Podcast Episode 26, 1 hr 7 min
Destigmatizing the "M" Word (Marketing), with Austin Savage (Ep. 26)

Austin Savage: How are you as a leader in your community, adding value and building trust with people in their daily walks?

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl and I'm a small church pastor, and welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? My guest today is Austin Savage and the subject is de-stigmatizing the ‘M’ word, namely marketing. Austin spent several years with the 95 network, and he still co-hosts the 95 podcast, which is all about leading in the small church. But he's also recently launched out on his own to establish Austin Savage and Company that helps churches to create content and to do today's subject, which is marketing. In this conversation, Austin and I talk about a handful of really important things when it comes to de-stigmatizing this term.

First of all, we talk about the difference between marketing and promotion or advertising. That marketing is bigger than that, in a lot of ways very different than that. Secondly, we talk about how to put the content your church is already creating into the marketplace in creative ways. And then we talk about how to get started doing that, especially in a smaller church, without costing any money whatsoever.

Don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question, Can this work in a small church?

Hey, Austin. Welcome to the podcast. It's good to have you on today, my friend.

Austin Savage: It is good to be here, Karl. Hey, last time we recorded a podcast interview it went really, really well.

Karl Vaters: Oh boy. You know, before we get to the subject matter for today, let's do this. We were joking before the podcast about actually making this a part of the subject matter, so let's do it. This has been a series of strange things going wrong to get us to this point today. And I'm assuming that it's being recorded correctly right now. We'll find out later. So we recorded this months ago, and when we got to the playback, your voice sounded like your voice sounds now. My voice sounded like it was at half speed, but it was actually at regular speed.

Austin Savage: It was so weird. You sent it to me and you were like, Austin, how do we fix this? And I was like, Karl, now I edit podcasts for a living and I have never seen anything like this.

Karl Vaters: I know, right.

Austin Savage: It was so weird.

Karl Vaters: It was nice to know that it wasn't just me when an expert doesn't know how to fix it here. So we had that and I recorded another podcast with Josh Givens, I think on maybe even on the same day as I recorded that with you, and they both had the same issue. So I had to send it out to both of you,We're going to have to redo them. And so we redid the podcast and I recorded Josh's a couple of weeks ago. And then the second big mistake was…This is so weird…. I got the subjects mixed up and I started interviewing him about your subject, the subject you and I had decided to do.

Austin Savage: And had already done an interview about like in the past.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. And I was five minutes into it with Josh and I paused and I went, Is this the subject we were going to talk about?

And the subjects were close enough because he does media and so on that he was like, Yeah, this is good. So I just kept going. So then I'm 15 minutes to getting on with you today, and I look up the subject matter and I go, I just did that with Josh.

Austin Savage: You’re like, I was right. Oh, so crazy.

Karl Vaters: So when anybody does listen to the Josh one, we've already edited out that little piece of me going, is this the right subject? Because obviously, you know, at the time I just thought it was a blip that I did. So anyway, all of that to say…

Austin Savage: Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow, you know,

Karl Vaters: Yeah, you’ve just got to go with it. Sometimes things happen. So we are punting on this one today. We're calling an audible and whatever other last minute changes to football plays metaphors you want to use.

Austin Savage: Are you a football guy?

Karl Vaters: No.

Austin Savage: Okay, me either.

Karl Vaters: Oh, okay. I just used the only two metaphors I know. That's the entire thing.

Austin Savage: What was the second one? Punting and…?

Karl Vaters: And calling an audible. That's about it. You use any other football terms and I'm going to be…And I'm not even sure I used those two correctly.

Austin Savage: Yeah, they're not really the same, but I get where you were going.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. So last minute stuff happens like that, changes occur and we've got to figure it out. It's one of those things, especially in a small church context, right? I remember when I first started out in ministry, I was like, Okay, the first few weeks, like, I got so much to say, and then you're into it a couple of months and you’ve got all the other things in pastoring, and then it's the Saturday night dread of I've got nothing to say of value tomorrow, but I can't get up and say that on Sunday. I can't get up and say, I've got nothing this week. I've got to create something.

And what I learned was there's actually value in having a space that you have to fill with something. At times you'll end up just filling it with nonsense because it feels ridiculous, but it gets you into a pattern. It gets you into the discipline. You know, if you only wait until you feel inspired to do something, you will never do anything.

Austin Savage: Yeah.

