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PODCAST 025: Ryan Sharp & The Value of an Individual @ Life.Church

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This episode we’re honored to talk with someone from the organization who essentially created Church Online. Life.Church is one of the pioneering churches out there creating a movement in digital church. Having watched the Life.Church movement grow over the years, I'm almost closet fanboy in this conversation, geeking out over methods and systems that Life.Church utilizes.

That being said, the thing that surprised me the most was how this megachurch, really this gigachurch, was grounded in reality of the individual. A church with dozens of physical campuses… not including over tens of thousands of people watching online across every major continent… I had imagined attending a church like Life.Church would be easy for an individual to get lost. That’s the hardest part of Church Online, right? Preventing people from attending church in isolation?

Ryan, and Life.Church in general, have discovered that to grow Church Online you don’t need nameless individuals staring at video displays… The first step to Church Online is realizing that every number, in fact, has a name. Jump in the podcast and discover what’s next.


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ON THE SHOW

Guest: Ryan Sharp
Life.Church, Church Online Life Groups
Facebook // Instagram

Host: Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // LinkedIn

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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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Feedback on the podcast is vital as well. Leave comments on the podcast, or comment on this post! I'd love to know your thoughts and how we can serve your church better.
 
Love you all! Praying for your Churches and your Ministry Online.
 
Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
 

TRANSCRIPT

Jeff Reed: 00:00 Hey everybody, welcome to The Church Digital Podcast. My name is Jeff. Thanks for jumping on this one. By the way, this is our 25th episode, the 2-5, this is our silver anniversary of podcasts. So what did you bring, listening audience? I'm expecting silver from you in honor of our 25, I can't even finish. But I am excited you're here. We've got a great guest on this podcast. Ryan Sharp is the online small groups pastor with Life.Church. We're doing a deep dive here on small groups, on Biblical community, what that looks like and how it can be utilized. Why has Life.Church been so successful with this? How do they overcome some of the negativity that's centered around doing biblical community online? How they've been able to create that culture from leadership down and what it's like to pass that on to volunteers and getting volunteers to buy in to this idea of a biblical community, of small groups, of life groups existing online.

Jeff Reed: 01:00 By far, the greatest line that I've ever heard in context of online small groups happens in this interview. And I'm not even going to tell you what it is. It's so powerful. You're going to know it when you hear it and you're going to want to write it down like I did and you're going to want to share it with others. It's that good. So listen to the podcast here, myself, Jeff with The Church Digital Podcast interviewing, Ryan Sharp, Online Life Groups Pastor through Life.Church, doing a deep dive here on online small groups. Hey, everybody, here you go.

Ryan Sharp: 01:34 Yeah. The, the, the point is, is that, uh, our heart has always been community around the word of God. And so we have, just like in physical locations, you, you try to foster community around the teaching of the word of God, of like people coming together and meeting up locally and things. And so whatever you might do at a physical location, we wanted to do that online as well. There's a incredible community of people that's well reaches globally that are our heart is to, to help them take their next step in their faith journeys. So it's really, it's a, it's a way for people to get to know each other. Um, cause they go to the same church and then to really pursue Jesus together as well. That's a, that's the why of we want people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. Yeah.

Jeff Reed: 02:22 And Yeah. I'm, I'm curious just cause, cause I'm, I'm leading online Bible study and I've got this guy from South Africa, we use zoom. Just kind of jump on. So like, like when you're doing international, are, are most of the, the Bible studies, like the small groups that are, you guys call them life groups, right? I don't want to use your links. Yeah. Life groups, life groups are the online, is that, is that through zoom or do you have like people clustering and gathering together internationally and UK in different places, but what does it look like?

Ryan Sharp: 02:49 The short answer is all of the above. We structure our life groups in two different ways right now. Um, we, the two different categories are in person or entirely. And so with, within these two to two ways, we leave it completely open to the leader to decide how they can connect, why they connect stays the same. But we really leave the how and the what up to that leader. So some use zoom, some use Facebook groups, um, some use a talkie. Dot. Io. Uh, so I mean it's a free version of what you might have on zoom. It's pretty cool. It's an up and coming. I love, love that, love that tool. But uh, but really they, they get to, uh, they, they get to connect with however they, they best can connect with their communities.

Jeff Reed: 03:39 Talky dot. Io. That's something that's something I've not heard of so that, that's, that's interesting. I'll have to look that up. Is that mobile app or is that, is a web based?

Ryan Sharp: 03:46 It's a web based app. They're trying to do a mobile thing, uh, as well. Um, it's not as good as the web based app.

