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PODCAST 029: Mark Venti & Churchome's Digital Culture

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One of my favorite podcasts to date, Mark Venti from Churchome lays it out. “We’re experimenting…” “We’re following the Holy Spirit, but learning from Silicon Valley…” Mark and Churchome are on a mission to impact people in their homes as much as in their church buildings. After all, churches didn’t have buildings for the first 300 years they existed.

Churchome has received some notoriety, and my blog posts I’ve written on them have become some of the most-read blogs on my site thanks to Google. In the midst of the criticism, Churchome has been highly effective in creating a digital mobile-app strategy for reaching people who would never go into their physical campuses.

Takeaway from this episode? I’ll give you two: 1) Don’t be afraid to experiment. 2) Don’t copy and paste someone else’s strategy.


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ON THE SHOW

Guest: Mark Venti
Churchome
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Host: Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
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Co-Host: Rey DeArmas
Christ Fellowship Miami Online
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SHOW NOTES

HELP ANOTHER CHURCH. LEAVE A REVIEW.

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!
 
By leaving a positive ranking and review of THECHURCH.DIGITAL PODCAST on iTunes, you're helping to get this podcast in front of new people who are most likely asking the same questions you are. Head over to that Ratings & Review section on iTunes and drop a good word for us!
 
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 Let's not get hung up on a facility. That's a direct quote from Mark Venti here on Episode 29 of The Church Digital Podcast. We had a great episode, a great interview, great conversation, and I got to tell you it when a little long, but it is so rich with concepts for Church Online, for digital church, for mobile app church that I don't want to add a bunch of stuff here in the beginning. I just want you to listen to the interview because right from the get go it is solid solid stuff. So here's who I'm bringing to the table today. Mark Venti, Executive Pastor of Churchome, there on the West Coast. I'm bringing in Rey De Armas, Online Pastor from Christ Fellowship Miami and myself, of course, Jeff Reed from The Church Digital in a conversation that I'm calling Creating Church Culture Digitally. Hey everybody, here you go.

Mark Venti: 00:50 Our church started in 1992 and I came over, I started attending Churchome. It was then called The City Church, so it was launched called The City Church in Seattle, Washington. I joined the church in 2000. I kind of dabbled in it a little bit before that but I came to do our Bible College and the church saw a lot of growth early on and I came on staff in 2001, cleaning toilets and washing windows. And, then during that time, myself, I did a lot of youth ministry and during that time our church also transitioned to doing multisite. We launched our first location in 2004 and so I was a part of that on the youth ministry side, how to start and grow our youth ministry in multiple locations and a really fun time. Our pastor right now is Judah Smith.

Mark Venti: 01:47 So his parents started the church and he was the youth pastor though and I work with him back in the youth ministry and you know, had a really fun time building a youth ministry in the multisite environment. And what that meant was we did four youth services a week in person. So that was a lot. I did the high school and the music and then I slowly morphed into becoming the College and Young Adults Pastor and a Campus Pastor, two of our locations, one that's on the University of Washington. So it's pretty much all college students. A lot of fun. It would triple the third week of September when all the students came back and, then like the second week of December, it was like the rapture happened. Then I campus pastored at our main location and the church has just been through, you know, a bunch what happened in 2006, sorry, 2005.

Mark Venti: 02:45 Right after we started this new location, we were looking into getting a new building and at that point we needed to get insurance on our Lead Pastor, to get leveraged with the bank and discovered that he had multiple myeloma. And so the mission of our church became the healing of our pastor. And so our church was growing at an exponential rate, you know, in those first 10 years. And then all of a sudden our mission became that he would get better. So throughout all of that, we stayed about the same size of a community. Judah took over the church in 2009 and a year later his dad passed away. So it was, you know, then we went through quite a bit of a season of a transition because Judah was transitioning the church and mourning his dad's life at the same time.

Mark Venti: 03:39 This is when I was out to UD so I was kind of in a little bit of a bubble cause I'm with a bunch of young college students that have no connection to our past. And, so, you know, I wasn't in the middle of all that pain, as much as, a lot of our community was here. And then I came over and helped, lead our main location for four years and the transition into a leadership team role, which is where I sit now and helping resource, all of our locations. And, I'm primarily involved with, expansion and growth for our church.

Jeff Reed: 04:10 There is so much really good there. Especially, you know, I heard succession plans, health, longevity of being on staff and really like that's like the first question I would ask and that's not even what I wanted to dig into. So you started, I mean I'm not saying you were in the mail room, but you were basically like cleaning toilets. Is that a literal thing?

Mark Venti: 04:32 My second year as a college student I started, I became a janitor at the church. I was a waiter in a restaurant and so I started, yeah, cleaning, literally cleaning toilets. I was also leading worship as a volunteer. So I was doing all the music for our youth ministry and I, there was a few Sundays where I was literally on the clock emptying garbages but this is back in the day where you wore suits to church every Sunday. And so I bought my suit at, we also had a little like, thrift shop in our lobby. So I bought my suit for $20 that I wore almost every week and there were a few Sundays where I was cleaning toilets with a suit on in between services and I'd get on the stage and then lead worship and auditorium seats about 2,500 so I'd be leading worship in front of 2000 people and then during service break I'd be emptying garbages. So yeah, that was real.

Jeff Reed: 05:25 That's an interesting stage of life. Definitely. Yeah. So we've talked about this on the podcast and I'm just going to be completely transparent right here. I haven't had a ministry position longer than four years. You're looking at something where, I'm doing bad math in my head, but 15, 16, 17 years, I think.

Mark Venti: 05:45 19 years.

