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PODCAST 039: Greg Ligon & Behind the Screens - The State of Church Online


Hey Church! This is your podcast. Two incredible organizations… Living As One and Leadership Network… got together and created a survey to discover how churches like yours are utilizing Church Online. For churches already doing Church Online, this is a great way to see how churches your size are utilizing the technology.

For churches not yet taking advantage of a strategy utilizing Church Online, here’s your chance to see how churches similar to yours are doing it.

More than just where we are today, in this episode, we dig into where we are going. These trends that we’re seeing today are going to lead us to where, tomorrow… all this, once again, on The Church Digital Podcast.

If you're enjoying this episode, subscribe for free using your favorite podcast app below:

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Guest: Greg Ligon
Leadership Network
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Linked-In

Guest: Collin Jones
Living As One
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Host: Jeff Reed
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // LinkedIn

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


Jeff Reed: 00:00 Episode 39 of The Church Digital Podcast and I got to tell you, I am really excited about where this podcast is going to end. Check it out. Recently two organizations got together and created a survey to check the state of charge online so we talk about where the churches are engaging or not and what's happening and so they did a survey to see where are you churches out there and how you are engaging and utilizing this church online method. So we got Living As One now they are no stranger to the podcast or to The Church Digital. We do a ton of work with Collin Jones and Paul and those guys over at Living As One and also we're bringing in new to the podcast Leadership Network. Now hopefully you guys are no strangers to Leadership Network. By the way, they create some phenomenal resources out there and do a number of intensive trainings and things to help the church you, the church, operate better. They came together to create a survey and now we've got the results in of how you, church, out there and your contemporaries, how you're utilizing church online. So this is cool the survey is is out. It's public, it's been released. The report has, and so you can download that report. We're going to put the link in the show notes. You can just swing over there and grab it from there. But more than that with this podcast, we able to sit down with these guys and have a, have a conversation about where we are. Okay, so we're seeing this stat, why? We're seeing this trend, why? Where are we going? What's next? More than just looking at where we are today, let's be proactively figuring out where we're heading for tomorrow and start to move down that road as we continue this growth towards church, online, towards discipleship online.

Jeff Reed: 01:43 I got to tell you, the thing that I was most excited about with this report is this idea that discipleship is not just a word that said in closed doors, but it's something that's happening virtually and we're starting to see more and more churches trend that way and understand that the report shows it, which makes me so excited because this is the stuff that we've been talking about. It's awesome. So here's where we are with the podcast. We literally got Collin Jones, president of Living As One. We got Greg Ligon, Chief Innovation Officer with Leadership Network, Rey DeArmas, cohost, once again, Online Pastor with Christ Fellowship Miami, and myself, Jeff, with The Church Digital in a conversation detailing behind the screens. Hey everybody, here you go. I was just curious like what were the overall trends that you found in your research? Was there anything that, like what's the theme that was maybe discovered through this research?

Greg Ligon: 02:35 Well, I think one of the big ideas, and one of the things that was, demonstrated to me that there's a significant growth in this space is that those that were surveyed for this project, 47% reported that they had an online campus, which is up 28% from when we asked the same question five years ago. In fact when we asked that question five years ago, 62% indicated they plan not to have an online campus. So we're seeing really rapid growth, in the development of online campuses.

Jeff Reed: 03:11 What do you think is, is the relationship, what's causing that shift to go from, not wanting to do a campus to now? What's been the cultural thing that you think has allowed more churches to get excited about online?

Greg Ligon: 03:24 Well, I think in some ways it just represents the growth of social environments, online anyway. So I think that's, it kind of follows that trend a bit. I think the other thing is in five years, of course, technology changes feels like a bit every 10 minutes. In fact, that's one of the things I'll talk about a little bit later, but because the technology has improved so much, over the last five years, I think more and more people are able to get into the game, more quickly, because it's affordable and easier to use. And that kind of thing.

Collin Jones: 03:57 I've been surprised by how quick the perspective shifted. Oh church online is gonna hurt my attendance, people won't come, you know, all those different perspectives. And then now surveying that on the data, that was really surprising to me. You know, 46% disagreed that online attendance, you know, doesn't get hurt by it, you know, online streaming, in person attendance. And then 20% agreed that it hurt attendance. So there was, you know, more than double that disagreed with that. And then the rest, I guess we're neutral.

Greg Ligon: 04:26 Yeah, that was a big surprise to me as well. And you know, I consistently get calls from senior pastors who have that question. They're like, Oh my gosh, you know, we started an online campus and we've dropped our attendance, you know, X percentage. We're thinking about shutting down our online campus. And, so I was surprised at the growth and the people growth in the number of people who really felt like that, that was hurting their physical presence. Excuse me, the growth in people in that didn't feel like it was hurting their prison, physical presence. I think you mentioned the 46% disagreed that adding an online campus hurt their physical presence. so I think that was very interesting to me as well. I think one of the things that oftentimes, senior pastors, it's a, it's an issue in terms of the impact on physical attendance as well, really in some ways has nothing to do with online.

Greg Ligon: 05:23 There's a significant decrease in physical attendance, simply because of the fact that people, will see themselves as being, being a regular attender at church. But they may only come one time a month or two times a month. And so when you actually began to look at the actual people, the bodies that are showing up on your physical campus, your growth is actually, in many cases you're growing, you're not declining in terms of the number of people that you're serving. And there's a, we work with a group in, Scott Thuma at Hartford Research Institute and I believe the latest number that they quote is if you take your average weekend a worship attendance, you can multiply it by 3.2, and that really gets you to be at what the reach is that you have as a church.