Karl Vaters: I think it's the schedule of, Okay, we're going to do this today. I mean we could have put this off and figured something else out. We talked to each other and went, Hey, here's an area that you're in, and here's an area that I think our folks would be interested in, and we were able to figure it out.

So I think there really is value in filling the space and in the discipline of doing that, that helps your creative muscles strengthen.

Austin Savage: That's the word that came to mind for me was creativity. I was just thinking,like, that's my personality. Like, honestly, I'm best when I just am kind of forced to be in…like, I have to come up with something. I have to think of a solution, like on the spot. And that's one of my favorite parts in my role now is whenever we go into like a discovery call or something where we're talking to a new potential client or something like that, I love going in with like this blank slate, and you're like, where's the conversation going to go?

So I was excited when you were like, Hey… Even though I had prepared like a little bit before, I was so pumped when you were like, Oh, we have to change our subject last minute. So I'm just ready.

Karl Vaters: Alrighty. So here's what we decided or what I decided, I think would be really helpful for our audience. And by the way, for those of you who do not know Austin, I said it in the prerecorded intro, but he and I met when he was working specifically and I think exclusively for 95 Network. And now you have your own company, Austin Savage and Company. Is that?

Austin Savage: Yeah, Austin Savage and Co. You know, it’s got to sound cool.

Karl Vaters: But you have, obviously that background at 95 Network. You have a real heart for and understanding of the small church environment. First of all, quickly, what is Austin Savage and Co all about?

Austin Savage: So like you said, I worked at 95 Network for three and a half years, I think it was, as the managing director there. So for my first six months there, I literally ran the non-profit. I was straight out of college. Crazy story there, super fun. But when Bill Sellers, who is the executive director there, came on, we kind of were able to complement each other in our roles and I started managing our operations and our marketing. So in that role, we got to support hundreds of small churches all across the country, like hands-on, kind of doing our consulting process, and thousands of churches across the country, through our resources, like our blog or podcast and things like that.

But at the end of last year, I kind of started to feel just a shift in where I felt like my sweet spot was and where I felt like God was leading me in my life, and kind of had an old dream awakened that I sort of forgot about, and that was to own a creative agency. And so in December of 2020, I launched a creative agency.

We're a content marketing agency. And what that means is that we manage people's podcasts, we manage their blogs, like ghost write for them, or help them plan out their blogs. We'll do email marketing for them, we'll do social media marketing for them. We do websites and logos and all that type of work.

And it has so fun. I love it. It's super fulfilling. It's definitely a sweet spot for me, and that's kind of the focus of what I do now.

Karl Vaters: You use primarily the term creative as to what you do, which I've noticed recently. This has been maybe - just in the last decade, certainly no more than the last two decades - that a creative pastor or somebody in charge of creativity, that the term itself has been used within church circles at all. Obviously primarily in larger churches who can afford to bring on a creative pastor, obviously. Right?

Austin Savage: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

Karl Vaters: But what is the shift that's happening there where we're at least beginning to use terms like creative. What's happening there? Why is that occurring in the church, do you think?

Austin Savage: Yeah. So for me, that term is related to digital content because that is what I do.

So like I said, things like podcasts, blogs, emails, social, that kind of stuff, websites. Like we were originally going to talk about until you screwed up. But that term could extend, you know, to sermon series, to stage design, to worship. That can apply to everything we do in ministry. But specifically on the marketing side and on the digital content side, I think that there has been a big shift that has happened, especially since…It had already started before COVID, but COVID just - the big word is accelerated everything. But it really did accelerate the trend we were seeing in marketing, and it pushed us past the effectiveness of traditional marketing. Like, people do not respond as much anymore to promotion and just saying, Hey, we have this going on, come join us. Or, Hey, we want you to do this. Or like, Hey, this is what makes us great. Like that kind of stuff. And they respond a lot more to balue and to things that are helpful to them in their daily life. And so when I think of creativity in the way that we support our clients, that is how I am thinking of it, of how can we creatively support people as they are navigating their day to day life.

Whether for us that's for a corporate client or that's for a faith-based nonprofit or church, what solutions are we giving throughout their daily life to equip them so that we are building trust with them to lead them towards the next step, whatever that next step is? That's what comes to mind for me.

Karl Vaters: What you're getting into is I think where I want to lean into for this podcast today. Every once in a while, our language shifts. I remember back in the 70s and 80s, when we shifted from hiring a music minister to bringing on a worship pastor.