Jeff Reed: 05:47 Like I said, bad math, 19 years. How did you manage to stay in a position for 19 years? Like what does that look like for you?

Mark Venti: 05:58 Probably because our church changes so much so it doesn't feel like I'm in one position. I mean, my role I have, I've probably only been in one similar role for more than three years at a time. We're a pretty younger staff. It hasn't always been like that being our pastor now it's 40 years old and he took over the church at 31 and so that's probably a lot of it. I'm also, I love the vision of the church. I'd love, I have a long term relationship with Jude and Chelsea. I mean I was 17 and I went on a ministry trip with him when they were engaged to be married and when they were on this trip, it's me, a 17 year old with an engaged couple on a 10 hour drive into Canada. And there were times where Judah would go up to study and I'd sit in a coffee shop with this fiance.

Mark Venti: 06:49 It was bizarre. I'm just saying we go way back. And so I just think there's something there. And we also compliment each other. Judah is an artist. He is a gifted communicator. I'm the first person in my family to be in ministry. My dad is a mechanical engineer. So even the way my brain is wired, like I connect with Judah. I've preached a lot. I did all of that. But I'm also a little bit more of a tactical, mathematical minded individual. So we just have a long history. So we connect really well, but I'm also very different than him.

Jeff Reed: 07:28 Wow. That's exciting how you found somebody that's like complimentary and you connect with each other and completing that package. So you were with The City and so now, you're in the midst of a rebrand or something heading into Churchome. I know like you first came on my radar, honestly, I found you on Fox news, I think they ran article about this guy named Judah Smith who's trying to like Pastor people digitally on his phone. Like, and it's just like, what's going on? So I started digging and doing some research and, I honestly, just right now the number one blog on my website is what I wrote about you guys. So I don't know if like people are still hitting on Google or what. I honestly, I didn't really dig into the analytics lately, but there's still is a hot topic where people are trying to figure out what Churchome is. So kind of help us here and really help us define what is Churchome, what do you guys trying to do?

Mark Venti: 08:29 So here's part of the story that's funny is, so we changed the name of our church three years ago and our church, we didn't have a digital app at that point. We weren't, we didn't change the name of our church so that we could become a, you know, a massive digital expression. I mean the name of our church is not very innovative. In fact, we pushed back quite a bit like, Hey, we can get like some professionals in here, like rebranding experts. And he's like, no, I feel like God's calling our church to be church like a home. And this was three years ago, and possibly to have church in your home, but church should feel like a home setting. It should feel like a refuge. It should feel like a space where you breathe and, I feel like it's supposed to change.

Mark Venti: 09:20 So it was, it was a bit of an identity emphasizer when we made that transition. Little did we know, how important technology would be to complete that mission? We're still learning how that all is, but we, there's people that have come up to me and been like, okay, so I know City Church, which is our old name, but there's a million City Churches now. When we started in 1992, it was like this super innovative name. But, we were City Church and when we changed, people thought like, okay, so a City Church like your building church and Churchome is like your digital church. It's just happens to be that within a year of us changing our name, that this opportunity came for us around, using digital technology to help us, create communities. Hopefully all over the world.

Jeff Reed: 10:08 The goal of Churchome is to create churches in homes. Part one is to create a church environment, maybe in a physical building that feels like home, but then there's a second part that's creating churches in homes. Unpack, I mean both if you want, but really that second piece of what does it look like to create a church in a home?

Mark Venti: 10:31 Yeah, I mean, first thing I'll say is I think it's important we don't get hung up on a facility, because it's not about a building, it's not about a home. it's, it's way more about church. We all know this. It's no question for any church leader that a building is not a church and that's the same thing. You know, I think that's probably why and your blog in the past and maybe when we launched our app, the people, there were some people that had a little bit of a hard time cause they're like an app is not church. And we're like, we're not saying it is, but we do believe just like a building facilitates church. We believe that an app facilitates church. I will say this, that the first 300 years of the church, there weren't buildings like the buildings didn't get created till Constantine built them.

Mark Venti: 11:20 And so like when we look at churches, I mean throughout the New Testament, Paul is saying, Hey, greet those people. And if you look at it says the ones who meet at the church in your home, like people just found whatever means possible they could to build the community of church. And I think culturally, that we put limitations around the church that don't need to be there. and I think that's kind of the heart. I mean, if you take the digital mentality it's way broader, not talking church, but you know, we have Amazon in our backyard. Silicon Valley is just down the road and Seattle is becoming a new Silicon Valley. I mean, literally our real estate has doubled in the last three years because a lot of companies from San Francisco are moving up here. Apple's moving their headquarters to Seattle.

Mark Venti: 12:13 Microsoft is literally a stone's throw from where I'm sitting right now as the list goes on. So we're in a very, we're in a very tech based area. The way, the way the tech world thinks is they, they literally are, are constantly adapting, constantly changing, and they're constantly thinking one thing, let's use whatever means humanly possible to sell what we have, to give what we have. And so my opinion, like why shouldn't the church think that much that way, even more so? Like let's use any means we possibly can. I mean, Amazon started in Seattle last year, they built a whole department, invested millions of dollars into downtown, this thing called Amazon Go. It's a grocery store that you walk in with your phone in your pocket, grab your stuff and walk out without checking out. Your phone just does it for you. Everybody's like, this is going to be the next idea.

Mark Venti: 13:05 Well, they closed it two months ago. They're like, it didn't work. And by the way, all of your staff that did this, you don't have a job anymore. And, but at the same time, they just started a new store in Seattle cause they're testing it, called the Four Star. And what that is, the top 100 4-star rated products on Amazon, they're selling in person and they're, I mean, they're totally random, but they're all the top sellers. And Amazon's just going, it's not about an app. It's not about online. It's not about a building. It's let's find any way possible to sell. And so if a building helps us, let's do it. Let's find it out. And so much more I think. Why doesn't the church thinks the same way?