Rey DeArmas: 06:11 Just to understand our country is also taking into consideration how this is affecting their decision making, considering how many people are engaging with them online. Do you guys see any shifts in terms of how churches are considering both, how they're addressing people, like, how they're preaching to them, but also how they're making decisions in regards to everything from budgets to how they're communicating with them in terms of engagement?

Greg Ligon: 06:37 Well, probably the thing that is that jumps out to me when he asked that question is a crossroads church is, which is up in Cincinnati, which I think is one of the churches that's really leading the way, not just with online but with digital, all kinds of digital things. But on their online campuses, you know, they are really, working toward, having an experience that is shaped by the physical campus who you're going to be most likely to attend to attend. So for example, if I log on online and my locator indicates that I'm closest to the campus that's in the South side of Cincinnati, then they're moving toward the, the place where they'll actually have a physical, the stream will actually be, will include the campus pastor from that physical campus. and they're really committed that in fact, they've even changed the name of their online, excuse me, for their campus pastors to community pastors because they're charging them with responsibility, not just for the people that are showing up at their building, but those who are showing up online in that, from that specific geographic area. So that's one of the ways I see that happening.

Collin Jones: 07:53 Yeah, I think Matt had a really cool quote from that on the report where he said, you know, is asking the question basically of, you know, from the data in the report, it's the question of what's the purpose of, you know, live streaming online. and then I think like, you know, the majority right now is just getting people, you know, like still just keeping people connected. Like, but then if you look at like the higher echelon of churches, like if you go to like 10,000 plus, their highest reason is for outreach and evangelism and just like, not, not engagement at all for actually reaching people. and so I think we'll start to see more and more of the smaller churches realize that, okay, this is, you know, the, the offline attender, as long as he's still engaging, should count as a church member.

Collin Jones: 08:35 And people are kind of battling with that question. Now. I think churches like crossroads, you know, say stuff like, you know, we don't want to convert someone from online onsite, you know, our goal is to make sure they're connected to the church community. connecting is more important than converting them from online to offline for us. And so they were saying, you know, they have other ways of them to connect digital community groups and that's more important to them that actually becoming into a button seat, which is like a huge shift that we see. And I think, you know, Jeff's talked about that a ton on his podcast is I'm trying to get pastors and people that think through, Hey don't just think butts in seats and the old paradigm. and we're really seeing that shift with the churches that are doing digital well, yeah, it is digital attender. If he's growing in community with others, I'm attending a church body in whatever way than that. That should count just as much as a regular person that's in a seat. Maybe even more though than someone who just comes in watches it every weekend and then leaves and is not involved at all after that. Yeah.

Jeff Reed: 09:34 Yeah. We're, we're going to be talking with Crossroads, here in a couple episodes who we're excited to, to roll that out for everybody. They're doing a lot of really interesting things in that digital and the, in that church online scope. One of the things that that surprised me with, with the, with the stats you guys rolled out is that you, you kept the, the lowest size church at about 800 people. The average church in America is probably closer to 72, 73. I think 80% of churches in America are under 200 in size. I'm not sure on the stats, but these are things that I've heard and they sound reasonable. Why did you cap at 800? Like, what was, what was the logic at that size versus maybe even digging into some of the smaller sized churches?

Greg Ligon: 10:19 Well, it's, it's really a, primarily based off of a Leadership Network bias. We've always worked with larger churches. and so our base of, churches that participated are primarily larger churches. And so that's really what drove that more so than, more so than any, intention not to reach it to the small group market. That's just really been who we've felt like we've been called to serve. So that's, that'd be the foundation for that. I think part of the, I think you're part of the reason that smaller churches may or may not be involved. I think it's really primarily, in some ways it's similar to, this is not going to make a blanket statement here that I don't mean to be a blanket statement because there's some actually very, incredibly healthy, small churches, but in many cases, smaller. There's some small churches that they're small because there's a lack of vision and leadership. And so I think, you know, that translates then into not being willing to take risks, not being willing to eat them in many cases, not even being exposed to some of the new things that are happening in the church

Collin Jones: 11:25 And they don't have time to get their heads above the water. We talked to quite a few churches in the, you know, Hey, we got people 50 people attending and we want to stream because you know, there's a lot of transient communities and people, especially in Florida, we hear that all the time and we look at our people in the winter or I mean we, you know, grow the, it stops it away around or in the winter. And then I'm in a lot of communities like that and the smaller churches primarily are driven by reasons like that. Like they're not thinking about it like, well, I want to reach a bunch of people. But then occasionally now, like especially in a digital world, you'll get really small churches that have just some visionary digitally and they'll be doing crazy numbers digitally and have like 200 people coming on, you know, in their service every Sunday, or even just online churches only. and like the barrier to entry for a digital church. and the amount of people that you can reach without it being weird. There's so many more people, than the old paradigm. People having to attend and do that so that, that model is starting to be challenged. And I think that's really interesting. especially, you know, you guys have talked about it as a way of church planning even. and the, and what's cool is like, we really love when we talked to the smaller churches, cause they just have questions about it all. You know, like how do we do cameras, how do we do etc. And those are really fun for us to do. You're guiding the whole thing and oftentimes they're the, the scrappy ones that are, sometimes now you'll come out and you'll get like a really, you know, active understand digital church planner. that, you know, it has some really interesting visions and views on digital. Yeah.