Jeff Reed: 03:52 Okay. Interesting. I will dive into that. Thanks for the tip. How'd you get started into this? So like last way, just to put it in context, you were, you were in United Kingdom like last week, two weeks ago. By the time this, this is investing into volunteers over there, casting vision in the church online. Did you like go to school for Church online? You wake up one morning and like, Hey, I'm going to do church online and everybody looks at you like you're crazy. Cause that's, that's what happened to me. But like what's your

Ryan Sharp: 04:19 yeah, no, that's really good man. So I, I grew up, um, I grew up in multiple places of the world. My Dad was a geophysicist and so we traveled to multiple areas throughout my, my early childhood. Um, so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures around the world. I've always been interested in technology, but more than that, my worldview has always been this global worldview that people need to know Jesus wherever they are. And so when, uh, in through my college years I was thinking to myself, will Paul use the most advanced piece of technology to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? And at the time it was the written word, right? And however they would deliver that written word, those letters to the churches, he would spread the good news, the Gospel, the direction, using the most powerful piece of technology, the most advanced pieces of technology that he had.

Ryan Sharp: 05:14 So why wouldn't we do the same in this day and age? And it just clicked, like, why can't we just use the, the Internet? And so I have been a huge, um, follower of, of life church and I'm just admirer for years throughout my teenage years and through my early twenties. And um, have always just dreamed about like, God, if you could provide a way that I could work for that organization and be a part of what God is doing, um, I feel like my heartbeat would be the same, uh, as, as that organization. And really the credit goes to, to uh, Bobby Grunewald who back in 2006. They were, the story goes like this, that p they were moving, uh, we're planning physical locations and they were moving these, uh, these heavy equipment, you know, as you might set up in a, in a, a portable church environment and everything like that.

Ryan Sharp: 06:06 And one person said to said to Bobby, you know, hey, can you get that speaker? And in as he was lifting up the speaker, he said, oh, I could do this so much easier online. And the person said, what do you, what do you mean by that? He goes, well, I could, I could put a church service together and I could come unity online and I could, I could do this. But back in 2006, Bobby Grunewald, the creator of the youversion Bible app had the idea for church online. Of course, he's our innovations pastor. And so he, uh, he started this website called Church online life church online. And so we, uh, that's really where it started. And since then, I, uh, I actually was an early adopter of life church online through my college years. In 2007, I, this was my church. I was away from my physical home church and looking for a church and found, stumbled on church online. And since then, and I was hooked.

Jeff Reed: 07:00 That's a phenomenal story. Yeah. I've, I've, I to have lifted way too many speakers in a portable [inaudible] even recently. And said, yeah, there's gotta be a better way to do this scope of church online. Um, just and the, the, the heart behind using church online to reach people. And so you guys are doing with, with life church, obviously you're reaching tons of like, I don't even know numbers. And at some level numbers, at some point they stop meaning things because you lose the stories in the heart behind it. But you're, you're reaching these phenomenal numbers of, of people, uh, through the physical campuses. Uh, you're reaching phenomenal numbers online, literally internationally, evidently because you're going over to meet with volunteers in the United Kingdom even, but you have the difficult deal of, of not reaching people in rows, but reaching them in circles. Uh, I'll, uh, Andy Stanley. So how do you, what's, what's the tension that you wrestle with? He, let me say it this way. I know lots of churches that are broadcasting the services online, but when it comes to, hey, let's do small groups, hey, let's do discipleship. Hey, let's do biblical community virtually. Oh No, you can't do that. You gotta gotta do that. Physically, what tensions or how would you answer a church that maybe has some of that tension that you can't do biblical community

Ryan Sharp: 08:20 online? Yeah, I, I'm uh, uh, I would, I would just say, you know, follow what, what God's specifically is calling you and your church to what he's called us to is to embrace the technology, the opportunity to reach people in on deeper and deeper levels. And so, um, I, I, I would maybe share specific stories like the opportunity to reach, uh, a guy named Mohammed in, uh, in, uh, in a Muslim country. He was in a, this is a story that came out and I love that you mentioned that you lose the power of the one story cause I'm, I'm all about that too. That, so Mohammed was in, um, a Muslim country and he was in a world religions course and his Muslim professor, uh, gave a assignment on, um, on Christianity. And that's when, um, that, that's when, uh, Mohammed received the instruction to download the youversion Bible app so he could complete his Christianity paper.