Jeff Reed: 13:47 Yeah. There's that bit of experimenting that, you know, the church has, and we've talked about this recently, we had Seth Muse on who's a Communications Director at a church. And we've just talked so much about this idea of the church doesn't experiment. It's afraid to, it gets locked in this model of the brick and the mortar building of, Oh, well, we've been doing church services for years. We shouldn't have to do another thing because the church service worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, way back in Constantine. I mean that's a great illustration right there of, we've been stuck in a model, and are maybe trying to break free of that model. Churches like yours with Churchome you know, wrestling with what it looks like to do something different. And honestly, like as I was doing some digging, I'll never forget this tweet and I, we may have discussed it, I think previously, but literally somebody said in a tweet and Twitter's Twitter, I get it. I don't know what the F bomb you think this is, but don't call it church. That was the church, that was someone involved in the churches response to church home experimenting with doing something different. Like there's whole bunch of issues with that. But how much of that have you guys felt?

Mark Venti: 15:09 See, I was sheltered. I'll say that like we're probably disconnected from the, it's probably a good thing. There's probably some bad things to it, but we're disconnected from a lot of different areas with like, there's sometimes the competition and the critics in the church world. And I mean, honestly what we're passionate about, we're based in Seattle. We have a location in Los Angeles and we're believing to really reach people and engage with them at a high level, much broader than that clearly. But, I think we've been sheltered from a lot of it. I mean, I would say this like, we, a lot of our staff, for example, I mean, they probably are very, like, we regulate their social media, but we don't talk about our press this way or that way that much. You know, there were some in the beginning that were kind of, they were kind of fun to hear, just like, I was like, wow, people really have an opinion about this. I'm kind of shocked. So, there might still be a lot going on. I literally would tell you, I don't even know. I think we just have our head down. We're trying to learn, we're trying to experiment, we're trying to listen to users not to critics or another way, those are kind of digital terms, but, you know, we're trying to listen to people that are engaging with our community and what their experiences and how we can make that better that's what I have my focused attention on. But that's what our team has their focus attention on.

Jeff Reed: 16:41 Yeah. What does church look like in Churchome? Obviously physical buildings. I think people can put it together, but, you know, maybe since, let's not listen to the critics, but let's focus on what is this, what's the end game? What's the actual church?

Mark Venti: 17:00 So here's what I think people get hung up on. I mean, to answer your question, we have, we have five locations that are buildings. We have staff, pastors, we have gatherings on Sundays and Wednesday night. But, and we also have this digital tool that is what we're passionate about is that we call it a digital tool by the way it's a tool that helps engagement. I'm gonna use a term that's nothing rocket science, but I think this is what people get hung up with on maybe this critic who said this is not church and, is this, well, people need to meet in person. And, I mean, that's a good question. I don't know if anybody can conclude on that, but I will tell you our goal is that people would meet in person. So what we are hoping to do with mobile technology is help people, whether they meet in our buildings or they meet in another way that we can create a space where people can build relationships and meet face to face.

Mark Venti: 18:06 So, and whatever means possible for that to facilitate. There is massive benefits to digital, engagement in technology. I believe majority of that and getting majority of that is, is really benefit on the front end. I asked the guys at Life.Church when we were first exploring this, you know, cause from what the little bit that I know there are some of the people that really started this and I talked to their Online Pastor and he's like, man, people are actually engaged more on online than they do in person. You know, I'll walk past somebody in our lobby and they won't say hi to me and they'll get on their phone and they'll text me or vice versa. People will be extremely vulnerable and let's just be honest, just cause there's anonymity, you know, you can talk about I had a terrible day today, this, this and this and this and just open up very quickly with complete strangers.

Mark Venti: 19:01 That's actually something that we can really use for our benefit. Like we can use that vulnerability to create connections that hopefully lead to people meeting together in person. So what Churchome looks like is, I say all that to say Churchome is very passionate about being church like a home. And what I mean by that again is that is that you have a safe place, a small church that happens to have a lot of people. So we want to have a small church environment and it just our prayers that we reach as many people as possible. So, it happens to have a lot of people, but it might meet in small environments or if you're in an environment, it's a large, we want it to feel very small. We want to feel very authentic. We want to feel very genuine. We want everybody to know somebody and somebody to know you at the end of day is it about a group's program? Is it about this? I think programs are overrated. Program has helped us facilitate a cultural value. Our cultural value would be that when you're going through a hard time, do you actually know somebody that you can call or text or connect with and that person doesn't need to have the answers. They seem to be able to be there and be like, man, I'm sorry. I'll pray with you. I'm for you. And we all know that the people we want to go to in those moments, it's not somebody that's got a solution, but somebody's going to empathize with us. It's gotta be somebody that's going to be there for us. And so we're trying to find any way possible to help facilitate easy connection. Even like I said, for people to come in our buildings, we, I think one of the negative aspects of the mega church world in which we live, in which we are one by the way. Is it so easy to slip in and slip out. It's so easy to come to a gathering and think of gathering is church. And as we know, church is so much more than that. And so we're kind of, we're trying to think of a community that engages daily rather than Sunday and let's use Sunday or a gathering as a tool to help people engage daily. So that's what we're passionate about with Churchome.

