicks: 05:18 And so there were very clear definitions of, you know, you reach this number and then this happens, your next goal is reaching this number in attendance and then this happens. And I think that worked for our church for awhile. But then when we began to leverage technology and see now that, you know, for a while we've had local church happening and then this emphasis on our online ministry and I think we've always been traveling side by side, you know, not competing with one another, but figuring out how are we actually complimentary and how does one build and grow the other. I'm sure that's the tension of, you know, anyone doing both of these sides. But I think when we began to leverage the online platform and also leverage the data that we have, you know, now we're able to see where people are tuning in from.

Danielle Hicks: 05:59 And hear where their worshipping from. When we started to combine that with these gatherings, that's when the scale began to increase. And so now, you know, a lot of the heart for watch parties now is that it's not this continuum, you know, as if you're a watch party today, hopefully one day maybe you'll be at campus. It's more of how do we create something where the goal is this sustained sense of community in watch parties. And so I think that's been a big part of the evolution is, it's no longer, you know, for example, our Albuquerque New Mexico Watch party, I'm not telling them, hey, hit this number so that then you'll receive, you know, this support or these resources or this different type of backing from our church. But instead it's continue to grow so that you can multiply across your city to reach different parts of your community. And so it's really less about getting as big as possible and instead allowing the reach to be as expansive as possible, if that makes sense.

Rey DeArmas: 06:52 Absolutely. Danielle, this is really encouraging. I've been following this for quite a bit, from you guys, from afar, just with the whole "not limited by location" kind of campaign that you guys have been doing. What was kind of the genesis behind that? Because I saw that, I understood it immediately. I was like, this is amazing the way that they're communicating this stuff.

Danielle Hicks: 07:09 So I think a lot of what happened is, you know, people come to visit our church and this is the thing still, you know, I've been on staff for a while and I'm still just dumbfounded by how people just want to come visit and be in the atmosphere of what God is doing. And I think it's so much less about Elevation and it's more about just the spirit of God and how he's moving within the people of our church. And there's this deep sense of unity and I know God is doing this everywhere, but there is something at our church that happens that draws people in. And I think, when we began to see that sense of people would often say, "Oh, but I wish there was a campus here" or "I wish I lived in Charlotte." And, I think the heart of this being not limited by location is not that we would reinforce this value or principle of someone needs to be here at our church in order to experience God, but how do we understand that they have that same access to the Holy Spirit and even that same ability to build community and if they want to do it through the community of our church, they're able to.

Danielle Hicks: 08:05 And so I think that's the tension point though as we say that not limited by location is we don't want people to feel that limitation, but we do want them to feel deeply rooted in their city and in their community and allowing them to build something there.

Rey DeArmas: 08:18 That's really good. How do you guys set expectations early on that the goal isn't essentially to become a campus? Because I imagine some folks, when it starts growing, and I know that some of them have really picked up steam, they start thinking themselves, Oh man, I'm gonna be a campus pastor or this kind of thing's gonna happen or, you know, they may think that they may have like a certain level of access or anything like that. But really it's, the focus is no, God's working through you, where you're at. We want to continue to empower you where you're at. How do you guys maintain that?

Danielle Hicks: 08:44 That's right. Do you have some tips and tricks you'd like to give me today?

Rey DeArmas: 08:47 No, I want to hear it. I want to hear what you've done cause I imagine it's got to be really hard to keep maintaining the right expectations.

Danielle Hicks: 08:52 It is. It is. And I think a lot of times I think the thing isn't helpful for people is telling them you will never be a location. And I think sometimes we can try to overemphasize that in order to protect people's expectation or really, my heart is never to tell someone what they're not going to be. You know, like I wouldn't, I don't have kids yet, but when I do, you know, I'll never tell them what they will not be, but hopefully I can paint a picture of what it could be and what it will be. And I think that's been some of the transition even in our church that I don't know that we always have done that well, where we've tried to make sure that people have accurate expectations and instead we leave almost this space in this gap where we're not helping to paint a picture or helping to allow people to sort of get in the rhythm of what God is doing.

Danielle Hicks: 09:33 And so I think in this season, what I'm trying to do, and again, I'm laughing because I'm really trying to figure out how do we do this well and keep people encouraged and feeling like they can somewhat grasp what it is that they're building. It's painting this picture of what does it look like to have sustained community in specific cities and areas. You know, now people are so tethered and attached to what's happening within their city. And I don't think this is a new thing, but I think, you know, as marketing and as technology has just gotten so incredible with, you know, on my cell phone, I look at something online and then the stupid ad pops up on my Instagram automatically. You know, it's gotten so specific and so unique and personal that I think as the church we have to figure out ways that we allow people to feel connected and tethered to their community.