Ryan Sharp: 09:23 He downloaded the youversion Bible app, started reading the word of God. And was completely transformed by it. And then he came to church online because he somehow found church online life church online. And uh, and he ended up giving his life to Christ at the end of the service. And so he emailed us this story because he said, pray for me, cause it can be very dangerous for me knowing this now even more than that, fast forward now, he serves on our team from his country, leading people around the world to Christ at life, church online. And he's not only found Jesus and found a new life in him, but he's found a community that he gets to serve with. And through a medium of technology, he gets to connect with our team. He gets to connect with others and uh, and lead people to Christ. That's the opportunity that's ahead of us, uh, at, uh, in front of us at Church online. And so what I might say to a church is embrace that opportunity is that the Holy Spirit, God can work through incredible ways through life, life, church, online, through church, online, uh, ministry. And, uh, and so just see what God might have have for you.

Jeff Reed: 10:33 I love that by the way, Mohammed Os awesome story of, of just a guy who's, who's life was changed in, uh, you know, in, in a Muslim country, a place that we can't, you know, as a church, as a physical American church, we can't reach into without like embracing the online technology component of this. We, when you talk with volunteers, like even, cause I know you were international, United Kingdom, 71 volunteers, when you talk to American volunteers, you know, whatever, whatever the scope is like, do you have a hard time casting vision, getting people to understand, um, the why or even even the how or, or do, does life church volunteers, do they, do they embrace this strongly?

Ryan Sharp: 11:14 Yeah, they, they embrace it. I mean, the, the, the opportunity is, is that they, they get to come weekly and really be, uh, be a part of our church. So we have multiple layers of leadership with volunteers. When you ask how do we communicate and cast vision to volunteers? We, uh, uh, everyone has a leader and no one leads more than 10 people. And so, so the way that structure works is I would lead up to 10 individuals and those 10 individuals would lead up to 10. We want all of our volunteers to feel like they're a part of our church and that their pastorally cared for. And so we have volunteers, not just in life groups have, um, volunteers in social media and what we call our host team, which are the people that welcome and pray for people, uh, at our services and multiple other areas as well that people can serve in. And so, so we want our volunteers to feel that they're pastorally cared for as well as individuals that come online. And there's many different ways that we're able to care for those, those as well.

Jeff Reed: 12:15 What percentage of people that are watching the services, uh, align with groups? What, what we find is obviously, and I'm working with other churches and online, the people that we're talking to with the podcast, like it's, it's a huge number. Um, that, that are, that are watching the services tens, hundreds, thousands even. Um, eh, but some, some churches they have that, that vision towards, okay, groups we're going to hit it and run. Um, some it's, it's more kind of pulling teeth where, where it's not necessarily there. So like I'm, I'm just curious kind of what your percentages are or what advice that you would give, uh, to somebody that maybe is trying to get started in this and trying to try to establish that small group culture online.

Ryan Sharp: 12:59 Well, everyone that comes online, maybe not everyone, but we, we've found at life church online is that everyone that comes is looking for a place to belong. And so, so when they, when they come to a service and that that becomes their community, we find that there are people that come to the same service every single week, no matter where they are. We've never met them in person, but we know them and they're more apt to share, uh, even even quicker, deeper things because they feel like there's, there's a, uh, there's a level of, of an enemy there where they can kind of share what's on their heart. So community starts from step four rather than step one and a lot of ways online. So I feel like they embraced community. That's why they're there. That's why they're chatting. That's why they're there. They're involved. Um, and so, so they're looking for a place to belong.

Ryan Sharp: 13:52 And just like in any in-person connection, every single individual alive in any conversation, their brain is automatically searching for it. Am I safe? Am I, is this a safe environment? And so even when we started this conversation, my brain and your brain quickly processed, is this a safe conversation? Do I need a fight this or flight? This? You know, that's, that's the response that physically happens in our brain. And so, uh, that's, that's what, what we can help people understand that man, you're in a safe place. We're excited that you're here and God has had, God loves you very deeply and wants the best for you. And so those walls start to come down and people start to embrace community. But it's not automatic Jeff. It's really not man. It's, it's a constant. It's building that culture of community in an online space. Just like you would build the culture in a physical space as well.

Jeff Reed: 14:48 J OSJ crammed over at Saddleback. We had on a other thing, it was like episode three, way back. We were starting the podcast and uh, his and I, he and I have had the conversation several times, so just would love, love your take on it. Uh, in virtual environments and online environments, people connect to community before they connect to Christ. Have you guys experienced that? What, what, what is life church feeling? Uh, when it comes to that people connect to community before they connect to Christ?

Ryan Sharp: 15:13 Uh, I think just like, well, what maybe I said before, people are always searching for a place to belong no matter what they believe. And at life church, we, we feel like we, you want, we want you to feel like you belong here before you even believe. And so, so when w when people come, absolutely let's engage them in community because we truly do care often, authentically, uh, about them as people. They're created by God for a purpose. And so, um, so I absolutely, I would say that, but I, I would also say not always people, people can come to know Christ and then seek out community out of that. And so it works. It works both ways. You know, the, the whole thing of, there's always a next step of best next step for some individual. And that looks different for different times and different people.