Greg Ligon: 12:54 Yeah. I think, I think that the barrier, you know, just as you think Collin, the barrier to entry is going down. And so I think you will see smaller churches. I, when I, when I say a smaller church, I'm thinking more of a traditional, smaller church has been small for a long time. That last little piece that you talked about was really around church planters and I think there is, we are going to see, already are seeing this, we're going to see a growing number of planters that are launching on with an online, some cases maybe launching online first before they actually plant the physical campus and building a, an online community that then becomes the core for launching their physical campus.

Collin Jones: 13:29 Yeah, we have buy gear for that now. And it was crazy cause there was the, one of them had, you know, 500 people at launch cause they'd been streaming for six months or whatever. Pretty interesting. Yeah.

Jeff Reed: 13:40 Yeah. I would love to see more church plants take advantage of that. And I've always wondered why there's this rush to, to get to the physical building, to pay the lease, to pay the cost to, you know, to go with all this when starting in, in a virtual and then building from there, building that core team, getting your DNA out there in the community. that's a lot safer to do on a plant side. And I just, I think looking forward, I hope, my hope is that more churches are gonna start to plant that digital, grow physical. Sure. But start in a digital realm where people can connect to you and can engage with you before getting to that place where you have to start paying all the larger fees. Well, one of the things that I loved about the report is you, you delved in a lot to the discipleship piece of this and a lot of times when we talked with churches and pastors, at least me, the, the extent of church online stops with the broadcast.

Jeff Reed: 14:37 Like the win of church online is just broadcasting the services out and obviously Collin, Living As One, you guys do an excellent job with that. But I really respected how you guys asked some more questions to get into more of the discipleship of how churches are doing more than just broadcasting the services, but actually getting into small groups in, into next steps and into this discipleship piece. You know, I saw one of the stats was it looked like about on average three to 6% of churches are doing that were interviewed or doing some sort of discipleship virtually online, small groups, et cetera. I mean, obviously when we looked at edit, I think 10,000 plus people, those churches were more at like 20% so there's this, this broad range where some of them are very few are, but then when you get to like the giga level, a lot more pick up. What do you think is causing, what are the giga churches seeing that the others aren't? What are those hurdles that, that, that stopping some of the other churches from doing more discipleship?

Greg Ligon: 15:38 Well, I think there's a couple of things. I think part of the reason that giga churches are doing it more as, because they have more dedicated resources to be able to try to figure it out, you know, and so they have, you know, they can, they can put some staff who are given primary focus to really, you know, developing some of those kinds of things. And that's part of the reason I think the other reason that it is, it's not accelerated as rapidly as we might think is, has less to do with online and more to do with a paradigm shift that is not yet fully engaged in terms of what it means to do discipleship. I think we're sitting many churches, even many large churches are still, you know, thinking about discipleship in a very linear curricular, educational kind of model and discipleship really.

Greg Ligon: 16:23 And it's hard. I'm Israeli about transformation, right? And so I think as people get began to get more and more comfortable with the transformational side of discipleship, they're going to get more and more comfortable, with the opportunities that online provides in terms of being able to actually have community online. Sir, you an education model is actually pretty easy to deliver online. There's a lot, I mean, if you're doing that, you've got a curriculum based discipleship program, you can deliver that line online pretty easily. But I think the ability to really see the online space as a place to really truly engage, not just to consume. I think we're still in the midst of that shift.

Rey DeArmas: 17:03 Why do you guys think that it is that so many churches are shy to take their services to social platforms? Because I saw a significant decrease between the number of churches that broadcast on their site compared to how many of them actually take it to the masses on social.

Collin Jones: 17:16 Yeah, we're actually seeing like a huge increase in people streaming to social. It used to be where they didn't at all. It's pretty difficult to stream the social cause you have all these music right things and especially if you're a small church, like you get docked and taken down so they get frustrated. but now like the social platforms are handling that a lot better. which is great news and there's a lot more people that we're seeing like, like we had like last weekend, just for the amount of new churches that came on, for example, of all of our platform, we had like a 15% week over week increasing Facebook streaming, which is huge when you have that many churches on a platform. So it's like, that's not new church is coming on. That's like, you know, like people that are already coming on that started doing the Facebook that weren't before.

Collin Jones: 17:56 Which is really interesting. And the however, like at the same time they're realizing, you know, if you look at Facebook watch times, it's like, you know, you'll have, for example, Saddleback's numbers, you know, they, I forget the exact amount, but it's something like 20,000 views and like average watch time of less than two minutes. And that's every church that we talked to, you know, and then you get like watch times and the, you know, like on a, on the bed code, on church, online platform, or on your website it's like 45 minutes. Right and so I think, I think a lot of that is like people realizing that, you know, Facebook and, and YouTube and all that are really great for marketing value, but that it's really difficult to develop community just cause of all distractions there. And so, you know, there's, there's like the ways that people are doing it that are working is like Facebook groups.

Collin Jones: 18:37 But then inherently you lose the marketing value of that, you know, so you get gang the community but then lose the growth. So I think people are trying to answer all those questions and that's why I think the building, I think we'll start to see way more people start to build, you know, social features that on on platforms that they control. like, like Crossroads stayed with crossroads anywhere in church, home did with their app and lots of churches using actually like social platforms but that they completely controlled. It's for that reason so that they can measure, track and grow community discipleship. Like there's tons of discipleship tools and those ways of connecting people that you wouldn't, that would happen kinda natural and Facebook that are hard to cultivate. Yeah.