Danielle Hicks: 10:19 And so all of this, just to circle back, the heart of that is how do we allow people to understand that that is the focus is how are they bringing Christ to their city and their community? It's not about a campus and it's not about a building. You know, I feel like we say this a lot as the church, you know, it's not about the building, it's about the people, but watch parties and micro churches and these smaller sites. It's actually when the time comes to really prove that we mean that and to say no, it truly doesn't matter because it's the community and the infrastructure that's built. I know I'm kind of circling your question a little bit, but I think that's the hardest. Can we paint a picture of sharing with people, what does it look like if we're not just on this journey for God to provide this campus. You know, where we're almost telling God what we want versus allowing Him to show us what is this thing that is sort of unraveling and being revealed in front of us.

Danielle Hicks: 11:09 I think the practical stuff though is the thing we're working on now that we have not figured out that we're trying to is can we paint a picture of some of the structure? So the vision is there, but then how do we practically explain to people, here's what we would love to see created in your community to give them some things to start with. You know, whether it's, hey, we'd love to see five community groups or eGroups built; we call them eGroups at our church. But five community groups built in your city. We'd love to see you serving at outreach events, you know, twice a month. Where now you're taking this intangible infrastructure and helping people to grasp it and understand. But it's such a tension. I just was having a conversation this past weekend with someone and I think it's a tension to manage because I also don't want to say we'll never have a there because who knows, right? So if we have a huge group of people, hopefully, we're not silly. Maybe we will one day, but that can't be the goal, you know, that we're directing people to. So it's really tough.

Rey DeArmas: 12:05 How are you guys navigating the tension between being a local church and a national church? And so I caveat that a little bit with the story. And I was really impressed with this. So a couple of years ago, me and a few staff members went to go visit Elevation, in order to see, you know, the live streaming and the point of point that you guys do between campuses because we were looking at it for our church. And that weekend happened to be the weekend that the riots were happening in Charlotte. Steven was on vacation and flew back to preach to Charlotte and he was rocking, I think he was rocking a queen city shirt. You know, super tight. You know, I'm a 305 guy when it comes to Miami. So I love like small local ties in.

Danielle Hicks: 12:42 Do you have the hat with the area code?

Rey DeArmas: 12:43 You better believe it. Yeah. And so I'm all about like local tie ins like that. But then I also realize that in the midst of that, because I was getting ready to make the move to online, I was like, Oh man, this, not only cause he was talking directly to what was happening in the community that weekend, which is why he came back, you know? And he addressed that very well within his message. But at the same time I was like, this is also being heard by a lot of people nationally and even at these watch parties and everything else. I'm wondering how you guys navigate some of those tensions between Steven's talking to people there in South Carolina and at the same time he's talking to this movement that's happening nationally.

Danielle Hicks: 13:17 For sure. Hey, I get excited when you bring this up because I think, this is one thing I've been on this, a little bit of a kick lately about figuring out how do we, you know, be inclusive of the fact that we're in front of different audiences, but how do we still create a message that shows people that we are a present and we do understand what's happening in individual communities. I would say and this is just my opinion on how we navigate that obviously people and Pastor Stephen, probably for him that was value based in a way of, you know, understanding that there was a space where our church was looking, you know, for him to share and him to speak into this. But then understanding that for most of the people listening, you know, they may not have any context or understanding of what's happening, but here's what I think it does communicate.

Danielle Hicks: 14:00 Not just even using that weekend as an example, but even on our broadcast, you know, if there's flooding happening in a specific area or hurricane is passing through a specific state, you know, we know this is a small piece of our audience yet they're part of it. I think when we speak to it specific local value or local issue or tension or tragedy, I think it still communicates an overall message that we are present in that community. And I think that probably in my opinion, again, it creates less dissonance as benefit of saying, hey, we are present, we are available, we understand, we're there and we're feeling this with you. And I think the principle would be that even someone in the UK that's watching that would still feel this sense of connection for the fact that they're experiencing something that part of, you know, what we call our a Efam, their family, is also feeling in the same way. And I think there's probably a limit to how often you can do this to speak so specifically. But, I've actually really been trying to do this with watch parties and picking out maybe a story or something that's happening in a community, even understanding that it's a little polarizing maybe because maybe that tension isn't prevalent everywhere but still being willing to go straight to that, speak to it. And I think it's communicating to the other watch parties. Wow. Like the church actually knows what's happening in Idaho, you know? Middle of nowhere, I have all the love for Idaho. No offense, Idaho. But, you know, they really know what's happening. And so I think that's probably helpful sometimes to be able to still do that.

Rey DeArmas: 15:28 Yeah. That's gotta be very encouraging for the volunteers that are there with boots on the ground. Just to know that you guys are present with them and that you care, especially from a volunteer perspective, you know, I'm sure that they have a hard time dealing with that tension of, man, I'm part of this movement but at the same time I'm so far away from it physically that I feel like I'm part of it, but I have a hard time connecting with it all the time.