Austin Savage: I remember those days too.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. And the reason for it was because we wanted to emphasize the worship aspect of it and not simply the music aspect of it. Now, most of the time the worship minister is almost exclusively overseeing music, but I think the shift in emphasis was a helpful one. And now it's gone too far to the other extreme where people have to go,Worship, you know, the music isn't the only time we worship. Yeah, we get it. But that's the emphasis of those who are in the music department.

And so you mentioned it used to be you used the word promotion and now we use the word marketing. And you said it's no longer just about promotion. So that's a shift of terminology. But how is it rooted in a shift of perception?

Austin Savage: Rephrase that question real quick for me.

Karl Vaters: We've changed from using the term promotion to using the term marketing. Is it just a shift of terminology? Is that all it is, or is there something behind that? What's the reason that we're not just talking promotion anymore? My guess is from what you were saying earlier is that promotion is an aspect of marketing, but that marketing is a much wider tent than simply just promotion.

Austin Savage: Yeah, that's exactly it. So like I was... I said this a little bit before, but how people respond to marketing has changed. You still have to promote things sometimes, right? Like sometimes you just got to be like, Hey, we have a service and we want you to show up there and you're just sharing a promotional piece, or you're saying, Hey, we have a VBS that we want you to come to. Or we have an event that we think would be helpful. And so there are times that you have to promote, but for a long time that has been what churches did from a marketing perspective. We promoted things and we asked people to come to things, we asked people to bring their friends, we asked people to take a step. And that's how we were communicating and marketing ourselves, quote, unquote to our community.

Now, what that should mean for a church, that net is getting a lot wider for what's included in marketing. Because people are just tapped out on being asked to do things and it becomes very repetitive, it becomes very overwhelming. And so there's a real opportunity, I think for churches now, as we're kind of shifting perspectives, like you're saying Karl, of not just thinking about how we market ourselves in the terms of how do we promote what's going on here at the church to our community, but it really is wider of how are we building trust with our community? Like how does our community even know that we care? People who have never been here, how are we developing a reputation outside of Sunday that people know that here at this church, they literally care about what is happening in this community, they care about the issues we care about, they care about seeing beautiful things happen in this community? And just thinking through a wider lens is really what marketing is today. It's how people really start to build trust, get behind a brand, and want to be part of something in a deeper way than just being asked to show up at an event.

It comes to the digital shift that's happening because we have way more opportunities today to build trust with people before they have ever taken a physical step with us, which is opposite of how it used to be. Because I imagine in the 70s and 80s, you know, back in the day, it was really more about the opposite. Like, you needed to get people there so that you could build trust with them and build that personal relationship. But today it's building trust before, and then asking them to take the step.

Karl Vaters: Okay. That's a fascinating shift I never thought through before, but you're right. In pre-digital days, the front door of your building was their front door to the church, to the church experience entirely. Well, maybe the one step before it was the neighbor who invited them, or the flyer that you put on their doorstep to invite them to the special musical that you're doing this Christmas or whatever. But the actual first time they feel connected to the church at all would have been when they physically walked in the building. And so you approach things very differently today when, by the time they come into your building - and during COVID, who knows when that might happen at all - they're going to seek multiple experiences with your church to first of all, see if this is a place that they can trust. And secondly, if this is a place they want to be a part of, long before they come into the church door.

So in the olden days, when I was younger…

Austin Savage: I love making fun of you like this. This is fun.

Karl Vaters: This is what Dale had to put up with all the time.

Austin Savage: That's really why I don't work there anymore. I actually got fired. I’m just kidding.

Karl Vaters: So back when I was coming up, when I was a kid, that front door was them saying, I wonder if this is a place I want to come to, the physical front door. Today the physical front door is, I hope this is what it appears to be online. Are they closer to already having accepted being a part of the church at the physical front door of the church now than they were 20, 30 years ago?

Austin Savage: I would say they have a much deeper perception of what their expectations are of that church, for sure.