Jeff Reed: 19:16 You're seeing a natural trend away from Facebook in some areas. I just even where I was just previous to doing this podcast recording with two guys, I was doing another podcast with a number of online pastors and, and one of the, one of the pastors in the room was going, integrate detail on why he does not broadcast to Facebook. And the reason, the reason why, honestly, and what we talked about in the podcast was I felt like his, his view of it was yes, he can get far greater engagement on Church Online platform using that embed code because the platform itself is meant to generate that next step. It's meant to keep people engaged from a longer, there's not as many of those distractions, but it's easy to lose that, that marketing piece of, of what what you're talking about Collin. Right.

Jeff Reed: 20:06 You know, so often we, we've, we feel like, you know, you got account that butts in seats, you gotta count that and how do we that that two minutes scroll through that person who sneezed when they're looking at the newsfeed. And maybe that counts as a view. Like, does that count on the reporting? Does it not? What do we do with that? And instead of actually like figuring out what's best, let's just throw it in there and then online goes higher or let's not counter it at all. And then it's not, instead of looking at more of the, the discipleship model of, of what's happening and how the broadcast is helping you get people connected either into, into the physical or virtual model of design.

Greg Ligon: 20:48 Yeah, it's interesting. I mean one of the things that, I think it was about 20% of those that we surveyed indicated they didn't even have the capability to measure their online attendance to really be able to know if was impacting their physical attendance or the level of engagement or, and I think that's also gonna. That's a, that's a big question in terms of what does engagement look like? I mean you, you compare Facebook and an online in terms of the amount of time they're there. but you know, I can, I can be also be online and it appears that I'm online, but I'm in the next room, you know, fixing lunch or, you know, whatever. And so it was fascinating to me when I talked, with the guys at virtual reality church last week, we were just talking about metrics and some of those kinds of things.

Greg Ligon: 21:36 And, that was one of the things that he said was he, he thinks, I think there's going to be a real difference in the way that churches think about, particularly if they're comparing virtual reality experiences to an online experience. He said, because virtual reality experience actually requires greater engagement, right? So, I mean, if you're in virtual reality, you're actually interfacing, engaging with the, engaging with the content and you've got your goggles on for goodness sake. You know, so it's, and so I think that's going to be a fascinating thing for us to try to figure out too, is what does engagement really look like? How do we measure that is it isn't simply about, you know, the number of minutes that somebody, you know, logged on or are there ways that we can, began to get at actually transformational kind of metrics, particularly when you go back and just start talking about the discipleship side of things?

Collin Jones: 22:29 Yeah, I think engagement and discipleship are the two things that we hear the most of churches have been streaming for awhile of how do we unlock that? And the thing that probably the podcast talks about the most, you know, say, Hey, I know we moved to the next level, engage and disciple the people that are coming and not just now there'd be paths and followers, but the, and there's, there's so many cool things going on with that. You know, there's search online platform trying to make a bunch of updates in their platform to make that easier. And there's streaming providers like us, they're trying to do cards and stuff that comes up. And then I think that too is like the churches that are, I'm killing it on the marketing side of the church, aren't at all killing it. And probably the discipleship online, you know, it's like very different.

Collin Jones: 23:08 Like you have like, like everybody wants to do it. Elevation does, cause they have so many millions of views, right? And there's so many and it's so cool. And what they do is they cut up little chunks and they post it all. And they do, like if you look at their marketing team, it's amazing. Everybody wants to be that. But when you're a small church, it's really hard to mimic that. You know, they do things really excellently, and have the numbers to where the algorithms worked to their favor and do all that really well. So it might be good for a smaller church to say, Hey, let elevation be elevation. And God bless them in that way. like my 15 year old, you know, cousin bro, you know, whatever, nephews just watch Stephen Furtick all the time and never go church, you know. But then does it, if you're a small church, do you care more about discipleship online?

Greg Ligon: 23:50 You know, cause that's your niche. It's interesting the whole influencer marketing separately is that influence at some level. Typically when you talk about Furtick and Elevation Church and those kinds of huge followings, but in some other realms that are impacted by online. For example, I do a lot of work in publishing as well. And one of the things that we're discovering in publishing is a, you have a great, you have a much greater conversion rate if you want to use that term. when you're actually working with not necessarily the biggest number, but with the right number. And so they began to talk, use this terminology of micro influencers. and so in many cases, you know, there are some of the major brands in terms of books and authors are having greater impact by taking a subset of their big fan base.

Greg Ligon: 24:40 But these are really people who are totally engaged and are really going to be able to, are really champions of the product. And so there's probably something for the church to learn, there as well as we think about the engagement and attraction process as well. One of the other things that's happening in that space is we have a partnership with an organization called glue. it's a big data subscription platform and one of the things that they're being able to do in addition to being able to more accurately understand who it is in your community so that your communication, how whatever the marking looks like is really hitting, hitting, hitting with, connecting with the people that are going to most likely say, yeah, that, that that's what I need. I'm going to go to your church. The other thing that is really in the beginning stages and that we're actually working with them on a couple of places, it's developing some assessments and I think that's going to be something that's kinda get built into a lot of these platforms as well that will help with measuring some of the transformation. So you've got some kind of pre and post tests. So you have the ability, when somebody launches a or begins to engage in a small group online, there's a, some kind of an assessment that they take and then when they've completed the a season or a six week series or whatever, there's kind of a post assessment. So I think that part of what's happening digitally is really growing as well.