Jeff Reed: 21:08 So often we hear with church online or or technology that it conflicts that it competes with the physical building. Like I've literally had conversation where pastors are debating about shutting down church online because they're saying church online numbers skyrocket and they're seeing physical numbers shrink. So rather than working with the thing that's being successful, they want to shut down the successful thing in hopes that since they're not able to access the content, the services, the messages online, they'll go back to the physical buildings, the brick and mortar and see it there. What you've done with Churchome is you've managed to develop as a strategy or maybe unpack what this looks like, where your Churchome app, your digital strategy, compliments what's happening in the physical as well as coexisting outside for an online audience. Can you kind of unpack a little bit about how the mobile works alongside and doesn't compete with the physical?

Mark Venti: 22:12 Well, let me use a few words that you just used to kind of give context. First off, let me actually say it does compete and I think it's important for any leader to go, if I leave it to itself, they do contrast and they do compete. But if we lead it, they cannot and actually don't even want to use the word compliment that they can do their part in their own space to help make the whole experience better. Let me give you an example. When Nordstrom first started their digital, Nordstrom's also a local community here, a company here, and when they first started their digital online presence for selling stuff, what ended up happening without them trying to was their stores and their digital ended up competing against each other. And so the leadership got together and said, this isn't going to work.

Mark Venti: 23:10 The option that I think what churches and what church leaders have thought is, you kinda have three options. Keep them competing and that's a pain or shut one of them down. We should shut buildings down. Nope, we should shut up online down. But when you think in business terms, how terrible would that be for Nordstrom to make that conclusion? Of course the answer is one of the two, you know, either let them keep competing, which I don't think is a good solution or let's find out a way that these can work together. Not, and I agree there is a complimentary aspect to it, but there's also an idea of going let's let digital make physical better and let's make physical make digital better. So what I mean by this is this and this is what we're endeavoring to do. And I will say that, we are trying and we are growing and we are learning and I think we've got some great ideas and I think what we're doing right now is also awesome, but I think some of the new things we're going to be trying in the future are going to even make this even better that you have the exact same experience whether your first interaction with Churchome is digital and online or if it's in person. And I'm actually beginning to see that the most ideal scenario is your first impression to be digitally, which leads to in person. So I'm going to use in person on purpose rather than than buildings because again, I don't want us to be limited to buildings being physical. Physical that I think we see in the Bible is people meeting with people and obviously there's the whole government structure church of course we believe in all of that. But I'm just saying it's face to face engagement. So, what we have had, and this actually did happen for us, is that we, when we launched our app, we realized quickly that we had to start creating workflows. How is this all gonna work?

Mark Venti: 25:11 And so we started creating all these workflows and all of a sudden we kinda had to churches, we had workflows for all of our buildings and our mega church. And then we had workflows for all of our digital and I mean, we had staff literally just to tell you the conflict, to be vulnerable with you. We had staff being like, I kind of feel like we're going back to the book Exodus and you're asking us to build more brick with less straw and mud. Like I feel like you just gave me a second job. I can't keep up with both these because we were like, we're gonna seamlessly bring these together. All of us are going to be involved. Everybody's going to have a job on the app, everybody's going to have a job in person. And that's still, you know, part of being a team is you just jump in and do it.

Mark Venti: 25:51 What we're working on right now is trying to go, let's think of one workflow that seamlessly has digital, physical, physical, digital, physical rather than digital, digital, digital, digital, digital or physical, physical, physical, physical, physical. Let's have one workflow that doesn't cause these things to compete because they naturally do, but they actually seamlessly work together. And there's a term that is funny in industry right now. It's, that's called phygital. Like I said, you can tell so many jokes around it but this term is exactly that. It's the seamless, cohesion of physical and digital workflows working together and cohesion to build the best product we possibly can. So church is not a business, it's not a product, you hear my heart, but, that's what we're endeavoring to do. And it's a constant journey. It's a constant adaptation. and it's a constant learning from users on how we can do that better.

Rey De Armas: 26:57 Mark, you made a comment earlier about how programs and processes need to work together. I thought that was great because so often, you know, I find that we get so caught up in terms of what the true purpose of the program is. And so can you give me some, some like more specific examples as to how that works out with Churchome in terms of, Hey, here's the concept that we want to see happen. How are we going to do this in a digital space? And we're open to whatever ideas come with it as far as how that's gonna work.

Mark Venti: 27:28 I'll tell you something we are doing right now. I'll also tell you some of the problems we have with those, which is why we're trying to explore other ways but they're good problems. It's there's probably always going to be some problems with everything we do, which is what keeps us having a job. But, what we're doing right now, which has been a big aspect of what we're trying to leverage content, to be a hook for people to engage with and, our goal is that those people would consider starting groups, leading groups. So obviously groups is a very big aspect. We want to make it super easy for people to lead groups. One thing has been very specific is we have, we've tried to really streamline our technology rather than having like 15 different on-ramps as narrowing as it is.

Mark Venti: 28:19 We've said this is our on-ramp. so we don't, we're not like communicating to our church and say, Hey, go use this technology, go use that, go use this. And I think there's benefits to that. But I think what I would recommend to anybody is curate those different technologies that other people have created, like Facebook groups or any of those try to curate them to work as one seamless thing customized for your community. So for us, we went all in with this mobile app. Are we going to have used some of that in an online web based experience? Sure. We'd like to build that out more. But we went first with a mobile app because that's way more where people are at. I mean who even remembers Amazon.com, like when, I'm not saying people don't use it, but that's where Amazon started.

Mark Venti: 29:06 But what made Amazon, Amazon, is that app because we all know we spend way too much money cause we think of something and then we buy it right then on our phone. So mobile technology is very different than online technology. And mobile technology is primarily about the immediate and also primarily about engagement because you can engage right then and right there. I mean, think about how different social media wouldn't be if we didn't have mobile phones. I'd be extremely different. And so I think streamlining what you're going to choose, that's what we chose. That's why we went that direction. I also believe that businesses that are using mobile technology appropriately are the ones that are really thriving. And I don't think, in my opinion, I don't think churches have really used mobile technology for what it is. It's become like an app version of a website.