Something that came to mind for me as you were just kind of talking about that is your ministry, Karl. And this shift from at least an outside perspective is how your ministry is where it is today. It really started on the back of articles that you would write consistently for people, and that's how you built an audience of people who felt like you were adding value to their lives, of leaders who found a safe place, and you talking about the value of small church pastors and the value of small churches and who leaders are. A lot of that happened digitally. That was people reading your writing, that was people reading your articles, and they kind of developed a relationship with you, Karl through that. And now, you know, when you come speak at a conference, people want to come to hear you speak because they have found value in what you've already offered to them without them having to pay for it. It was just a value that you were adding to their lives. And that same opportunity is there for churches today, of how are you as a leader in your community adding value and building trust with people in their daily walks of life and in their parenting struggles and their marriage struggles and their struggles with faith and doubt and work, and all of these things that are going on. How are you kind of building trust with them so that they know that they are at a safe place when they show up to your church on a Sunday, or when they decide to take a step with your ministry, whatever that looks like today.

Karl Vaters: This is a huge shift in even our perception of… Well, let me put it this way. When a lot of small church pastors hear the M word - marketing, it comes across like the M word to them. Like, I don't know that I want to even… And maybe some of them are listening now because they're going, maybe they've built enough trust with me that they're going to hear that maybe he's going to say something different about it than what everybody else is trying to shove down my throat. Because what we've got in our head is that marketing is synonymous with promotion and advertising. That it’s just the fancy new term that just means advertising, and advertising means tricking you into buying something you don't want.

Austin Savage: Exactly.

Karl Vaters: But what I'm hearing from you is that marketing, in fact, not only is bigger than that and encompasses more than that, but in fact, modern marketing, as you're talking about it, actually recognizes that people are more savvy now to advertising and promotional gimmicks than they used to be and are not going to trust you if you are untrustworthy, and so it's really about building a relationship rather than pushing a product. Is that…?

Austin Savage: Exactly. Yeah, you're right on. And yeah, that is a great kind of recap of it. Honestly, a phrase that has been really, like, this is my perspective of the opportunity that we have today. But marketing performs much more on a human level than it ever has.

It's less today about brands and colors and phrases, and curated kind of aspects of marketing and offers and products and all of these things. And it is so much more about how people feel when they interact with you, your brand, whatever that means, with your church, your ministry, And when people are consistently feeling, seeing or feeling like the stress is kind of taken off their shoulders a little bit, or feeling like they are supported anytime they interact with you, even if that's online or even if that's just in a social media post, or a simple blog that they read or a podcast they listen to. Any of these things. They are building trust with you on a human level. And like I kind of mentioned earlier, that is so much deeper than someone just being convinced to say, Oh, this could be a cool event for my family, let's go and see what happens. When you are consistently building that relationship with them, you have such an opportunity to have that kind of deep connection with people all throughout your community that you haven't even met yet. It’s incredible.

Karl Vaters: The picture I have in my head as you're describing this for the last little segment is that the word marketing has been specifically chosen because it really hails back to the old marketplace. The idea that there was marketing day and you went in and there were all these people from the town who set up their wares and you got to know people and you spent time there and you had your stuff to sell and they had their stuff to sell. And they'd say, I want X number of barrels of that, but I can't take it home now. Okay, I'm going to have somebody ship it over later. And there had to be a trust and you bought based on trust and on relationship in the marketplace. And so now it's a marketplace of ideas, it's a marketplace of relationships more than it is a market... Although there still obviously exists a marketplace of products, but it seems to me that the word marketing has been chosen because what you're talking about is wanting to reflect that feeling and that attitude and that situation.

Austin Savage: Yeah. I would 100% say that. And I love kind of your phrase that it's a marketplace of relationships today. People are deciding every single day who they want to spend their time with, who they want to support. And it's not a game that we're playing. Like, you know, we really have value to bring to people's lives, we have an eternal message that never changes, that is literally the most important message for people to hear. But the question is, How are we earning that place in people's lives? And with the kind of way the world is going today, we don't earn that place by asking them to come to our church on Sunday. Like, that is a next step. We earn that place by adding value to their lives on a daily level.

And to take it a step deeper, if I can, I think the church has had a hard time with perceptions over the last year and a half, for sure. And I know a lot of people my age, especially, struggle a lot with what their perspective of church should be right now after seeing how some churches have responded to certain things that have happened in our world over the past year and a half, like a variety of topics that that could be.

And when we talk about this, I think that opportunity moves from just an opportunity to a necessity, because there are people who have been hurt by the church. There are people who their perception of the church has completely shifted. It's 180 over the last year and a half. And moving forward, if we want to continue to have a place in our community and a meaningful place in influencing people's lives, we have to earn that trust back. And again, that doesn't happen by us asking people to come to our church on Sunday. Although that is the next step we want to lead them to, it happens by us figuring out how we can be a support in our community, how we can champion our community, how we can add value to people's lives, how we can answer questions and just be a support so that we're earning that trust to get people to take that next step.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. So marketing in a lot of ways is really understanding our church's place in the marketplace of our community.