Jeff Reed: 25:57 That's great. Yeah. I've, I've been running some betas with glue on that assessment and, and and kind of the, the vehicle engine they're building around that arguably for me. And, and I've told them this, this is some of the most exciting things I see honestly in the church on online today because it's starting to now develop a system that I can build a discipleship process around online. And it's not, Oh, I gotta utilize this platform and get it to integrate with this and this and this. And, and, and the data is all over the place and something breaks and on. All these different people are pointing at each other. Glues really starting to figure out how to do that. and, and are putting something in place that, that any church relatively easily can build a discipleship process in place to get people connected online.

Rey DeArmas: 26:43 How many churches are actually thinking through that next step process? in terms of, Hey, so they're watching now, what's their next step? Depending on what platform they're walking on, is there a unified next step? Is there a bunch of different databases kind of roaming around in different churches and they're struggling? How are they kind of managing a lot of it?

Greg Ligon: 27:00 Okay. That's a good question. It's a, it's early on I think in terms of, I would say they most aren't managing it well. you know, we've, again, kind of our leadership network, primary client are really large churches and even in the really large churches, as we've worked within the data space, you know, they're, they, before they can even actually be into effectively engage in some of this big data, this third party data, they're just trying to get their first and second party data. Right. You know, and get their database to a place they even know who it is. It's in their, you know, in their own church. And so, but I think that there are, you know, there's a, we work with a group of churches, probably about 45 churches that I would say are kind of on the front end cutting edge.

Greg Ligon: 27:43 They're the ones who are building out the, the resources and the tools are figuring out how to use data, understand, you know, how to close your back door. You know, what are the indicators that somebody, somebody's about to lead. in terms of ministry, they're building out some, propensity kind of profiles that help them to understand who are the people in your congregation that her, whose marriages are likely, in trouble and what percentage of your people are that way or in that, in that scenario as a result, what kind of discipleship and tools, who we need to put in place. And so, a lot of those conversations are beginning to happen, but I would say it's, it's still pretty early in this stage. All the assessment process that we talked about, now I talked about previously with clue. Those are all built in such a way that when you complete the survey, based on your responses there, there are a customized next steps that are developed. so based on kind of where you are in the process. And so I think some of that next step process is going to be cooked into the assessment tools.

Jeff Reed: 28:44 We touched on it earlier where church online is great for like a front door. These are our visitors, people that don't even know, who you are and are just trying to really start to learn more about your church. They're interested in the side door approach of, of how, okay, I'm traveling, I'm, I'm away, almost snowbird in, in Miami beach who actually is from Canada back and forth and able to connect with, the church that I'm attending from, from a distance when we start to talk about maybe this digital door, maybe these people who are not physically in this space, but this is still part of their church. they are engaging in spiritual instruction and discipleship, but not in the physical realm. Like, what, what needs to happen for the church to see this when we have this conversation? Often, at least I do when I talk with pastors, they're like, Hey, that person on the other side of town or in another country, in another time zone, that's not my responsibility. All the discipleship that I do is in the physical realm. What are some hurdles that we need to do to kind of get past that? What advice could you give for some of us in the, in the church online realm that maybe see things differently? How, how can we help change this culture?

Greg Ligon: 29:59 Well, I think, anytime you're making, any kind of cultural, anytime you're wanting to make a significant ship like that, it's really a culture shift. and anytime you have new ship to culture, the primary way that you do that is through storytelling and giving examples over and over and over again of how you know, how it actually is working. it's the same thing we talked about in multisite all the time. You know, if you really want to become a multisite church, you know, you need to be talking about not the fact that tread opening another building, you're talking about the why you're doing it. Kind of goes back to the why as well. Chase Oaks church, where Collin's dad's the pastor, I think when they were a master at it and when they launched their multi-site strategy, their kind of framework was this value of you have to love where you live.

Greg Ligon: 30:50 And so they said, you know, we're going to really live into that value. We can't have people that are driving in 45 minutes to get to our campus on legacy. We need to be able to allow people to worship, engage, you know, in their community. and so I think some of that translates into online as well. So anyway, that's, I think that's the big piece of, going back to your question, how do you help people get to that? It's telling the stories of transformation, telling the stories of where it works. An online campus, pastors, senior pastor, whoever the gatekeepers are and the influencers are in the context of a church. Telling those stories of success, is, is really, really important and key.

Collin Jones: 31:30 I agree with that. And I think, thinking about, as a funnel is really, really helpful. So the reality is, if you, if you, you know, the, the purpose of streaming is, there's a lot of benefits, but if you do stream, there's, you know, 40% of them is what the reporter, irregular attendees, people that you don't know that, you know, when seek us back with the number they said every time they run anything, you know, 30 to 50%, are people that they don't have any track, don't know, aren't in any member database, never filled out a contact card, et cetera. And like the, and the interesting thing about that is like, that's, you know, 40, like for most, or does a really concerned about growth. So in that funnel, you have some of those people that have never been to your church.