Danielle Hicks: 15:49 Yeah. I was reading an article recently and it was talking about Nike and a specific ad that they had, which was presencing individual communities and they were assuming way, way into a specific community, I can't remember what the name of it was. But they were talking about the message that Nike was communicating and that it's not this big, broad global impact, you know, but they're able to zoom in. And I think that's, to me, what the brand of watch parties for our church represents. And it's both, sometimes it's a bit of a dichotomy, but then also I think it's that we're filling a space and a gap that was there. So when we talk about, you know, we call it our Efam, this is our extended family. It really, we work hard to show everyone this incredible broad impact. Wow, look at what God is doing all over the world.

Danielle Hicks: 16:31 And I think people love to feel a part of something big. But I think internally, you know, we all want to know that this is still very pertinent to the city I live in. And you know, when people give, for example, they're blessed by the fact that, Bless Back Worldwide, you know, that we're giving to that organization. But hey, what about the pregnancy resource center that's right here in my community? What does that look like for me to be impacting them? And so I think when we consider our broad online community we're showing them, wow, look at this incredible impact, but with watch parties, what we're enabling the people in these communities to do is we're zooming in as far in as possible to say, we see you, we know that you're there. We want to be present, we want to know what you're walking through. And I think that was a space that was there, this gap that we really needed to fill. And so that's what we're working on trying to begin to do. For sure.

Jeff Reed: 17:20 You know where churches have seen success with the church onlines? And we hear this, Rey and I hear this week to week, and we have these conversations just as we continue to dialogue through it, but it's in the individuals. So often when you look at the masses and thousands upon thousands attend Elevation physical campuses on a regular basis, I can only imagine what the numbers are virtually and online, but it's masses. I'm sure. Watch parties tend to turn it a little bit and you put faces on it and there's relationships that are built at the individual level. And so that's fascinating to me how a mega church moves to some of this micro model and kind of feels the tension of that. You talked a little bit about investing, you used I think the pregnancy center, the local pregnancy center was the example that you shared, from a practical standpoint, I'm just curious because that's as I've done this micro model, we feel the tension of money coming to the mothership versus invested in the community, the tithes and things like that. What are the practicalities of like local missions reaching in the watch party, doing things within the local community within that local city? Like how do you wrestle with that?

Danielle Hicks: 18:43 Yeah, so wrestle is the right word because I think that is one of the biggest tensions right now that we're walking through. You know, as far as, you may have a watch party that will say, well, what does it look like? You know, when will the church be able to support this watch party or support what we're doing? And that's a valid question and concern because there is a cost that's incurred to supporting the watch party or for them to put on what they have each weekend depending on what it looks like and their atmosphere and all that, as well as, how are we impacting those local organizations? So I'll share maybe what we're doing now, probably six months from now this will continue to evolve. We're entering into Love Week actually this week, which is church-wide we serve in different parts of our community here in Charlotte and beyond.

Danielle Hicks: 19:25 And this is a good example though of, you know, Love Week has always been a very much campus oriented event and then as we added our online ministry and continued to grow it, you have people that are tuning in that want to contribute and be able to serve their community. And so we have about, I think 40-42 events that are happening for Love Week through our Efam, which honestly, like next year I would love to see that number tripled. You know, because the number of watch parties really to me, each watch party should be having at least a single event in their community. But the difference is, you know, locally for our Love Week events, the church is putting the money forth to sort of support these events, the resources. So if it's, you know, revamping an elementary school, our church is putting the money that's needed for that or putting in the money that's needed for that.

Danielle Hicks: 20:11 For watch parties, what we've asked is their hosting Love Week events that either they're providing the resources or they're hosting events that still serve the community but may not have this financial need in order to do it. And so where the kind of enter on the thing is we're working this out and figuring out is how do we have people that are mobilized to be able to serve and help. And then honestly, I kinda love it. At the same time cause part of me is like, man we have to figure this out. But then I also love the scrappiness of really this authentic organic creation of the funds to make these things happen. You know, I think sometimes we can get a little bit spoiled where, you know, even some of our events we just know what the church is going to get the resources. Let me go pick them up and I'll go serve the people. There is something very different that happens in these watch parties when they're actually saying, hey, what do we want to do? What organization do we want to serve? And if there's a need, you know, a lot of our watch parties will put together their money to, to provide this need for their local community. I don't know how that can sustain forever but I think there is a scrappiness to it right now where it's coming from this deep place in their heart. You know, where they really are. One of the values of our church is that we are contributors not consumers. And I think that's what watch parties are building is groups of people that aren't just partaking of what's provided, but they're learning and being taught how to really contribute. And it's not contributing in a way that, I don't know that is a resentful, I feel like I see them wanting to do this thing. It's voluntary. It's not that it's under compulsion. You know, as the Bible says, it's actually cause they want to be able to serve and contribute. And so it's was pretty wild.