Ryan Sharp: 16:00 A quick story of a specific life group. This is an in-person life group out in Beaumont, Texas. Uh, shout out to my life group leader there, Jessica. She, uh, she leads a a life group and I was able to visit that life group. Um, and, uh, and while I was there, the pastor Craig at our services, uh, pastor Craig Rochelle, he always at the end of his message, invites people to give their life to Christ and [inaudible] he says, raise your hand if you want to commit your life to Christ. It's a private moment. And I happen to be looking at the room at the time, there's a group of people around sitting in watching this service together, this church online, there's life, church, online service. And I see this guy in the back, raise his hand. And I'm like, man, this is such a powerful moment where someone in a life group at Church online gives their life to Christ.

Ryan Sharp: 16:52 So I had to catch up with this guy at the end. So after the service ends, I was like introduced myself. His name is Bruce and Bruce, uh, said that this is his first time actually coming into the life group and watching the service, that he would drop his daughter and his wife off every single week and he would sit in the truck. You wouldn't come in cause he, he, he feels like he's not ready to commit or it's not ready to be in community or even to devote his relationship to his life, to Christ, anything like that. And he said today was just different. I felt like I needed to be there. And then in that moment I felt compelled to give my life to Christ. I don't know what that means yet, but I did it. And so then we connected them with a life group leader and, and he's a part of community and he gave his life to Christ. And so that's, that's just what gets me so excited. And this is someone who has never walked into a life church location, but yet they're finding community and they found Christ in the context of an in person, church life, church, online life.

Jeff Reed: 17:49 Sounds like what you're describing is really this, this melding of, of, of physical and online, um, type type of thing, right? Where, where they're, they're meeting in the physical space but utilizing some of the online technology to kind of, to kind of see that in. So it's, it's like your, your online campuses birthing more physical communities around or some of these gatherings. Is that, that's kind of what you're describing, right?

Ryan Sharp: 18:14 Yeah, yeah. Precisely. P people gather together, attend the service together and then talk about it. That's really the, the lowest bar of like, I love what, uh, another life group leader said, ah, he's an in person life group leader out in South Carolina. Shout out to Steven. He, uh, he leads an in person life group there and he said, [inaudible] online makes it so easy to run my life group. All I did was make some coffee, turn on the service, invite my friends and God did the rest.

Jeff Reed: 18:41 That's funny. That's cool. So like how do you, how do you train, how do you equip, how do you empower the leaders? So Steven, South Carolina, um, turn it on a computer, you know, whatever to TV, apple TV, whatever it is, some sort of vehicle to get it up on, on a screens is to experience service. And then as leading, I'm guessing, some sort of discussion conversation afterwards. Like Siemens in South Carolina. What does that training look like? How are you guys helping him do this?

Ryan Sharp: 19:15 Yeah, so he's connected. He has his own leader. It's like we said before, there's multiple layers of leaders. So his leader trained Sam and connects with them every three months. At least they, they're having a, what we call a significant conversation. That's really what we train our leaders of leaders to have every three months have a significant one on one conversation with the people that you lead. And so there he's getting that connection to a life church, a team member, volunteer. And then also there's initial training that he goes through. Um, after we do background checks and everything, get them through our, our process of applications. We have different videos that we've shot of how to practically lead a in-person life group. And so it even talks about having the music on, having it smell good in the room, how having enough for parking, um, having it easily accessible. So really practical training in that area. And then on the entirely online side, we have practical training for that as well. How to lead an effective Facebook group, how to increase engagement in your Facebook group, how to do a zoom call, things like that. And so it's, it's very practical training on the front end to, to set the life group leader up for success.

Jeff Reed: 20:26 That's incredible. Uh, and so that's just part of your, Your Life Church team is, is, is doing, is, is developing the content, uh, your, your, your vote, your leaders though for accountability. You're one to 10 to 10 to 10 underneath, like that's all volunteer driven or mostly volunteer driven, right?

Ryan Sharp: 20:45 Yeah, it's entirely volunteers. Yup. The entire life groups ministry at Church online is all volunteer.

Jeff Reed: 20:52 Wow. So when it comes to like it, you know, expanding your circle of influence, um, like there is, there's no place life tree. I mean, you're telling me a story about, um, Muhammad in, you know, uh, undefined Middle Eastern country. There's no place you don't want to go, you'll, you'll go anywhere.