Collin Jones: 32:09 They're just watching online, right? You get some people, if you ask them in a grocery store, they would say, I'm a Chase Oaker or I'm a, whatever, but they haven't been in three years. Right. But they watch online every however long. And so I think the question is of like, Hey, what's your strategy for getting those out of the funnel? You know, it's, it's probably okay to say some of those we want to attend in person. Right? but for a lot of those, that's probably not okay to say for whatever reason. whether they're out of, the city and attendant person or whether they just personality wise would never come to a church until receive more transformation or maybe never, you know. and then you have, you have all those buckets of people. So I think as a church just thinking through, Hey, let's be honest about, you know, 40%, whatever, here's the funnel. do we have a plan for those different people in different walks of life? Right? So like are we, are we thinking about and trying to shepherd the spiritual development but people that we won't ever see, you know? cause that's, that's our steward. and so I think thinking about it as, Hey, that's the reality of what's happening. no matter what you believe, you know, so how can we steward them the best? Yeah.

Rey DeArmas: 33:17 I was gonna say, because you know, we, we used to think in terms of that in terms of Christmas and Easter only and now there's this whole other category of online. Right. And so it's interesting you guys chat with any churches that actually have a strategy for that or there at least they're thinking through that process.

Greg Ligon: 33:37 Good question. No, none that come to mind immediately. Yeah, none that come to mind immediately.

Collin Jones: 33:47 Yeah. There's one named by that you're engaged with. Yeah. Jeff would know their names. I sat in the session. but there we did a session basically that what ended up happening, I don't know if this was the session title, but we talked about the funnel of church online and how did you pull from that? and how people see that. And there's, it's cool cause what I, what I think is happening is like the churches that are between 500 - 4,000 people that are really doing the most in that cause they're, they're driven with growth, right? They're not, they're not the 10,000 people, churches that really care about growth, but they're comfortable. You know, it's like the churches that are like, we need this to grow. Our senior pastor sees this as like the strategic difference of our church and we're going to see this differently. So Jeff, you probably have, I would like if you talk to that.

Jeff Reed: 34:26 Yeah, so we did a, was at The Church IT Conference and we did a podcast. It's, it's redefining the why of church online and, and it's, it's, it's on the podcast. I'm not sure what number, but what we really the challenges and it's really the biggest hurdle with, with church online is trying to figure out who that person is that's watching. you know, and so like you can create code, but there's privacy issues. And so like we want, we want privacy, but at the same time we want to be able to, to access information and figure out how to do ministry with them. By the way, like that issue exists at the physical church too. I mean, how many of our people sit in the back of the room completely disconnected during the message and try to haul out of that lobby as fast as possible without somebody even saying hi to them.

Jeff Reed: 35:17 I mean there's a large percentage of people, unless their kids are actually checked in to the, the children's ministry and they, or they give, we have no idea who they are. They're not active, in members or they're not serving. And so the, the challenge of church online when, when people are like, yeah, but I don't know who they are. Well, you don't know who they are in the physical realm yet you work hard to figure out how to engage them. You come up with ways, gimmick solutions to get them to join in a group, to, to meet the pastor, to put a face to a name and, and do that. A lot of that, there are some churches that are figuring it out. There are a lot more that are, that are trying and experimenting different things. But at the end of the day, it's, it's that same intentionality towards, I need to figure out who this IP address is because that, that person, that IP address has a soul. And as a result of that, I need to spiritually care for them.

Greg Ligon: 36:11 Of course. Yeah. At the end of the day, people have to raise their hand right in the digital world to be able to say, yeah, I want to be contacted. So I think, you know, I think some of the churches that are doing a good job of trying to figure out how to get, help people raise their hand, I'm are approaching it from a little bit different perspectives. So again, I'm going back to crossroads and going back to dipping in that well, a little bit, you know, but they have a series of podcast that they do now that are specifically targeted at different demographics. So one is targeted at, women who are in executive leadership. Wow. And it's primarily a podcast that's around, I mean it's around, you know, things, certain things that would serve someone who's a woman and leading in a, in a company in some form or fashion.

Greg Ligon: 36:59 So there's serving that, that person. and then weaving in through that, the opportunity for people, for them to be able to talk about what they do and crossroads and why that makes a difference. And then people have had that felt need, made, have that felt need met and they're going to be more likely to raise their hand to figure out how to be connected with on a, on another level. so I think that some of those kinds of things are really key. I think the other thing though is we do, there aren't a lot of people that show up online that we do have information on. and so it's figuring out how we create the system for a digital solution. Much like the analog solution that I used back when I was in my very first church and a long time ago.

Greg Ligon: 37:41 And we had, we had this one of my responsibilities as associate, what's the follow up on the people that were irregular attenders. and so I had this process that I developed where I would, you know, regularly call these people. and it was a, you know, in some ways it was a little bit like a drip campaign if you put it, if you put it in today's, in, in today's vernacular because it just, every once in a while they'd get a note from me or they'd get a call from me or they get some kind of, I drop by their house back in the day when people actually visited your pastor's visit your home and I'd leave my business card or whatever. But over time, probably some of the most significant ministry experiences I had as an associate in that church came from some of those people because I'd had this ongoing kind of contact with them. And whenever there was a crisis in their life or some, they had somebody who was going to want to get married or whatever, there was a big, they knew they had somebody to call. And so I that that's the thing we have to think of. Another place we have to think about in terms of next steps and continuing to nurture people is how do we, how do we help people be exposed to the opportunities for next steps for those that we do know as well.