Now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First, forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a financial supporter to Patreon, Venmo, or PayPal. Just go to Karlvaters.com/support. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most. Our support link is in the show notes.

Let's make the pivot now from that to specifically the small church. We've talked about marketing in general, we've kind of hopefully done some de-stigmatizing of that term for some folks. But for the small church pastor out there who's saying, Okay, that’s fine and good, but I still can't afford the thousands of dollars it's going to take for me to build a high-end website or to put together, or a graphic designer or all of the pictures we've got in our head of that. So what would be…Do you have a couple of things that you would say to the small church and to the small church leader about how marketing can be done well within a small context?

Austin Savage: I mean, my first thought to that question, Karl, is that marketing like that…And the fancy word, I guess, that like I do is content marketing because you're marketing through content. But it's free to start, to be honest. You don't have to pay to post things on social media. You don't have to pay to record a video with your phone and post it on YouTube. Those opportunities in front of you are literally free. All it requires is for you to have the confidence to do it, and to take the time to invest in it. And so I think for all the leaders listening, a great first step - especially if you do have a strapped budget of, like, we can't invest in whatever, we can't buy podcast equipment and, you know, start creating this fancy produced thing. My thought is, then don't do that; do something different. Start recording videos where you share something an encouraging thought for people about a variety of topics in their lives, or start doing a super low quality podcast where you are just doing the same thing, sharing encouraging thoughts.

Or one thing that I do in my community, it's called the People of Peoria podcast. I live in a town called Peoria, Illinois, and we highlight the stories of businesses and people who are making a difference in our area. And you can do that with your phone. You could go to local businesses, set up your phone and just have a conversation. It doesn't have to be fancy. And people will watch, people will engage with that. And what you're doing is you are building trust. And so my first thought with that is just get started and don't feel like there is this big wall of money that is in front of you to make a difference. I don't know how many are, but if anybody here is on TikTok at all who's listening, you would know that a lot of the content there is so low quality. It's crazy, but people today spend hours consuming that content. It's not about the, quote unquote, visual quality of the content, it is so much more about the quality of the message that you are sharing that really makes a difference.

Karl Vaters: What you've done for us is somewhat defined the term content marketing. Because again, for those of us who have been around for a while who equate marketing and promotion and advertising as synonyms, content marketing is maybe a phrase that can help us. Because what that means is simply putting your content into the marketplace. So we're not talking about creating a separate graphic logo, we're not talking about buying a bunch of equipment, we're not talking about printing up a bunch of flyers and going door to door. Which if you wanted to get to your neighbors, that's how you had to do it back in the day.

Austin Savage: And you still can.

Karl Vaters: Which we still can. But you're talking about the first step is use the device that's already in your pocket,

Austin Savage: You already pay for it.

Karl Vaters: Use the sermon that you're going to preach on Sunday anyway. Repackage it in a way, using the device that's in your pocket, that you can put up on Facebook so that people who are randomly scrolling through in your area will come across it, hear it, see it. And so you're actually…Everything you're talking about right now is stuff that we are creating anyway, and now it's just a matter of packaging in a way that people can see and hear it. Is that a fairly close definition of what you're talking about? When we use the term content marketing, that's what we're really talking about, right?

Austin Savage: 100 percent. You mentioned Sunday sermon, and if you want an easy place to start - you're already preaching a sermon on Sunday - I think one of the easiest places to start is, One, with that piece of content. You can trim that up if you know how to, and share clips and stuff like that. But I would say one of the best ways for leaders to get comfortable is to share their sermon on Sunday, and then maybe on Monday or Tuesday to take out their phone and record a three-minute version of the heart of that sermon, of just the key kind of point from that sermon, and just start sharing it on YouTube or on Facebook or across whatever kind of platforms you usually use. And just get comfortable with what it's like to, One, talk to your phone, if you haven't gotten comfortable with that from the last year and a half, and Two, to just share things in a kind of bite size way. It's a really good muscle to start exercising, and then expand from there. As you kind of start to see people engage with that, try sharing a different style of content, try writing articles instead of just recording videos. Try to maybe launch a super short podcast, or maybe you start doing other types of videos that you're sharing on YouTube. And you're just kind of slowly expanding. And then if that stuff starts to grow, then you can kind of improve what it looks like to share that content. If you're sharing a podcast, you can improve your equipment over time if you're starting to see it grow. You can start improving your website so that you can put show notes on there, and that people can more easily consume. And it doesn't have to be like you come out of the gate, 100% swinging at the fences, but you are showing up. You're showing up ready with value to bring and seeing what happens.