Mark Venti: 29:57 It's not really interactive. It's not very engaging. It's not something that is, addicting. And let's be honest, these things are addicting, so why not use that addiction to do it for something awesome like Jesus and church? So that's what we're on for sure. Some of the other things we're working on right now is we do still presently have separate workflows and what we are working on a new thing that will allow us to do this, that your first step, for example, I think probably somewhere in the 90s or maybe even as early as the 80s, we can thank Bill Hybels and lots of other great entrepreneurial creative thinking pastors that were like, Hey, let's make Sundays the front door of church. Like we're going to make it open for non Christians and make it a space where people feel safe.

Mark Venti: 30:52 And Sundays became that what we're wanting is we're wanting, this phone, this digital app or maybe the online experience to become the front door of church that it's way less intimidating. Let's just be flat out honest to say, Hey, would you consider checking out this cool content? This is an app that the community I'm a part of is leading. And it rather than going like, Hey, do you want to darken the doors of a church building this Sunday for people who don't go to church? There's so many preconceived ideas about that. But there's so little preconceived ideas about church on an app. So most people, I'll tell you our experience, most people are like 100%. Y'all check it out. That's cool. Wow, this is awesome. Like, and you could show it to them real quick to hairdresser, Hey, check this out.

Mark Venti: 31:40 Oh, that's kind of cool. So, we're thinking digital really is a great first step. So I'll give you an example right now on Sundays and if you come to one of our buildings, if you raise your hand or respond in some way to say, I want to follow Jesus, you know, we have our assimilation steps, workflows and it's usually a simple, ours are very low compared to most churches, but it's usually as simple as, Hey, we've got people that are next steps bar in the lobby. We have prayer on tap in the lobby. You go check it out. And, you know, we'd love to connect with you. We've got a couple of different things people can do. Well we would like to do is build our technology out appropriately so that whether you're in your barber shop or you are at church, the first step is the exactly the same.

Mark Venti: 32:29 Download the app and tell us a little bit about yourself. So we're going to build out kind of a space where, the onboarding process is as us giving know that user and then that space will really allow us the ability to engage with them customized and kind of help them find their next step and engagement. So regardless of whether you're going to building or you're engaging from a barber shop three states away, the goal is that once you download this app and you go through kind of an opening process, it'll immediately connect to you into a space, a smaller space where you can engage with other users around your location. So you can start to get to know people. And then hopefully eventually you naturally get to know them online. You'd be like, Hey, do you want to meet up at a coffee shop? I'd love to get to know you more. So, but we hope that's actually gonna revolutionize the people who come to our buildings also that the same thing will happen. There'll be put in a small space with a group of people that live, you know, in the Redmond area around them. Maybe they all work at Microsoft and be like, Hey, let's grab lunch during our lunch break today. I, you know, I've met you on this digitally. Let's meet in person now.

Jeff Reed: 33:35 So the app drives, it connects people who are geographically, similar, and connects them together to, in hopes of creating some sort of a biblical community. What I mean in using church language here, but what else? Like with the app at all, I know a lot of times and physical brick and mortar, it's like there's next step classes, 101, 201, 301, 401, you know, Connect to God, others, serving, mission, you know, just different strategies that are out there. Do you guys implement any of those strategies on your app or those strategies in the physical church? Like, what are those processes kinda look like for you?

Mark Venti: 34:19 Well, let me preface this with that. With this first to the guy who launched it, one of the top investors for Airbnb and the guy who launched PayPal said, if you're not embarrassed by the first expression of your technology, you've launched too late. So, there are aspects of our app that I so wish were already better and were better from the beginning, but we took that as a premise to go, let's go, let's get out there and we'll make it better as we go. It is getting more systematized and strategic. Up front, we've just put all that content on there and we've allowed an on demand version of chat in all those spaces. So I mean, just so we really just boil it down and simple. So we have our grow classes on there. We have content about how to get baptized and the basics of what we believe about biblical baptism.

Mark Venti: 35:07 And we encourage people to do it. And here's what we see biblically as that is the base that you need. Go do it and let us know, like we're also here, come to our church, come to our building if you want. But we also believe that the Bible gives preference for this over here if you do it in this way. So we have that content on there. Yes, with kind of some of this new stuff that I was just describing that we're trying to get better at, cause we're trying to use the technology to help kind of lead somebody through those steps. You know, if you're engaging and you, and you want to step into leadership, it's a very clear what to do and all of that is at your fingertips. And we want it to be in an engaging space where you're simultaneously engaging with humans, not just digital content and, and going through checking off boxes because as we all know, the devil can do that and he can be leading in our church.

Mark Venti: 36:02 So, but at the same time, there's just a massive level of trust also. So, you know, we also really believe in, you know, doing everything we can with all those different processes, but, also leading a space for people to step in and give it a go. So other things like volunteering, a lot of it is around chat and communication. Like we haven't integrated at this point, like functional stuff that typical church things do. But I will say this, if you don't think about church via how to make Sunday happen, but you make church more around like engagement and community, volunteering looks totally different. It's not about getting volunteers at a door on Sunday. It's about people serving their neighbors and it's about people doing different. So we are high on that.