Collin Jones: 38:50 And I think this is where hiring a digital marketer for that role is really good because they think through, you know, buckets of people online, right? And they think through, and it's all about, you know, getting people to interact is all about personalization and workflows. People can do that really well. I mean, right now there's, if you hire a good digital marketer, they'll know. Like right now, there's something that you can get that it probably won't last very long, but you can get the personal email address of like 80% of the people come into your site and you can match that and you can email them even if they don't give you their info. Which is like probably total privacy, you know, rule. But then like that's what businesses are doing, right? And so you've got to decide like, Hey, what's what's okay for me to do versus whatever and then break down that law but at least have someone that knows, how to connect with someone digitally and, and, and workflows, and have paths and thought through past digitally, for each person that's coming cause taking that person and they're just, they're just visiting your site. You don't, you don't want to do it on the fourth or fifth visit. Do you want to do it on the first visit? You want to have them engage cause you know, that's the only time they might come. Right. Cause huge drop off rates after that. and so you need, you need someone to think through, okay, the first person is this person's coming, are they in this? What's the best way to engage them? You know, are they in this boat? Are they, someone that's, elderly in a, in a know nursery home? Are they someone that's watching? That's not a believer, that's never attended church before, that's checking it out, you know? And then if so, you know, you interact with those people in different ways and, and there's, there's a lot of great smart ways that churches are doing that to get those to engage.

Jeff Reed: 40:21 Yeah. So let's jump in our DeLoreans, let's get in our time machines and go 10 years in the future, 2029. What trends, what is church online gonna look at then? What is, you know, we're seeing micro churches now. We're seeing some start to start with, with kids ministry and starting to explore in that space. What's church online going to look like in 2029?

Collin Jones: 40:50 Everyone's quiet. Cause everybody will be wrong. If we video tape.

Greg Ligon: 40:56 Well, I have a very limited sample size two conversations. I've had actually three, two conversations and then one application. So I talked with, the pursuit church. Angela Craig, excuse me, Pursuit Church live and it's a totally online campus. fascinating things that they're doing. They have a, they have an international reach 45 countries, 43 languages, 49% of the people they're logging into are coming in from developing countries. And so I think we're going to see some online campuses that, but are never moved from being online. they have, they have a reach. They have an opportunity to connect in some unique ways there. They're beginning to talk about, you know, development of their teams. They're putting together an Academy to help train people, you know, how to lead in this kind of context. So I think we're going to see more and more of those.

Greg Ligon: 42:00 I also, you know, I was a little bit skeptical when I, went and spoke with or didn't go and spoke with. I had a conversation with, Virtual Reality Church. I'm drawing a blank now and his name helped me. DJ Soto. Yeah. DJ. but I think it was fascinating for me to hear him talk about the, not so much the virtual reality side of things and the technology, but just the way they're thinking through that. So as he was even talking about the different platforms. So there, the one of their primary, virtual reality platforms, he kind of equated that to a mega church kind of model cause it was kind of the most well-developed and you have the ability to do all these special kind of things, event registration, all these different kinds of things is kind of this mega church kind of model.

Greg Ligon: 42:55 And then you said they also have a lot of people were on this other platform whose name I don't remember right now, but he said that was kinda more like a house church, you know, kind of model because it's a little bit, it's a little bit scaled back. It's a little bit kind of more organic. And he's talking about the new platform that's kind of the new Facebook, virtual reality platforms company. He said we think that will be kind of a new model as well. And even began to talk about it in terms of launching either new campuses or planting new communities by using these different kinds of technology. So I think the virtual reality thing has the potential to begin to gain some traction over the next 10 years. It was probably 10 years back now, maybe a little bit longer than that when Life Church, Bobby Grunewald and those guys, you know, how to develop to was it's called Second Life. And you know, it was pretty it was of course way advanced for its time, but it was still pretty clunky. And I think the advances that have been made in the last 10 years will only accelerate over the next 10.

Jeff Reed: 43:59 I want, I want to ask a question and forgive me if I'm getting personal cause cause I'm really, I want to try to figure this out cause I'm all about the digital church and maybe culture isn't ready for us to accept the idea of a digital only church. But I think that from a theological standpoint it's there, it's just going to take time for acceptance. Greg, you asked the question and when you said that you went in a little hesitant, where did that hesitation come from? And at what point did that kind of a piece for you help me. You're a little older. You have a good perspective. I'm not dating you. I'm sorry. Gracious here. but, but tell me about that. Help me unpack here. So like what was the concerns and how did it dissipate or, or did it like where do you stand today?

Greg Ligon: 44:44 Yeah, so I think that it was interesting cause one of the things that I, when I interviewed him I asked him what was surprising to him or what was surprising to others. Whenever they had conversations with him and he said, well, most people think that when they hear about virtual reality church that it's just fun. It's a bunch of punks that are gamers. You know, they're, that's all they, they're just living in this virtual reality. And he said, actually our, the demographics of those that are participating in our online church, yeah. Average age is like 42 and there are leaders that are actually leading and they're trading to lead are in that kind of forties age range as well.

Greg Ligon: 45:25 And so I think I just probably in general, I had this perception about virtual reality as being this gamer kind of thing. Not really. not really real. I think that, you know, for me it's probably still gonna be, there's, it's still going to be a process of transformation. I don't know that I'll ever get to the place where I'm going to feel comfortable just going into a virtual reality church are only going to an online church for that matter, because I do think there are some, when, when the opportunity affords itself, there are some things that can happen. and, you know, face to face kind of conversation, that don't happen online. so that's probably, you know, I may be showing my age, I may be, but, I think there's some of those kinds of realities.