Karl Vaters: Gotcha. So what I'm hearing is don't worry about the costs because that's not your first step. Your first step is content, which you're already producing anyway. Second, creativity, packaging it in a creative way using the devices you've already got. And then thirdly, add bits and pieces of costs as you're going along. Actually there's three C's right there. I just alliterated and didn’t intend to.

Austin Savage: The pastors are coming out.

Karl Vaters: There we go. So we've got the content comes first, the creativity to frame the content comes second, and then we can spend bits and pieces of money. And then when we're spending the money, we're spending it in a way that is going to be targeted to what we're already doing. Because if you put the money first, you end up… How many of us have bought equipment that ends up sitting there and we never use, because once we start creating the content we realize, I didn't need that anyway, it was just a toy that I saw advertised that I thought would be cool. But if it starts with the content and then the creativity, by the time we are putting money into it, we're going to be spending it more wisely, aren't we?

Austin Savage: Yeah, we did that with the… I host the 95 podcast through 95 Network still. Glad that Dale has let me hang on there. And we did that on our show. We launched the show kind of on a whim, and we had a couple of mics that we use just for Zoom calls, just so that we weren't just using our computer microphones. And we did over a year of our podcast with those microphones. And they weren't awesome, but we had great conversations with them. And as we started to see the traction and we just were consistently seeing leaders engage from all over the country with the content that we were sharing, we decided to make the jump and invest in some more serious podcast equipment, as we kind of wanted to take the show to the next level and kind of professionalize it. And we paid for someone to record new music. For awhile, we just used a song that I recorded in college with a buddy of mine as our theme music because I had it sitting around. And then we decided to kind of take the step and ask someone to produce something specifically for the show.

And we're just kind of consistently making those small tweaks as time goes on. But the one thing that I will say is, as we're talking about this, don't just think, Well, we already kind of share our Sunday service online, so I think that's the same thing as what Austin's talking about. But that actually is different because for people that is still the same step that you're asking people to take by asking them to come in person. You're really still asking them to show up for a church service, even if that's online, and kind of consume that start to finish. And at the heart of it, people see that as the same ask as asking them to show up for a service in person, and there's the opportunity to go one step further and start creating content with the intent specifically to build trust.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. One of the things that I think I wrote about recently, and if I can find it I'll put it in the show notes, and I know either podcast number two or three that we did, which we'll also put in the show notes, was we talked about it with Craig Forrest, and he talked about something very similar to this. As we were talking about it, and I think what I wrote in the article was, when you see somebody standing behind the pulpit, you expect a sermon, you expect a church thing. And somebody who's not interested in church, if they're seeing that through their Facebook feed, they're not going to pause for it.

Austin Savage: Right. They’ll just skip past it.

Karl Vaters: But if you take a three-minute snippet out of that, a story that resonates with people, or an outline of the message of the sermon, and you do it from another non-church place out in the community by a landmark in your town that people recognize, and as they go, that's something they're more likely to pause for. A non-church person is more likely to pause for someone who's standing outside a landmark in their own town that they recognize, and then they hear what you're talking about. So that's where the creativity. So you start with the content, but that's where the creativity comes in. And it's not an expense. It's not the, I've got to hire a creative person. It's that, I just need to get outside the building, use my current phone and the earbuds so I've got a better mic…

Austin Savage: And do it.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, it does take some time. It does take some thought and some creativity. But it doesn't cost any money. At this point, we haven't talked about anything... Literally, there's not a penny spent yet because you can put it on Facebook, you can put it on YouTube, you can put it on Instagram, on TikTok. These are all free platforms using equipment you've already got and content you've already used. You just repackage it in a creative way.