Mark Venti: 36:55 We have these things called uplift projects and we do global uplift projects. And so like when the wildfires hit California, we did a response event last fall where we literally did a live event Q and R for 30 minutes. And we just tried to raise money for a week. We picked an organization, it was the firefighters and you know, a lot of this is around around finances, but, we literally brought three people on live that their houses burned down. We interviewed them, we talked to them about what the experience is like and it was, it's on our app right now, so you have all that on demand. So there's lots of opportunities like that, but then we also encourage people to start just like a group. We encourage them to start what we call uplift groups, which are basically like service oriented, volunteer oriented, things. So getting out and impacting your city, impacting your world. So it's really more around resourcing and empowering people to go do than it is around, like trying to collect people and having an organization systems that help make Sunday happen.

Rey De Armas: 38:04 Mark, that's fantastic. Kind of begs the question a little bit, and I know you guys got a physical location in Los Angeles, as well. Do you have online digital communities that end up resulting in physical locations or not? Not locations in the sense of a physical campus, but outside of Seattle and outside of LA. Like in terms of these connections, is that happening with Churchome?

Mark Venti: 38:24 Yeah, we're, it, it organically has happened. Yeah. and we're in beta beta mode of that. Meaning, we're exploring that ourselves. So we have a handful. We probably have more than that, that we know of too, but some that we're engaging with. We have one in Seattle, there's an area in Seattle called Bainbridge Island. So it's literally an Island that's that you have to take a boat to get to Seattle and it's Island life. Like people don't want to leave the Island. It's a couple of, that's just hardcore that did commute to our church hour and a half. But when this happened, they're like, awesome. We can just invite people into our home. So they just did it. We didn't tell them to and we're like, awesome. You know, it's kind, kinda crazy about this.

Mark Venti: 39:14 Same thing about digital being a first impression. I went. So I've been to their, they're on our app. We're calling them like a group at this point, but they do join our live gathering. They meet in their home, they worship together. They, they always cook food. He's a professional musician so he like has a studio in his house and they live out of their house. Literally a really artistic couple. And all of the people, I can almost promise you this, all the people that have come to their group wouldn't in no way ever get on a ferry and ever come to one of our buildings. They are not church people. They're kind of spiritual. So when their friends said, Hey, we're doing this thing at our house, it's about Jesus, come over. They're like, yeah, we'll come support you there. I mean, people are open but coming to a church building especially, it's an hour and a half drive.

Mark Venti: 40:07 Like that's for the committed. And this is a small community, just, to be honest, like most church planters aren't going like, let's go there. Like it's, so we have a community like that there. We have one, in Dallas that started, which I know we're all like, there's tons of churches in Dallas, but but it organically happens. So we got around it. It was this couple that literally they listened to our podcast, liked our pastor, liked our culture and they literally prayed. They showed us this in their journal. They're a younger couple and they said, Hey, we're praying for you that we're going to find a church within a year and we're praying that we'll find a church just like Churchome that was literally in their journal. The next week we announced our app and they were like, Oh my word.

Mark Venti: 40:53 Let's start a group within two weeks, because of the app, they had over 40 people come to their group that they'd never met. It started in a cafe cause they didn't want a bunch of strangers showing up their house and they literally meet every week now. They've had baptisms. They've had people give their lives to Jesus weekly, like raise their hand at the same time if people are in our physical buildings. We are, we're presently constantly talking to them cause we want to learn from them more than we're asking them to learn from us. Primarily more about what's the experience like what are the pain points you're having? We're also clearly at the same time just giving them culture and DNA, every chance we have. But yeah, we're, we're an exploration process in that. So when people are starting them, we're wanting to more hear from them and see what's happening and, we're kind of seeing where that goes.

Jeff Reed: 41:49 I know we had, Danny from Elevation Church on and she's the Watch Party Pastor and she talked a lot about kind of what you're, you're describing at least elevation spin on that and they're constantly evolving and experimenting with that model over there. Like Dallas, what does that service look like? How are you training these people? Quality control, like that's two time zones away from you on the West coast. What is the practicalness of that worship experience look like?

Mark Venti: 42:21 So what I say right now could be completely different in six months. So we're literally in a place where we're just starting to lean in to go, okay, let's collect a handful of these and let's learn from them. Let's go to them. Let's experience it with them. It's just so different than I, it's funny, I'm talking about using a digital tool and right now we're, you know, communicating over a computer but it takes from a pastor, it's so different when you meet in person. That's why we want our digital tool to lead to in person. So we want to go to them, we want to learn from them but what's happening right now is this, we have weekly communication with them because they want it. They are communicating with us via text. We have a Google hangout with all of our, what we call our global group leaders.

Mark Venti: 43:07 So we have, we do have groups. All of them are engaging at different levels but we have groups that are meeting in I think 80 different cities worldwide and we actually do a Google hangout with all of those leaders. And it's like a leaders meeting. We talk culture, we talk, we ask, we have a Q & A time with them. They ask us questions. Obviously some of them are engaging with us more than others. and so that's what kind of the support structure looks like, but we really hope to build that out quite a bit moving forward. Second, how the services look like they get together, there's usually some food when they're hanging out. And then we have service that's scheduled at 6:00 PM Pacific time. So for them, that's 8:00 PM. So when it comes on, they just airplay it to their TV.

Mark Venti: 43:59 We're working on, we would like to, it just comes down to priorities, build a Roku and Apple TV app so they can just, it's, it's embedded in there, but in the meantime, Chromecast is on there. And so we're, you know, working on casting abilities, but they cast it on their TV and they literally watch the same experience. At this point we might do a different customized version for in home. but right now it's exact same experience if you were just taking it on the phone and on the phone we have a highly moderated chat area and it's fascinating and very beginning, we have, what's our called our digital lobby. It literally looks like our services. So our services are unique, not like most churches. We worship at the end, we sing at the end, we preach at the beginning.