Ryan Sharp: 21:13 Yeah, absolutely. I think that Jesus will go anywhere. That's really the, the, the power behind the Gospel and the hope of what Jesus, you know, I believe in Matthew 28 when he said go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all the commands I've given you. And remember this, I'm with you to the end of the age when he gave us that, that command, that commission, I believe he had the internet in mind or you as you stood right then and there, he knew that there would be something called the Internet that will allow us to do this on a broader scale and a quicker scale. And then I think he, he knows what's coming next and he's, he says, man, let's utilize that. Let's leverage that to go everywhere to help people find Christ.

Jeff Reed: 22:00 Amen. I love this conversation and I'm going to love this next question cause um, yeah, I want to see how you respond to this. So you are effectively life church, God, Holy Spirit. Like forgive me, I don't want to like boil any of the spirituality out of this conversation so don't, don't allow that to happen. But effectively life church is, is going out and attempting to reach the world utilizing church online. Um, and effectively is, is it will, at least in the conversations we've talked about multiple states, multiple times zones, uh, Europe and um, multiple continents, uh, Middle East, probably more on the, on the Asia side. So yeah, multiple continents involved in this conversation. Um, yet the average church in America struggles with church online. Um, and when you really drill into like the, until the listeners who are hearing you talk about all this, the listeners are saying, yeah, I have this vision.

Jeff Reed: 22:59 I want to do this too. I want to be part of a church that's doing that. But my church is too afraid of embracing church online because it competes with a physical church. Um, because you can't do this stuff virtually has to be done in physical space. I'm not saying there's like magic power in the bricks, but often we, we live our lives that way. Like the Holy Spirit, um, isn't, isn't an ethereal thing. It's a virus that gets spread when we breathe the same air together. And yes, when two or more gathered together, um, God does something phenomenal, but I think God does something phenomenal via zoom too. And I'm not wanting to limit God. So my, my, my question is, is, is this all that was set up for it? For this? Yeah. Like

Jeff Reed: 23:42 how can you encourage people or what would you look at to say, Hey, life church, we were able to get past this. We were able to get past this issue and once we saw it from this angle, once we understood this, we just were able to run because we're life church and you're not the only one. There are others, but as a whole, there's 350,000 evangelical churches in America. There's probably two to 300 that are doing online small groups. So there there's something special that's happening with a select few. My hope is that more can get on board. How can more get on board? What, what do we need to do?

Ryan Sharp: 24:20 Yeah. I, to answer your question, I don't know if there's a specific like silver bullet that this is what changed our whole mindset. I think it was, it was really what we felt like God was calling us to. And the opportunity ahead of us. Where, I mean, w what I may say to someone who is on the fence about is this, is this online, there's an online ministry for us as a church consider processing. Um, what if you had the opportunity, you know, to reach quite literally billions of people within the context of your city. You would do everything you could do to reach those, those people. Well, if they lived in your city, you would find a way to reach them. Well, there's billions of people in an online context and online world, and we have the greatest message, the greatest news that has ever hit humanity, which is Jesus Christ and the redemptive power of, of what he brings to the world.

Ryan Sharp: 25:20 And so why wouldn't we try to, to reach those as many people as possible? And so, um, I think, I think also it's, yeah, just because it hasn't been done before doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. And so, um, that's, that's, that's maybe something that we might, you know, look at as a church and see, you know, why, why can't we do that? And, you know, we've, we've failed Oh, a lot through the process. And, um, and as, as your starting online ministry, you may try something and it may not work or it may not work how you thought it might work. Keep trying because the why matters the most and the y is to bring as many people into heaven as possible. The many, many, many people that know the hope of Jesus Christ. You know, that, that's, that's the why. And so when we know that we'll use anything we say this all the time at life church that will do anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ, to reach people. No one's reaching. We have to do things no one's doing. And so maybe God's calling you to that. Maybe God's calling you to do things that no one else is doing. And, and, uh, it may look different than life, church and, uh, and God's calling you to that, to reach your unique community of people in an online context.

Jeff Reed: 26:39 Well said. Uh, I think I've, I've quoted both those, any other people on this podcast, everything short, nothing short of sin or everything. Short of sin to yeah. To reach. And if you want to reach different people, you got to do different things. Um, yeah, that, that's been the reverberation of, of this podcast and uh, and other guests on there. So yeah, thank you for, um, uh, you know, personalizing that and, and, and putting an actual face to, to somebody who is, who's out there, you know, trying to do something different and, and trying to be effective in creating, uh, a disciple online and creating biblical community opportunities to, uh, help people go deeper in their faith.