Jeff Reed: 21:46 That's exciting. So like, tell me this, tell me a couple of stories because you know, we're talking about this, it comes from their heart, they're contributing, they're not consuming. Give me some success stories. Give me some cities of where man, we're seeing some awesome things happening through these watch parties.

Danielle Hicks: 22:06 And so I'll say, I wrote down a couple so I would remember. So I'll give you like a quick, a few of them. So, for example, there's one watch party that's in Luddington, Michigan that is on the coast of Lake Michigan, this little beach town. The leaders of the watch party own a coffee shop and they've been leveraging this space that they have to minister to their community and they have about 50 or 60 people that meet week to week in this coffee shop. And the other thing that makes them incredible too is, you know, I mean, we all know this, what happens on Sunday or in the actual experience is just a piece and a portion of the discipleship that's happening. And I think what I see them doing is actually carrying out that principle, not just talking about it, but they're creating these opportunities for people to serve during the week.

Danielle Hicks: 22:48 And so they may meet in the coffee shop, but then they're creating these intentional times for them to come together to serve local organizations. We just see, you know, the value there of having a space that's made available to them and it feels great in the coffee shop, but I think it's challenging our mindsets of what it looks like to gather these little pockets together. You know, people want the perfect space and they'll look to renting these elaborate spaces. It's like no, God may have already given you the opportunity or the access to a space that's right in front of you. So they're an incredible watch party. Another would be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We have two watch party leaders and it's interesting to see the sort of juxtaposition of their types of watch parties because one watch party is in a living room and they have about 40 or 50 people that are worshiping each weekend and they're probably one of the most breathtaking depictions of what community looks like.

Danielle Hicks: 23:40 Cause you know community is such a buzzword. Now I feel like we all, you know, in the church we say it and there's certain times where I see this image where I'm like, man, that's the thing that we're talking about. That's what this is. Cause they gather together, they're cooking in their home, the guys are grilling out in the backyard and people are bringing things. They're really coming together to make this happen. It's not two people putting on the watch party for the rest of the group. It's everyone coming together, contributing, bringing something forward, to make it incredible. They have groups that are meeting during the week, they're praying together, they're caring for one another and it's just an incredible picture of it. Now if you go on the other side of Albuquerque, there's another watch party that meets in a yoga studio and it's young people, mostly young females actually.

Danielle Hicks: 24:26 They meet in the Yoga Studio then they do yoga immediately after the watch party. And it's just, you see these two different styles and formats that are both beneficial and both impacting people. But that's a bit of the model of this micro church. You know, watch parties, whatever you call it, at each different church. That's the freedom in it, I think. Is that, how do we, you know, being from the campus, just a side note, it's hard for me sometimes because I want to implement all the systems in the world and the structures and procedures because from a numbers perspective at the campuses, that was our, you know, that was the background or the system running in the background always. With watch parties, it's like I fight that tendency cause I'm like, there is something beautiful that's being formed when there is an openness and there's not so many constraints to it. You see that with those two watch parties, they are very different but they're reaching people and they're bringing people together. And I don't know, I think that's where that tendency to want to control and constraint. I have to pull back to say, maybe I can't just reproduce a model. Maybe we have to allow some of this to form and then we just kind of shape it and follow it as it goes.

Rey DeArmas: 25:27 That's good.

Jeff Reed: 25:28 So let me ask this Rey, sorry. I apologize for cutting you off. Like, let's unpack that a little bit because this is tension that I've felt as we were doing this. Quality control, you know, or organic structured. You know, obviously, and you're, Dani, you're a former campus pastor, you've been Associate at broadcast, so you feel that tension of quality control and the structure of that. Organizationally looking at this house party, the watch party kind of structure that you've had.

New Speaker: 26:02 House party sounds even more fun than watch party.

New Speaker: 26:02 You could change that in six months, just give me credit. church. We'll document it or something. So, but you've had to kind of back off, right? A little bit here. It's too broad. It's too wide. It's too far stretching. You're not able to really regulate it. Like kinda unpack that a little bit for us.