Greg Ligon: 46:15 The other thing that, that was kind of fascinating to me when I talked with Angela at Pursuit Church Live, which makes total sense to me, because they don't do any kind of visual kind of thing. And the thing it's, you're just, you're logging on but you're totally anonymous. You may think you may have an avatar or whatever you develop, you're totally anonymous and so she had actually, she's up in the Pacific Northwest and she had a gathering where she invited people to actually of physically, and to come together for a physical gathering. and she said what was so fascinating was the diversity of the people that showed up and people had no idea, age diversity, theological diversity, ethnicity, diversity, socioeconomic diversity. Lot of people with handicaps, you know, that they physically couldn't participate in a church on a regular basis. And so this had kind of opened up the world of church and, a relationship with Christ and an opportunity to be in community, in some really significant ways. And so, I don't think that, I don't anticipate that it will ever become the only mode doing church, either of those, but I do think it has the potential to increase as being an amazingly effective way to reach people and, and allow people to be in a process of transformation and discipleship.

Jeff Reed: 47:41 Well, gentlemen, I really appreciate the time. Collin, Greg and Rey closing thoughts as we land the plane?

Collin Jones: 47:47 Yeah, I think, you know, church is historically very long behind culture change. And you know, when you look at the 20 and 30 and 40 year olds, they're just, the way their behavior changing is that they go home and watch Netflix, right? and many less people are getting out. And so if we think about how church drives change for that, it gets interesting. You know, like who knows what it'll look like in 10 years, but it does get interesting, you know, when you look at the behavior shifts happening now and if we want to meet people, if we want to reach people, we got to meet them where they're at. You know, they're not gonna come to a building if that's the only place they go to every week, you know, that has social interaction.

Collin Jones: 48:22 I mean, that's just unrealistic to think, you know, that's so scary. so I'm really excited that, churches are rethinking kind of a what, what does culture look and what does it look like to be Jesus to the culture? And it's really cool to get to see that happen all over the world and in small examples like virtual reality church and in bigger examples. And it just, it's evident that God's that move in the digital world and it's really fun to get, to get to watch it. So if you're, if you're doing it, please continue.

Greg Ligon: 48:47 Yeah, I think it's a, it's an opportunity for us to, it's a tool that God has provided for us to be able to engage different groups of people in ways that we haven't been able to do just as the other, you know, major technology transformations all the way back to the printing press, you know, have done. So. I think it gives us the opportunity to do that. I think it's interesting too, to think about, the fact that I think it would be that I think there could be a natural tendency for us, for many churches to say, okay, I've got to have an online campus or online, you know, serve as our online experience. I'm going to do that. In some ways they end up, I'm not thinking through it deeply enough to understand what uniquely has to happen in that online experience and maybe even how that online experience shows up online.

Greg Ligon: 49:36 That may not be as an online church. it may be in some other digital kind of expression, where people are living, that, you know, as you said, call people, go home and watch Netflix. there's probably not a whole lot of those that are unchurched. They go home and look for online for an online church service, of course. So I think that that hard work of really understanding how you, make an online experience, one that will actually intersect with where people are living. I think it's a really important thing for churches to think about as well.

Jeff Reed: 50:09 Yeah, you got to have a strategy behind it. And so with that strategy comes intentionality to figure out who you are as a church and what that representation looks like online. My challenge is is that if you're broadcasting services, you should be considering a discipleship process because you're missionally engaging people anywhere around the world and if somebody gets saved, there has to be some sort of a intentional discipleship process, small groups, next step, something for them to get further in. But no, those are very good words, Greg, thank you for that. Hey Rey, as we're wrapping anything on your end?

Rey DeArmas: 50:43 Yeah. Just to piggyback on what you're saying, Jeff, you know, so many churches don't really think through the discipleship process on the onset anyways is an important factor. You know, they think about having small groups, they think about having messages and not even just in an online environment but even there in person environments. And so that next step, especially as we enter a new decade where engagement is really the driving force and you know, we've talked about that often, how churches need to understand better and we all need to work harder at helping people through those next steps, whether it's in person or even through digital platforms and thinking about how there are the same next step, no matter which environment they're engaging in. And so, you know, my hope and my challenge and listen guys, great study, very encouraging stuff. good things to hear. Our hope is that more leaders, more church leaders take a look at their next steps and think through how that can happen on all platforms, in-person included.

Jeff Reed: 51:35 Yeah. And we don't want to downplay the streaming and what's involved in that. It's definitely a part of it. By the way, if you're know I'm going to do cheap commercial for Collin, cause I'm not going to give him time to, if you're not involving Living As One in your streaming process, you certainly should. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I've lost on bad streaming solutions. Living as One, solved many problems for many, many churches that I work with and others. And you should too. Colin's that work commercial wise. You good? Yeah. Awesome. So and of course Leadership network, Phenomenal organization that's helping push forward, the cause of big C church. I'm very, very impressed. I've loved the stuff that I've done with them in the past and even seeing the stuff that's coming out now is phenomenal. So Greg, Collin, thank you very much for being here and being a part of this. Rey, once again, thanks for jumping on. This is Jeff with The Church Digital. Thanks for being here. We'll see you next time at The Church Digital podcast. 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 Digital Church & Church Online.

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