Mark Venti: 44:45 So yes, I know it's very different. But when we start it, it happened unplanned. When we started our LA community, which we never planned doing, it started in a home, which is funny. Literally Judah was down there with, a friend of his, it's an industry and he said, Hey, you're in town for a speaking engagement, will you do a Bible study in my house? And they invited people that would not normally go to church. And Judah has a gift, definitely for communication, especially with unchurched people. And that night there was like probably like 12 or 15 people and like two thirds of the room responded to give their lives to Jesus. And it was one of those moments like, wow, that was God. And of course there was no music. Of course there was nothing. It was in a house and he got up and talked and so quickly, these are very unchurched people.

Mark Venti: 45:33 So if we started with like a song at the beginning, they would've been like, where are we? So that whole community in LA for a year and it grew to like 300. It was literally Judah hopping on a plane every Wednesday preaching and leaving. And we would meet in a hotel ballroom with a microphone. That was it. And it grew to several hundred people. And then we started introducing music at the end because it just felt right to be honest with all the people in the room, none of them had any experience in a church setting, like zero. And, so we've used that to kind of reflect what, you know, we think we can give some biblical precedents. We don't think it's like that level, but, you know, we believe that worship as a response to the gospel. And so that's why we do it.

Mark Venti: 46:17 But it's also, a disarming. So literally if you come to one of our services online or in person, let's say it starts at nine, 9:03, that preachers up there, let's open our Bibles and you're going and then it leads to singing and then like some close comments and giving and stuff like that. So we have a digital lobby, it's like 10 minutes to chat and everybody's like, Hey, I'm here from Brazil. I'm here for, it's, it's pretty fun cause you got people from all over the world, that are checking in. And so there's a, a chat where we, we are super social are, we're like a family. We're Churchome. So we're very social. half the time when the communicator gets out, he's like, okay, we're starting like literally. So people look around. It's like, Oh, I guess I should sit down now. And, so people sit down and then we start, then the communicators start speaking and it leads into music and it leads into, response time and all that time has got some chat in there. You can turn the chat off if you turn your phone to landscape mode or you can keep it on if you keep it up. So if whichever one you prefer but it seems great.

Rey De Armas: 47:30 So this is amazing. I know that in a lot of rights it's innovative. Are there any other churches or church movements that you guys are learning from right now?

Mark Venti: 47:39 Yeah, we learn different things from different people. Of course, you're not going to be surprised by the people I bring up, but in the church world, obviously Elevation, what they're doing is unbelievable. And I'm friends with a few of the people there. Life.Church, Craig is kind of like an uncle to pastor Judah, to our pastors. So he's constantly encouraging him in his innovation. When we launched the app, you know, Craig was right there cheering them on. You know, I would say those two are some of the top, I'm friends with a few other online pastors. So like the pastoral engagement part. You know, Saddleback, I know they've been doing online groups for a long time. We've learned something from them, but when it comes to the technology platform, to be honest, we're learning from people that are not church people.

Mark Venti: 48:33 The way this started was an entrepreneur that went to church twice a year, was home sick in November and he turned the TV on and watched church on TV and he's a very successful, smart entrepreneur. And he goes, the church hasn't updated their technology since 1970. That was, he's like, they're still using broadcast TV. They haven't even started using mobile technology. And so he got this idea as an entrepreneur, I want to build mobile technology like the church has never seen. And so for him it's a business but, credible guy and he is in LA and he actually reached out to us. He started talking with us and they're the ones that are developed this, with us and for us, it's an incredible partnership, but none of them, I mean, none of them are church people. They've all become Jesus followers.

Mark Venti: 49:32 But it's funny, they'll challenge our strategies all the time. Like last week I was talking to them about a group's kind of what a lot of a lot of us do new year, like a groups initiative. And they're like, why do you do that? And I explain it to them in there and then immediately when they ask the question, I start getting in their frame of reference and I'm like, there's so many better ways we could be doing this. And so I will, to be honest, I would say we actually learning a lot more from Silicon Valley then we are learning from churches.

Rey De Armas: 50:05 In many ways, shouldn't that be the case? I think that's wonderful that you guys have the humility to admit that because, you know, you kinda challenged this thought earlier. We get stuck in our own perspective, in our own way. Well, this is the way it's always been done. Therefore it's the always is the way it always should be done. And, it seems like you are challenging that. How are you guys creating content to engage folks in the midweek that's connected to the weekend? Cause I know that's a big part of what it is that you're doing and that's just gotta be there. That's gotta create a tremendous amount of tension for you. So tell me about that.

Mark Venti: 50:40 So right now we have what's called a daily spark. So maybe we have a daily one, minute and a half and it is curated. It is intentional. I wouldn't say it's always like echoing what's being said on Sunday. Exactly. But I will say this, once again, this is just our community but we preach Jesus every Sunday. So it almost doesn't matter what you're talking about, it always ties in together. We do have a daily thing, called daily spark. That's also something that we are, you know, continuing to try to make better, more engaging, more interactive and more, when I say engaging, I'm not talking about engaging with other people, I'm talking about engaging with Jesus and there's a lot of content out there. So we want something that really makes, that really helps you facilitate a moment with Jesus.

Mark Venti: 51:35 So we're, there's actually some sneak peak stuff on there right now called guided prayers. That's like about a four to five minutes. And it's literally that like helping people. And I'll tell you what, I've been praying and read my Bible for 25 years daily, obviously not every day, but you get what I'm saying. And I found these personally, like so engaging in a world that is full of distractions. I've found my prayer life is so easy. Like I have to focus so much more and maybe people are more spiritual than me, but I've had to fight for focus in my time in the Bible, in my time talking to God more just because of the culture we live in now. Life is so fast paced and because of the digital tools that we have, and I'll say these five to five to eight minute guided prayers have been really helpful for me cause it's, it's just suddenly like, think about this right now, say this out loud, think about how Jesus is embracing you right now. You know, like it's pretty awesome. So we hope that those are going to be a real tool to help people. Once again, our church exists to point people to Jesus, not to our message. So the daily content is pointed towards that.