Danielle Hicks: 26:28 Who has a tension? It's both for me an external tension like as I see it and helping our watch party leaders to shape it. But then it's also something internal as well and for in this season, it's been a challenge for me to really be able to sort of breathe a little bit and give God space to create instead of me trying to stay out in the front out in front of something, always trying to control and create defined borders. And I think that was something I've had to shift my mindset in that cause yes, even being at our broadcast campus, you know, many of the systems you put in place, they're not always rigid, but they're there to care for people. The heart of it is to care for people, but they are very clearly defined. And I'm with watch parties what I tend to see happen even internally, I think one of the first watch parties I went to, they're actually incredible leaders, Jonathan and Vicky, they live in Charlottesville, Virginia. They had just started their watch party when I came to visit. They meet in a VFW like a space with red velvety chairs and they have a projector with drape hanging. And if, you know, the quality control part of me when I walked in, I was like, oh no, I need to help them. I need, man, I need to do like an incredible teaching to share with them about atmosphere. And you know, they had a lot of chairs out, there were some empty chairs and there was this internal part of me that I had to say, hang on, this is not that. We're not just reproducing a version of a campus.

Danielle Hicks: 27:52 We're allowing something to be created that really is God's spirit sort of breathed onto this new local expression of the church. And so how do I not get in the way of that and allow some things to be created, still have excellence, but there's such a fine line between with these watch parties, I think excellence and control because we do want them to be unique expressions of the leaders, but we do have to have a pretty consistent experience. So even in Virginia, they've grown from like 3 people to 25 people. There one of my favorite watch parties, they've had six salvations in their kids, with the kids curriculum they're using. I mean they're just, they're killing it. And it's funny because when I talked to them, they were feeling stressed or feeling bad about, oh, but we have this projector, we bought it on craigslist and their kind of sharing with me.

Danielle Hicks: 28:41 And it was cool to be able to encourage them and remind them how beautiful some of those imperfections are. And again, this is coming from someone who's very much the quality control mindset in the past to say, hey guys, the things that you see as weaknesses, those are actually the thing that makes this feel unique and makes it feel organic and makes it feel special. And so to answer your question, I don't know. I'm still working out how do we allow some space for people to create things? But it is true that especially as we add more infrastructure to watch parties, how do we know that the experience is going to be good? And I don't want to run on with my response to you. But, in the past we actually while we were figuring out what are we going to do with these watch parties, you know, they're popping up, that's incredible.

Danielle Hicks: 29:24 We just were trying to figure out what level of support we could offer. And so we didn't really have any onboarding or constraints at first to what they would look like. Now we're in this season where we're creating onboarding processes for the leaders. We're creating some just values and I don't want to say standards and guidelines that sounds so sterile, but we are creating some guidelines that will help people to define a little bit better. But every day something comes across like my email or a conversation where I do have to make that decision, is this something I want to run down and chase down to "fix" or is this something that I let kind of continue to develop to see what God can really work out through some of this space that we're creating?

Rey DeArmas: 30:05 That's good. Some nuts and bolts questions about that, liabilities, as far as the church is concerned in terms of how much Elevation is responsible for. I'm sure a lot of churches are going to listen to this and be like, man, we want that but they're also concerned. Okay, but this is our brand a little bit too and so if something happens at a watch party, are we responsible? How does that work out with you guys?

Danielle Hicks: 30:22 Yeah, I hate, I'm hesitant to speak for, I'm hesitant to say for sure, but in a lot of the conversations we've had, and obviously this would vary church to church, but for us, this onboarding that we're doing to really background check our leaders, that's a similar process that, you know, many of our churches we do for egroups or for community groups. You know, you put people through a process because you are allowing people to go to people's homes. And so for us, that's the background process that we've put in place to protect our church and protect ourselves and really just to provide a good experience for the people that are going to watch parties. And so obviously that would vary church to church, but I think there is a necessity for a process to make sure that, you know, you could comfortably and confidently refer people to these watch parties and know that they're going to have a good experience. For sure.

Rey DeArmas: 31:08 Where's kind of the place where you guys get the most pool for possible watch party leaders? Is it through the online broadcast? Is it in service? And I know no ministry ever feels like they're getting enough pub, but I imagine something like this, you're like, but man, there's so much potential here, how can we let people know this thing exists?

Danielle Hicks: 31:24 Right, right. I think, we've really put a lot of emphasis on sharing about watch parties over the last, say four or five months. And so right now where we get most of our interest comes from when we feature something on our broadcast like what we'll do if I'm going out to a watch party, we may have a segment where I'm interviewing the watch party leader and we're broadcasting it out, or creative elements that, you know, maybe our video team creates a video about the watch party. Those are a couple of big pieces that I think if you can allow people to feel what it feels like to be a part of it, it's going to connect very differently than us just trying to always give a call to action for people. And so we don't do a lot of pushes for watch party leaders really. What were we do more of is celebrate and show them what's happening. And so you have a lot of people that want to join a watch party that actually end up leading one, you know, cause there's not one in their area and they're like, well man, I just want to be a part of something like this and so they may just shift to want to lead one.

Rey DeArmas: 32:17 So I was gonna ask about that too. How are you connecting folks? Like let's say I'm part of elevation and my job has taken me to Albuquerque and I'm like, hey listen, I'm moving. Do you then connect somebody to watch parties and say, Hey in that area, there's two watch parties right where you're moving to.