Austin Savage: Yeah. And as you get comfortable with it, it just snowballs. You'll see... I really believe, when I start to see our clients get consistent with the content that they're creating, there is just a snowball of momentum for their brand, for people who are engaging with them, who are excited to see things from them, who are excited to consume the next piece of content or whatever it is. And as you get comfortable with it, you'll get comfortable with what that looks like for you. You’ll go stand in front of a new business in your town and be comfortable recording a video that’s just saying, Hey, I'm so excited about this, we're ready to try this new restaurant today, and we're going to tell you what we think of it. And it's not even like, quote unquote, about faith, but what it's doing is just showing you in your community. And as you get comfortable just exercising that muscle, that momentum just continues to increase and increase for how people engage.

Karl Vaters: And what we're doing is talking about what we talked about at the beginning, you are developing trust and developing relationship with people. Even if you don't know the people who are watching you, they feel like they know you if they watch a few of those, and then by the time, if they do show up at the church, there is already a pre-built trust in there, which right now is our biggest… Our biggest hurdle right now is not technical expertise, our biggest hurdle right now is trust. And the kind of marketing you're talking about is about redeveloping that trust again through relationship and not about technical expertise.

Austin Savage: Exactly.

Karl Vaters: All right. I love that. That's great. Hey, for calling an audible, I think we did alright, but we are not done.

Austin Savage: Oh, no, what does that mean?

Karl Vaters: I know you already had to do this before, but you're still gonna have to do the lightning round questions again because they, like all the other stuff we did last time, disappeared into the checkout.

Austin Savage: Also did not get captured? I wonder if my answers will be the same. I don't even remember honestly, if these are the same questions.

Karl Vaters: I expect them to be better. They are exactly the same questions, but I expect your answers to be better because you're at least three or four months more mature now than you were then. Or older anyway.

Austin Savage: I did turn… I am a year older than when we talked last. I am 25 now instead of 24, when we talked last.

Karl Vaters: There we go. Plus, during pandemic, everything is accelerated. It's like you're a decade wiser at this point.

Austin Savage: Exactly. Yeah, I’m really 34.

Karl Vaters: Okay. Lightning round, question number one. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years, and how have you adapted to it?

Austin Savage: Ooh. Here's the hard thing. I feel like my answer to this is what we talked about.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, that often is the case. It’s okay.

Austin Savage: I was going to say, I feel like the shift is the trust thing, and I literally spend all day every day… For the last year, I have spent all day every day talking about that shift with my clients, and talking about how to leverage it. I really think that's what changed. That is the game that people need to play today to build a brand and make a difference. And I think that the people who take it seriously are the people who are going to kind of make the most impact on their mission. So I would say that it’s what we talked about.

Karl Vaters: There we go. Very good. All right. Second, what free resource, like an app or a website, has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?

Austin Savage: Asana, A-S-A-N-A. Do you use it?

Karl Vaters: We just started a few months ago and it has helped our team immensely.

Austin Savage: What did you do before? I’m very curious.

Karl Vaters: We did emails.

Austin Savage: That’s super interesting.

Karl Vaters: Emails and the calendar, on the phone, and it was just too complicated and too messy. And we checked out Slack and we checked out Trello, and they really were too complicated for us, and Asana was so simple.

Austin Savage: Yeah. Everything in my company now is on Asana. Like, if it doesn't get put in Asana, it does not get done. And so basically for people who don't know what it is, Asana is a virtual task list and organizer that you can use. We pay for the paid version of Asana as well, but they do have a free version that does…

Karl Vaters: That’s what we use. And we're perfect with it. It does everything we need.

Austin Savage: Exactly. And it’s perfect. The only reason is we have a lot of repeatable processes that we do in our business, and there's rules that you can set so that, like, if you move it to this column it assigns it to this person, and all of that stuff. But at the end of the day, it really is a virtual task list.

And it is a great way, if you have repeatable tasks, you can set tasks to repeat every month, every day, every week. And it's just a good way that you can stay organized and you can also check in and see if anybody on your team has overdue tasks or has things that need to get done. And it's just a really good way to kind of organize projects. So Asana 100 percent.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. It took a little bit of figuring out for us, but the learning curve was not nearly as steep as it was on Slack and Trello for us. So that's what we've used too, so that's great. We love it.

All right. Number three, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

Austin Savage: Oh, a bunch of Dale phrases pop in my head. I need to choose one.

Karl Vaters: Oh, this could get very entertaining very quickly.

Austin Savage: It could get super entertaining. No funny ones really pop in my head, although he has a bunch of them. But he kind of has some core principles. Like, that's what we did at 95 Network. We shared the same stuff for all three years that I was there, and it's just because it was always true, it was always resonating.