Ryan Sharp: 27:22 Let me tell you, man, it's a team. It's a team effort. We've got an amazing team here at life church that we're, we're excited to, to try new things and do different things and fail quickly and adjust quickly. And also our global team of volunteers, they're just there. They're bought in, they're excited. They're, they're also alongside us, willing to do whatever. Um, and uh, and so that combination really, uh, really helps us focus what is truly what we're truly after.

Jeff Reed: 27:49 One of the biggest problems that I see with churches that are doing church online where they're, they're stuck is, okay, we're broadcasting the service. We've got hundreds, maybe a thousand people watching this. We know its views. Analytics are telling me that a significant amount of traffic is local within the city. Analytics are telling me that significant amount of traffic that's outside of the city. So it's kind of all over. But I don't know who these people are. Hmm. So like, I've got people who are doing church in isolation. That's not good. We want people in community. Um, what are some things that, that you guys, Life Church has done that you've seen done. How do we break down those walls of isolation and it start to discover, you know, who is actually watching and church online? So once we know who they are, we can pull them in. What, what's worked for you guys?

Ryan Sharp: 28:42 Yeah, I mean we see, we see life church online as just another location where we have church. And so in the same way that we would attack problems, we would attack them the same way at physical locations. And so we think to ourselves, how would we handle it if we had some people coming in and sitting in the back row, which we do a lot and then leaving right away. We don't know who they are. We might see their face for a brief moment or actually we might not. And so, uh, so they come in, they sit down, they leave. How might we help them engage now for a time that might be the best next step for them. It'd be amazing if they came back and then they came back again. Then they came back again and just had a great experience. Every time they came in, maybe they introduced themselves, maybe we engage them and maybe we lead them to engage.

Ryan Sharp: 29:30 You know, we say we say all the time, we will not say our people won't. We've committed as a church to say, we won't say our people won't. We'll actually say we've not led them to yet. And so, so really if we, if we have people coming online, we want to lead them to take that next step to have a conversation. And so that's in maybe a transition video from worship to pastor Craig. We may say, Hey, here's a question, why don't you answer that in the chat and express genuine concern for them and to see them where they're at. And so really engaging that online audience as if they are in the room, which they are. They are in the room. And so you may say in a physical location, we'd love to meet you in the lobby, connect with our team in the lobby. We might do the, we do the exact same thing online. We say connect with us in that chat area. Join a life group. Life is better together and we're so glad you're here. Those are the bills. That's the language, that's the culture. That's how we're leading people towards deeper connection and not just a coming and going.

Jeff Reed: 30:35 Great one. And I know one of the movements that I, that I've seen with groups lately has been, um, you know, in clay Scroggins this has talked a lot about this where, uh, they've started marketing the digital groups, not just to the online campus but actually to the, to the physical campus as well. Your guys' group approach is, is it is a unified like that where somebody can attend a physical campus and then a virtual small group. Is that encouraged? Is that discouraged? Like how do you handle nuances like,

Ryan Sharp: 31:08 yeah, absolutely. Specifically it goes both ways. We've had, uh, many opportunities in our, in our campuses where I find someone that's near a campus that wants to join a life group. And so I'll connect them with that local life group's pastor and they'll start it at a physical location, but yet they found that physical location through life church online. So, and then the opposite happens. There are people at physical campuses that approach the, the, the, the life groups team at that campus and says, Hey, I'd like to start an online group. And so they'll both list them for their local volunteers. But then that life that completer would like to open it up globally and say like, Hey, I want to start a homeschool moms group and I want to open it up to more than just the city. And so that life groups team will send us that information and we'll, we'll help them connect globally as well. So it can go both ways.

Jeff Reed: 31:59 It's, it's interesting the um, the relationship you're describing, um, cause it's, it's irregular and you've had a regular results. And I'm not saying the two are really, actually, I am saying the two are related, but like how do, and this gets back to this idea of, of culture, right? Cause so you guys have this culture where it's a healthy balance between what you're describing, a healthy balance between physical and virtual, between the, the brick and mortar and online where they're cohabitating very well, very efficiently and helping each other not viewed as, as, um, as opposites or almost enemies. Like, and, and I, I have, I have clients, I have, um, churches that, that I've, I've worked with that, that would paint the picture of [inaudible]. Yeah. I'm literally a larger church in the Midwest, five, 6,000 people literally having conversations about shutting down their online campus or online campus reaches multiple thousands of people.

Jeff Reed: 32:59 Um, uh, a week, uh, because the church saw that the online attendance was growing, physical campus was declining and therefore we want to shut down the online campus and force everybody come to the building. I may be overstating on some things, but that's the general principle of a lot of the churches out there. And yet somehow you've created this healthy balance culture between the physical as well as, as online where you're working together towards a common goal and people are inner weaving between physical and online healthy as they should. How do you create that culture?