Jeff Reed: 52:56 From a practical standpoint, is that Judah, is that lead pastor, who's in your daily minute? Like who are the people doing the content?

Mark Venti: 53:05 So the daily sparks, right. The daily sparks all started out as Judah and Chelsea. We shot them all in two days, like a month like literally they just did two days straight content. Nailed it. And then we started doing like response with sparks. Like where it'd be like a selfie spark where he just pull his phone out and do it. If something, like a tragedy, we still do these like the day of he'll stop, he'll say something about it, pray it and we'll post it. So it did start out primarily as Jude and Chelsea. Then we've started bringing in, a handful of our community and we've been intentional about different voices, different ages, you know, diversity, inclusive, inclusivity, different perspectives though guided prayers, are, once again, it's just another piece of content. We'll see what happens. But they're doing those right now too.

Jeff Reed: 54:00 And let me ask this. Probably the biggest problem that with churches that are doing something similar or trying to do something similar to what you're doing, groups creating physical community, creating community online, utilizing a church online or a digital transmission. A is this idea of church in isolation. And you mentioned that earlier, you don't, the goal of church home isn't to have a bunch of people staring at their iPhones, experiencing church. The goal is to create community. How are, create new communities and in different areas an Island that you're not able to, to plant a church. Dallas, you know, wherever they may be. How are you able to get people away from isolation, staring at the phones? Like is this geographical thing you were talking about earlier? Is that the only way you're doing it? Are there other methods that you're using to pull people out of isolation into a new community?

Mark Venti: 54:53 Yeah, that's a good question. And I'll take a stab at it. It starts with the heart and the focus that that's the goal of this. So when we're shaping and making content and we're shaping and making strategy, we're focusing on that. I don't know if number one, there's, we can't control people. We can't force them but, we are definitely trying to, from the very inception, from the launch of this app, we said this is all the build tab. The word we used was just funny, tactile relationships. Now we're kind of saying face to face engagement. Engagement is not a new thing on app, but face to face engagement, you know, leading to that is, is not the tool of a lot of, well there are some dating apps around that. But, so yeah, I will say this digital device.

Mark Venti: 55:48 We didn't know in the beginning, but it has led to a lot of isolation. It just has. But I think God's redeemed a lot of things to use them too, for other purposes. So we're saying rather than hiding from it, let's redeem it and use it to, to remove isolation. So yeah, I would say how we're doing that is probably in our messaging we're building, we're trying to constantly think of, of new strategies to help facilitate that. what we're learning from people that are meeting in person. Once we've learned more from them, we'll probably the technology to support that better, to help facilitate that better. But, I know for myself in the past, I've got the cart before the horse, way too many times I've got an idea. I think it's great. And then we put all this work into it and then, and then people really actually don't care about it or want it. But the way great organizations and businesses do it is they try things and they listen. They take feedback and then they adjust and they adapt. And as they do that, so our goal is not changing. It's the goal that's been since the beginning of the church point people to Jesus, let community swell as a result and then help people step up to lead that community. And so we didn't create a vision. It's already established in the Bible. We're just trying to find tools to help facilitate it.

Jeff Reed: 57:11 I heard Clay Scroggins once at a conference and he said that the, the digital disruption, the business world looks at the digital disruption as an opportunity. The church looks at it as an obstacle to run away from. And so you, you know, maybe learning something from the business side out on the West coast, but also trying to take advantage of these tools to create a community, to create disciples, to connect people to God. Rey, did you have any, anything questions as we're wrapping how I landed in the plane?

Rey De Armas: 57:43 Ah, I love this Mark. I hope we can have you on again just cause I feel like I learned a lot and I hope everybody listening learned a lot as well. And just hearing your heart and your passion for innovation and you know, you've heard us say this before. Once again, folks, try, just try, get out there and try something. And if you get mocked forward, if, if, you know, if folks don't like, if they don't appreciate it, that's okay. Just keep trying and keep tweaking at it because it really is about reaching folks for Christ. Just like Mark is doing.

Mark Venti: 58:10 I'll land a land the plane on a few scriptures cause that's very spiritual and probably appropriate, but that's what the early church did. They seems good to us and the Holy spirit to set you apart. I think we got to do more things. It's like, I think it's going to be good. It seems like it's going to be good. I think God's saying this to me, so let's give it a try. And I love, I think it's the original living translation. That it's an ecclesiastic scripture, but it says, if you, if you wait for perfect conditions, you'll never get anything done. And it's just never going to be cookie cutter. This is never going to be a formula. We're working with people, we're building a community, not an organization. And I can't wait for perfect conditions. We gotta give it a try. And I promise you this, if we talk again someday, I will contradict myself, then we will have learned new things. We will change things we're doing right now. And I'll say, Oh yeah, remember when I said that I completely disagree with myself. And I think that's part of learning and growing and I want to be that type of Jesus follower that I'm humble enough to go, I had that completely wrong. And I think we do apply that to our strategies as a church too.

Jeff Reed: 59:22 Awesome. I mean, I don't know anything better than I can say to land the plane. So Mark, thank you for joining us today. Rey, thanks for jumping on as well. This is Jeff with The Church.Digital. Thanks for being here and we'll here you or see you or whatever next time. Y'all 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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