Danielle Hicks: 32:32 Yeah. This is the next progression I think where we'll grow in our church as far as how campuses are referring to watch parties also. I've had quite a few emails and text messages over the last like two months of, yeah someone moving from a campus to a specific area. The watch party I was mentioning in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was actually a volunteer at our Uptown campus. She moved to Virginia and she was just really feeling sad like she wasn't going to get to be a part of our church and I got to share with her that there was a watch party there. Now she's found just such a sense of community and connection there. Basically she oversees helping look after the kids and with kids curriculum and it's been wild just to see her blossom in that community. And so that's an example of what it looks like in a perfect world. But right now, because we're still building all the infrastructure, this is still fairly new. We're referring people where there are, you know, watch parties and then the next steps will be us improving those processes where they can more easily access that information versus us having to always make the connection.

Rey DeArmas: 33:31 All right. And I'm sorry you just offered up a little tidbit and tangent that I gotta walk down a little bit. All right, so ekids at watch parties.

Jeff Reed: 33:38 Hey, hey, hey, I wanted to ask that question. Why are you asking? No, no, go ahead. I'm just kidding. She said that earlier and I'm like, oh, what's she doing with kids? Like I want to know that answer because that right there and when I talk with churches on a regular basis that want to do this, the secret, the biggest problem that they have that they don't have a solution for is what do we do with the kids? So Elevation, what are you doing with the kids? How are you doing that at a watch party level?

Danielle Hicks: 34:07 This is brand new and we are still working through this. So let me preface it with that, seems to be the theme of a lot of this stuff that I'm sharing. I mean you can sense it and feel it. This season we're in really are, we're trying some things, we're seeing how it works, we're seeing how it connects with people. I will say the kids, how kids are being cared for and experiencing God's word, I was just talking about this this week with our team, it's probably one of the greatest objections for people is, you know, you may have someone who really, you know, church is just a thing for them. They just go because you know, it's part of their habit or maybe they were brought up that way. But then when you see them talk about what their kids experience, you know, everything shifts and changes.

Danielle Hicks: 34:45 And I think of even, you know, being at a campus for so long, so many of my conversations with parents, it was a lot about the kids. Like, well, I just want to make sure my kids are, you know, taken care of. They're going to church and I'm getting them in church. And so this has been a need that we've had for a long time with watch parties that we are now. We have curriculum that we're sharing with our watch party leaders and what they'll do is essentially, teach, share, it's video based and there's some content that they're sharing for kids at the watch parties now. It's super elementary, no pun intended, right now because we're still getting it going and working out all the details. But it's an early stage of just having something, you know, it's not them just like putting the kids in a room with Veggietales, which shout out veggietales, like, hey, it's not a bad thing, but that's great. I love it. Is it still around?

Rey DeArmas: 35:33 Absolutely. Yeah. As long as there's money to be made, veggietales will be alive. It's fine.

Danielle Hicks: 35:37 You're right. But how do we actually understand that they're hearing God's word and experiencing scripture and all that. I said it lightly because we're still working out what that actually looks like. But we do have curriculum that we're sharing with our leaders for sure.

Rey DeArmas: 35:51 But that's encouraging either way cause logistically I'd even like to know like so far are they utilizing, so some of that video based curriculum like on a TV in a playroom, in an alternate room, on an iPad, like what does that look like for some of the kids? Cause that's where, once again, and I know that all of this is beta, nobody's looking for this to be a polished answer, but just man, this is great to hear because few people are venturing into this particular space.

Danielle Hicks: 36:14 Yes and yes, it's anywhere. So we're testing it right now. We have a certain number of watch parties that have been testing it and giving us feedback and then we're rolling it out to the remainder of our watch parties that have gone through the process to become like onboarded and background checked and all that. So, yeah, it's both. So some are on a TV, some are on iPads and they're sharing it. Really it's not, you said it, like you're not looking for a polished answer, well, there's not one because I don't think the results are polished right now, as far as, how it's being carried out with the execution of it. And so that's something that as we continue to grow and scale, we'll work on, but for now it's at least having resources that we can give to the watch party leaders for sure.

Jeff Reed: 36:54 The humility of we don't have all the answers. We're still trying to figure this out ourselves. Ask us again in six months and we're probably going to tell you something else because we're learning in this process. Like I love that. I was actually was talking with another church yesterday where leadership wanted like stats and all this stuff to prove, you know, their case towards something. And it's like, what stats? We're all just trying to figure this out. Like, it's not like there's a proven concept here. And even, you know, looking at you and, we've had a lot of conversations with Saddleback, Jay Kranda, you know, and that church is doing, you know, rolling out into a different implication of what watch party can be. But it's a different spin on it. Like I love to see churches, even the 800 person church, First Capitol, wrestling with this and doing the watch parties with a different spin. I love seeing churches explore this space. So go ahead.