Ryan Sharp: 33:35 Well, the first thing I would say is I, I never want to doubt anything that God may be calling a specific church or leadership to do. And so, so, uh, I, I really want a, whatever the lead pastor, senior pastor at any physical location to here is that I'm, uh, uh, w we never want to say that there's, this is the only way. Um, um, W to answer the second part of your question, I would say that we, we truly do believe both at life church, online and at all of our physical locations, which they're one in the same. We feel like our, um, that the church is truly not a building, but it's the people. And so that is, that is really the culmination of how we've led our people to believe that it is the people. It is in deeper levels of community.

Ryan Sharp: 34:23 That it is that people still, whether they come online or come in person to us it's the same. And we, we've had to make that, that call. And it not that I've, I've not heard anything to where that was an even difficult call. That was a call that we understood that the church truly is the people. Um, and, uh, we say this all the time at, at life church online within our, our thing, we actually just just right near me, we have a saying on the wall, it says every number has a name. Every name has a story and every story matters to God. And so we may be seeing, we may be seeing people coming to our services and we consider them just a, a number x amount of people came and then x amount of people left when really we have to understand that because the church is the people and not a building, that that number has a name and that name has a story and that story matters to God. And so it's not understanding. It's that culture that we've been able to, to, um, to fall into that, uh, that's led us to, to really have this, this, um, this outcome.

Jeff Reed: 35:30 Yeah. I'm going to steal that. Every number has a name. Um, every name has a story and every story matters to God. That's it. Well, actually who actually said that? That's pastor Craig Craig or Craig Rochelle. Yes. Awesome. Awesome. Hey Craig, if you're not listening, but if you were, thank you. I, I appreciate the, uh, the a quote. That's awesome. Um, man, they're there. This has been great. It's been really good. I, I love, I love your heart to create community. I love your heart to, to work alongside the campuses. Um, I love how God is, is, is rewarding your, your faithfulness in a humbleness, um, in, in mighty ways to make a difference in the kingdom. Like this has been been really exciting and, and, and encouraging for the listeners and those that are out there. Um, what's the, you said there's no silver bullets. I totally get that. What's the first step? So I'm doing a broadcast. Uh, I need to, I want to take that first step. I want to create groups. I have no idea how to start. Where do I start?

Ryan Sharp: 36:41 Yeah. I, I would say if, if you're, if you're doing a broadcast and you're not cultivating online community, your first step would be to either yourself or develop a team too, to stimulate online community around that broadcast. So stimulate that online community, um, create that community around that content is really what we w we would say. And so then, so once, once you're there, um, and you've got two or three on your team that show up at every service or they're parceled out of different services and they're answering every comment that comes in, like welcoming them personally, getting to know their stories, engaging with them with the content, then I, uh, step two would be to find people [inaudible] to lead groups that you could lead them into deeper levels. And so, um, step two would be, um, John Smith wants to lead a life group. It's gonna be on Tuesday nights at this time, or it's going to be an ongoing Facebook group.

Ryan Sharp: 37:45 And, uh, then I can lead them to that. Something that we've, we've tried that has, has, um, has it, has it had a decent result of it will actually gather people together and create a Facebook group for them and then, and then connect them to it. Um, it's, it's gotten okay results. I wouldn't say that's a silver bullet. Just like what, you know, you said there's no silver bullet, but, uh, um, then I, then I would say, I would say also something that has really been a game changer for us has been having a, a Facebook group that we can filter everyone to. So every person, so we call it our global global Facebook group, you know, and so, so, um, we have a certain amount amount of people that are in there that are part of our services that either find that group or find it as a result of our service so they go to and from that group, from a service or to a service. Um, but really it's a way that every day, um, uh, members of our team and volunteers are engaging people, uh, with different questions of the day and different, um, updates about what different events at Church online, um, really about your next steps and different, different things we want to lead people towards.

Jeff Reed: 38:59 Okay. So you're Craig creating community around the event chat rooms, stuff like that. Meeting people, getting names, cataloging their information in some sort of database. And then inviting them into like a mega group for your entire online environment. And so that online group could involve hundreds, if not thousands of people. Uh, it could involve a physical campus, people that are just attending, uh, online occasionally as well. Like you're going to get a lot of crossover, but, and then once you have all those people, once you have their contact info, once you have them on, on Facebook, funneling all of them and trying to get those people connected into some sort of an online group where they can be part of a biblical community and somebody can, can spiritually be, be caring for them. That that's awesome.