But one of the ones for me that I think made a big difference is Dale's phrase, don't touch the glory. And it really comes down to pressure, and how a lot of times we as leaders and in leadership in general, we like to put the pressure on our shoulders, and we like to think that our efforts are really what make or break our ministry success or the success of whatever initiative we're doing, but that's not true. That responsibility and that role is on God and on His purpose, his plan. And when we kind of try to take that pressure from Him, we are touching the glory. We're trying to take that glory away from Him and put it on our shoulders, and the perspective really needs to shift that that pressure is God's. And that made a big difference for me because I am an achiever, I am someone who's always having ideas, and it's very, very easy for me to jump into that failure mindset of whether or not this works is basically what defines my worth as a person, and that is not anywhere close to true. I think we did a podcast episode about that recently, too.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, that sounds very familiar.

Austin Savage: Something like that. I can't remember what episode it was.

Karl Vaters: So yeah, go back and check out even more on that in 95 Network podcasts or the 95 podcast.

All right. Number four, final lightning round question. What is the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

Austin Savage: Gosh, this one is so hard for me to categorize. So my dad was a pastor, growing up, and so I just grew up with, I feel like, all the weird stuff that you just get thrown into things.

One thing that pops in my mind, I remember a Sunday where as a sermon illustration, somebody was riding a motorcycle like inside the building, just like for the whole sermon, just like riding around. It was kind of crazy. I don't even remember what the sermon was about, but I remember the motorcycle. And then another one is we did this thing called kid stuff. I don't know if that's still popular or not, honestly, but it was a kids’ curriculum that was basically our second service as a church, growing up. And so it was just for families and, you know, like our dance team would come out and we would do these dances. And then I was a character named Gordo, like a super nerdy guy who had a bunch of friends that my friends played. And we did like the craziest scenes in these little skits that we would have to do. I remember one time I had to glue sequins to my face and literally half my face was sequins and it hurt so bad to take them off, because they were literally glued to my face. I don't know. So things like that come to mind.

Karl Vaters: Well, that's the thing. We got two PKs talking together here, so we've been at church all our life. We've got a wealth of funny, weird and interesting.

Austin Savage: Have you ever had to glue sequins your face?

Karl Vaters: I have never had to glue sequins to my face, nor have I tried to glue them to someone else's face.

Austin Savage: Exactly. It's just weird things.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, that's a strange one. Alrighty. Hey, I sure appreciate it. For calling an audible, I think we got some great stuff out there that will hopefully help a lot of churches. If people do want to get a hold of you to maybe pursue a little bit more of this and some of the ideas that they know you do or something that they might want some help with, how do they get ahold of you?

Austin Savage: Most of all, I would say specifically for you as a pastor, first connect with 95 Network. I do not work there full-time anymore, but I love their team, I love their mission. Specifically, I really love Dale and his heart for leaders. And so I first recommend that you connect with them. And that’s the numbers 95network.org. If you do want to connect with me you can go to Austinsavage.co. Not .com. It's Austinsavage. C-O, and you can check out some of what we do there as well.

Karl Vaters: Terrific. Thanks, Austin. I sure appreciate it.

Austin Savage: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity.

Karl Vaters: You know, a few decades ago when churches started using terms like marketing, I was skeptical. I have to admit I'm still a little arms length about it in some circumstances, but if marketing is what Austin talked about, which is building trust and developing relationships with people so that they will hear the message of the church as we put it into the marketplace, well, then I'm all in.

So can this work in a small church? Can we use marketing in a smaller context in a way that actually creates trust instead of it just using Madison Avenue tactics, which are actually contrary to the gospel? Yes. This can work in a small church. We just have to do a couple of things.

First of all, we need to understand that it's all about building trust and not selling the gospel like a product. Secondly, we can do it using the content we're producing anyway, so it won't even take an extra amount of time or at least not a whole lot of extra time. And then finally, we just need to come up with creative ways to put the content we're already producing into the marketplace in a way that people will hear it, will see it, and can develop a relationship and a trust with us so that they can be drawn closer to the message of the gospel. If you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes.

If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at Christianitytoday.com/Karlvaters. Find the link in the show notes. This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins, of Jackwilkinsmusic.com. The podcast logo was created by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And me, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

May 16, 2022

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