Danielle Hicks: 37:56 I would say we try not to get super excited about, we are focused on numbers and goals and metrics, but I think, you know, Chad Zowlow, I know, you know, Chad, our Online Campus Pastor, our leader of this area. He does an incredible job of keeping us focused on, really, where we're heading and how we keep evolving and reinventing ourselves. But then also the people and the stories just like we talked about, because there are numbers that we look at and that we can track and you can feel good and feel excited about it. But then it really does go back to are we humble enough to keep moving forward with the understanding that we don't know the answers and the answers will probably change a few months from now and how can we focus on the right values and principles? And so I think that keeps us all really hyper focused on, man, we have to stay ahead of this because we're all, you know, the church, we're all figuring this thing out together. And again, it is just shifting so rapidly. That's the thing I get stressed over sometimes. It's like keeping up with the changes of technology and of culture, all these thing and we have to try to stay at least in step with it. And if we're lucky, a couple steps ahead.

Jeff Reed: 38:59 That's awesome. So Danielle, where are you going next year? Every week or every other week it seems like you're at some watch party doing for the broadcast, where's your next stop?

Danielle Hicks: 39:11 So, over the next season, I think now, I'm trying to get real strategic about where we're actually visiting and where we're going. I mean every, you know, you probably understand this tension. You get excited about what's happening and sometimes what I'll do is go run, I want to go see you and experience this and visit and encourage these people. I think now what I'm trying to do is get a little more strategic about even creating and developing interest that's there, but then how do we deepen that interest? How do we make the connections for people? And so some of our watch parties are formed because they're making the connections on their own. But I'm trying to think through ways that we can actually help create those connections prior to the watch party, you know, create a foundation where people can gather and begin to meet together. And just figuring out where we're going. I think, you know, I mentioned it, but it's just evolving and changing, and even on our team, it's like understanding what watch parties look like today it should probably look a little different a year from now as we grow in our understanding of it and as systems are created. The system piece I think is the biggest thing now. I know you're asking where am I going like geographically, but I think.

Jeff Reed: 40:15 Either answer works, this is great. Vision is even better.

Danielle Hicks: 40:18 I went a little deep there. But I think vision wise it's hard because a lot of our watch parties now, the leaders are desiring these intricate systems and they may have had exposure to campuses. You know, we reproduce the things that we've seen and so a lot of our leaders will say, Hey, what is your VIP followup process for campuses? And we're going to implement this for VIPs. And I try to challenge them to say, hang on, how many VIP days did you have this past week? And they may say, you know, one or two and their watch party. And I'm trying to challenge and encourage them, so don't create the system before you actually have the need. Like what would you do? What would you do with the one person? You would take them to coffee, you would help them make a connection with someone in the watch party.

Danielle Hicks: 40:59 And so I think, where we're really heading is figuring out how do you have systems that don't constrain the actual values you want to reproduce, but how do we allow some flex and some space to in tune with what God is doing? And I think that's the thing we're trying to figure out. And then geographically I'll say, all over. So some of the areas that we're trying to grow, a couple of the ones I mentioned, in fact, really are speckled throughout the US. We have them all over the world but right now my focus is in the US and figuring out how do we add the support and structure and then getting out to the watch parties, too.

Rey DeArmas: 41:30 Let me ask, has there ever been a watch party where you guys are looking at this and you're like, all right man, this is the one, we're going to start a campus with this one?

Danielle Hicks: 41:41 So there has been, so a couple of our locations actually were birthed out of watch parties that had begun years ago. And so our Roanoke location, as well as, our Melbourne campus really started from gathering people together to worship. And I'll say now, I was smiling when you asked the question because this is one of the big things I think we're working through in this season is figuring out, you know, again, being from the campus side, I was always like, before I came over to the team, I was all about the local church. I just want to see us launch campuses everywhere and I'll always be about the local church. And I think even internally I was still working on reconciling what does it look like for us to have this incredible online ministry yet still be planting local churches.

Danielle Hicks: 42:23 And I mentioned it earlier and I'm sure you guys have, you've probably said the same thing. It could almost feel like they were opposing, but with understanding and being able to see this sort of revelation of they are not opposing and you can actually sell out to both. You can have one feed the other one. Even for the local campus at the local church, and my husband's a campus pastor also, by the way. So we still have these discussions where, you know, even at his campus, you may not have people that attend every single week. They may miss a couple of weeks. What's incredible though is when they're out, which is the normal human pattern at every church right now, right? Nobody's coming every week. They can still engage in the ministry. They can still stay active, you know, in their giving and their participation on the weeks that they're not present.