Ryan Sharp: 39:49 Exactly. I mean, I think like, uh, I would say w the audience here that's listening is, you know, pastors and church leaders and, and different individuals. And so I would say it's the same way you might, uh, if you're starting a new, a new location or even planting a church, what would be your first step to do what it would probably be to try to foster community around, you know, the message of what, what you're doing. So how much you do that. Well, first you'd have people greeting at the front door to make sure that this is, you know, help people see that. So you would do the same online, you'd have people greeting and uh, and stimulating that community in like a, a lobby of sorts and uh, in your chat area. And then you might say, man, take your next step to join a group. So

Jeff Reed: 40:36 love it. Love it. Let me get one more question before we go. Um, what do you guys study curriculum content wise? Like what with online? Is it the same thing as a physical groups? What, what does that look like content wise?

Ryan Sharp: 40:49 Yes, it is the same thing as physical locations and all of those groups as well. So we have every week we have questions that are created by our team that this is the life church team that all of the campuses get and church on life church online gets is that as well. Um, and these are deeper questions, what you might see at, at most churches that do a small group ministry model where they're diving down deeper into the message. So we get that. And then also there's specific content that we record out of series. Pastor Craig will record extra kind of bonus content videos. And so at physical locations they'll have those, those life groups. Um, pastor Craig has these, these things with like help let me lead your life group. And so it's really effective whenever, you know, pastor Craig is on the screen and then you get to have a conversation about that, that content of what he just said.

Ryan Sharp: 41:46 And so it's not just deeper, it's deeper, deeper even. So, you know, and so, um, so that's, that's been really effective too. And as far as curriculum, we hold it really open-ended. We, they're not required to bring up the, what we call our talking over notes. Those are the questions out of that, that, uh, that week's sermon, they're not required to follow in any sort of specific curriculum. Um, we really have a high degree of, of trust of like leads your community, help your community grow. And, uh, and we're excited that you're doing it within, within life church and around our services.

Jeff Reed: 42:21 Awesome. Awesome. It's really exciting. And it's, it's funny, like when I've talked to churches about their online and the church that doing a small group, um, some of them tend to create systems that are very complex, but yours is very simple, you know, very reproducible, very, I, you know, ski. Yes, there's technology behind it, but, you know, yeah, it's, it's, it's questions from the sermon so people watch the sermon. The easiest thing for them to do is there's the follow up on that. And, and so to use that as the vehicle to grow into reproduce groups, maybe some easier groups to help people get started. Like that's, that's an encouraging thing to consider. Don't, don't overcomplicate it. Um, maybe try to keep it simple to allow people to connect to the community and then let God move within the community and grow it as, as he does. So that's that to me, that's a huge takeaway right there. Just keep it, I mean, I hate to be like the kiss, keep it simple, stupid guy, but rapid podcast, keep it simple. Right. You know, and then just allow God to, to move as he does. So that, that's really encouraging. Uh,

Ryan Sharp: 43:33 yeah, there's, there is a, there's resources at your, at your disposal, you know, this is doable. This is, this is, uh, this is biblical, this is a, and so, um, that's a, that we're just really excited about what God has allowed us the opportunity to do. And, um, and if, if you have any questions at all, I would love the opportunity to just have a, have a conversation with you about, about what God might be doing in your, your unique situation and, uh, and see what God might might have for you.

Jeff Reed: 44:04 Well, that's awesome. Hey, so we're, where can they find you online?

Ryan Sharp: 44:08 Yeah, you can reach out on Instagram. My handle is @ryanmsharp.

Jeff Reed: 44:18 Cool. And so you can go on there and I'm sure he's got some Europe posts still somewhere from United Kingdom on there, just recently and others. I appreciate it. Like, I've engaged with you several times online and you know, listen audience, I'll tell you like he was very receptive and open quickly to jump back so that was, it's always good to know like when people are like open and receptive.

Ryan Sharp: 44:46 Yeah, man, the heartbeat of our church, the heartbeat of our leadership is we're all about the capital C Church. And so we really, we believe in what God is doing here at life church. But we also believe in what God is doing in the global capital c church. And so for you listening, um, we're, um, got a, God's called you for a specific purpose. He's a, um, and uh, and you can do this and if you feel a level of discouragement just to turn to Jesus and refocus on what truly is important and lead well.

Jeff Reed: 45:18 Hmm. Amen. I was going to ask you if there's any thoughts to wrap up, but honestly that was the most eloquent thing I think we could wrap up on. So we're just going to call it done for Ryan. Uh, this says Jeff with the church digital. Thanks for joining us and, uh, we'll see you next time. Have a good day.

 
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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 Church Online.

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