Danielle Hicks: 43:05 And so I do think that our online ministry supports campuses in that way. Now when we talk about expansion, that's where I think we've only begun to explore this even in our church of how do we collaborate online and campus to really figure out what does it look like to expand. And so yeah, my heart even with watch parties, I mean watch parties is my focus. However, for our church it would be incredible if some of these watch parties led to locations down the road. And I think, the answer though is pretty ambiguous of when is that point that it transitions or why, you know, but it has happened in our church. And so now I think in this next season, again, I see us partnering better than we ever have now. And this is because of, you know, our pastor, he really leads us, Pastor Steven leads us in the mindset of we are working together, these are complimentary parts of our ministry and we're going where God is moving.

Danielle Hicks: 43:59 And so we can clearly try to keep defining and constraining it. But instead we're in the rhythm and the flow of where God is taking us. And so I think when it comes to this idea of how can we contribute to expansion from an online perspective, you know, we have data information, we know where people are tuning in from. We have these watch parties. I think we can contribute, it's just figuring out what is the tipping point, what does that look like? You know, when it does become a campus. I don't know if I'm answering your question or not.

Rey DeArmas: 44:25 You have and you've done it very well, by the fact that you guys were able to say actual examples of places that have that jump and it's funny cause I've actually, being down here in Florida, I've had friends go and visit Melbourne. I didn't even know that it started as a watch party and that's encouraging to know simply because there's so many different pockets around the United States of folks who, number one, they want to connect. They almost want like all the benefits of big church with small church, which is what I see walk party as being, you know, like you get the grand communicator, you get a great worship experience, but you also get the feeling of close community. There's that next step beyond that, which some folks take and some folks just honestly they're not meant to and that's okay.

Danielle Hicks: 45:05 Right, right. And I think, you know, the campus side, you know, as you talk about what that looks like to transition. I think again, it's such a tension because even as I talk about it, there's a part of me that's like, what if what we're creating, you know, it's not that a campus is the ideal scenario. How do we allow people to understand that, what you were just talking about, that small authentic community, you know, that's what people want. How do we get them to be content with where they are and what they have in the watch party, and I don't know the answer to that. I think culturally watch parties still feel new, but you know, we're really not innovating anything. You know, I try to remind myself of that sometimes when I'm like, I have to figure this out. I'm like, man, these cell groups, whatever you want to call it, have been around for so long, you know, in the book of Acts, talking about churches gathering in homes and I don't know, I think that's the constant tension. The theme is how do we allow people to not just look to the campus, then that's the goal, but how do we get them to see and appreciate this model as something that can be long lasting.

Jeff Reed: 46:06 There's no magic in the bricks. The bricks of your church building it doesn't have the power. That's not where everything resides. So you guys breaking out of that, being example of utilizing micro locations to start to get the word out, to spread the Gospel, to empower people. You said it earlier in the broadcast, the same Holy Spirit that's in Steven is in the people who are leading the micro locations and God can use them in the exact same way. So I just applaud you guys and thank you guys for taking a chance, getting out there, but then also man, just coming on this broadcast and sharing. Rey, landing the plane, any thoughts as we're wrapping?

Rey DeArmas: 46:50 You know, it's funny, Danielle, as we've been talking about Church Online over these last few weeks and I just want to encourage you, I watch a lot of Toy Story with my kids, you know, with the new one that's coming out, and you know, the whole line of "Hey, I'm not flying, I'm falling with style" to me just kind of encompasses everything that's going on with Elevation and you guys are doing such a phenomenal job and so keep it up. I'm hoping for a followup interview. I hope we can have you on again.

Danielle Hicks: 47:16 I'd love that. For sure. Thank you so much guys.

Jeff Reed: 47:18 Awesome. Dani, anything else? Closing thoughts as we're wrapping here?

Danielle Hicks: 47:22 Hey, I just I'm humbled and thankful to be able to contribute to this conversation because I think there's so many churches that, you know, we're figuring this out together and there's such power in unity when we're discovering it alongside one another. And so thank you for allowing me just to contribute to that. So grateful for it.

Jeff Reed: 47:41 Awesome. Thanks Danny for joining us. For Danny, for Rey, my name is Jeff. Oh, by the way, before I break Dani, where can we find you on social media?

Danielle Hicks: 47:49 So my Instagram handle is Dani.Hicks and then on Facebook under Danielle Hicks, as well.

Jeff Reed: 47:55 And that's Dani.

Danielle Hicks: 47:57 That's right.

Jeff Reed: 48:00 Awesome. So for Danny, for Rey, my name is Jeff with TheChurch.Digital. Thanks for being here and we'll see you next time. Thanks everybody.

Danielle Hicks: 48:06 Thank you.



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About Author

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.

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