Podcast Episode 025, 44 min
Why Your Church Needs A Website And Social Media, with Josh Givens (Ep 25)

Karl Vaters: Josh, welcome to the podcast. It's good to have you here, my friend.

Josh Givens: Hey Karl, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Karl Vaters: Thank you. Yeah, you and your dad Stan, we've been connecting a lot more lately. You were part of a conference this past summer that I got to be at, and I got to see not just the work that you do with other pastors but the work you’re doing at your church and in the home, and there’s some great stuff going on. Josh is the Communications director for North Side Bible church. You guys are doing a lot of work with small church pastors. One of the things that caught my eye…you put out a blog post… you asked and answered a question I get in directly asked a lot. It’s about Facebook… Often I’ll hear small church pastors say something like, Well, we’re on Facebook so we’re good. You need a website. And then you went right into it, so let me just ask you: What is your… If so, why?

Josh Givens: Right. Well, there's so many reasons that you can get into this. I would say right out of the gate first of all, and one of the biggest reasons, especially right now with the way Facebook is and the way that they kind of started directing their platform and everything is I just always tell pastors of no matter what size church they are, You're not the boss of the content on Facebook; Facebook is the boss of the content. And they look at me and they kind of go, Well, what do you mean by that? And I'm like, You're not in control of what you put out there. And I don't know…And this has actually kind of come up even more recently with the pandemic and the COVID thing and all of that.

If you post something and even just say, Due to COVID-19 or an outbreak of such and such, we will be canceling services tonight and we will re-meet Wednesday at 6:00 pm, hope you guys all have a great week, Facebook will flag that because it has the words COVID-19 in it. And there'll be a little message at the bottom that says - and we all know this, we all encountered this when we started posting on Facebook during the COVID pandemic - and it will say for more information about the COVID-19, blah, blah, blah, and information from the CDC, please click the following link. And that's right under your church's post. And there's no way for you to avoid that. There's nothing you can do about that. It's going to be all up and down your Facebook page anytime you use certain words. On your website, you are the boss of your own content and you can word anything however you want, and nobody's going to interfere with it because it's your territory.

Karl Vaters: Is it as simple as if I'm not paying for it, somebody else owns it, and I only own it if I'm paying for it?

Josh Givens: That's pretty much it. And Facebook is a free social media platform, but it's owned by… It's free for you to use, but you're in somebody else's yard, you're in somebody else's territory. And the fact that they own it means that you have to quote unquote play by their rules.

So when you post something, yes, it's free for you to put out there on your page, but another thing I explain a lot is that Facebook uses algorithms, which are little computer calculations that determine like the organic reach that a certain post will get. So this applies to, like, brands and businesses, and church pages fall into that category. If you put something out there and it garners a certain amount of reach, that's because Facebook determined it was going to garner that amount of reach for you. Whereas on your website, you can reach as many people as you want because you're in control of the content

Karl Vaters: And an algorithm, for those of us who are not as savvy about the stuff as you are, is basically a very large and very complicated computer calculation that isn't static but in fact reacts to certain things and responds to them. The idea of algorithms is kind of what got everybody into Terminator mode, right? That at some point the machines are going to come alive. These algorithms are kind of the first step in self-aware machines almost, right? Because they actually do learn and grow, and that's how the mathematical calculation is designed to go, right?

Josh Givens: That’s right. And these pastors, when I speak on this kind of stuff, they look at me like I'm talking about something out of The Matrix and I'm like, no, this isn't science fiction, this really is real. The social media platforms that you're on, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, they're all using these little programs to determine what kind of content is popular, what's getting the most hits among your audience, what kind of target demographic does your page have. And then the more that you're posting about that kind of material, the more popular it's going to be among your audience. And it's not going to want you to post about other material, even though you might think that other material is important.

Karl Vaters: Right. So you're not saying don't be on Twitter, don't be on Facebook, don't be on Instagram.

Josh Givens: Not at all.

Karl Vaters: You're saying don’t just be on those.

Josh Givens: Don't just be on there because you’re not always going to be the boss of it. You should absolutely be there. And the local church at large should be on social media a thousand percent because it is a digital mission field and a half. We should have a presence there to reach people with the gospel. There are real people that we should be reaching there all the time, 24/7. We should be putting our content out there to be seen.

Karl Vaters: Okay. So for those of us who grew up in an analog and not a digital world, would it be accurate enough a metaphor to say your website is like when you own your church building and being on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is like going out into the park and preaching?

Josh Givens: Yes.

Karl Vaters: I own the building and whatever I do in the building is up to me to do in the building.

Josh Givens: That's right.

Karl Vaters: And so I control that, but we need to be on social media because we're supposed to go out. We're supposed to go out into the park. We're not just supposed to say, come into the building. Invitations to come to the building is part of it, so both are necessary. So would you equally say a church that has a website, but is not on social media, would you give the same message to them that they need to be on social media, just like you give to a church that is on Facebook but doesn't have a website, you gotta have a website?

Josh Givens: Yes, I would. And in fact, I have done that. So there are churches through the revitalization organization that I'm with that, you know, you came and spoke at our summit for 614 Ministries. There are a number of church that we work with where, when we have gone in and I've looked at their social media and/or website presence or their tech to assess that, I've seen, oh, you guys only have a website and you're not on social media. I would give the exact same advice. Why are you not there? And in most cases, it's because, Well, we don't want to mess with that, or the pastor doesn't understand it, or, you know, whatever. And it really is, like I said a second ago, it's a digital mission field. You’ve got to be there.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, let's get into a little bit then on each of those. What are some of the biggest mistakes we're making on social media? What would you say would be top two or three things? Hey, pastors, I see you guys doing this, you need to stop doing that, or you're not doing this and here’s something you should start doing. What would be two or three of the biggest mistakes we need to be aware of on social media?

Josh Givens: Are you asking for pastors for their individual profiles or are you asking for pastors on their church pages?

Karl Vaters: I was asking for church pages, but now that you brought it up, let's start on individual profiles. Because yeah, there's a whole weird world there that we need to touch on.

Josh Givens: There is a weird world there.

Karl Vaters: Let's start with individually. Because first of all, pastor, you are never not the pastor. It doesn't matter what your tag is on social media, they will figure out that you're the pastor and it will have an impact on your church. Right? So let's start with, What are some of the personal mistakes we make on our personal page?

Josh Givens: I would say right off the bat, stay away from politics. I mean, I know that, you know, a lot of people advise this one all the time, but… And if you're not going to stay away from politics, be careful with politics. Because it's divisive, and if you're going to do that on your personal profile, you should know that everything you post is public, especially to the people that you're friends with. And you're friends with people from your church, and so people from your church are going to see the things that you post. And they're going to want to know, okay, why is the pastor talking about such and such when he preached on such and such on Sunday? And if something doesn't line up, they're going to question that. There's going to be a question of integrity or character there maybe, and things like that. So you want to live out your integrity and your character that you're living out in your personal life, on your social media platform.

Karl Vaters: In addition to that, I have heard - and maybe you, given what you do in the social media and media realm in general - you may have some answers to this. I have heard that in general, when a person is trying to figure out what church to go to, not only do they go to the church website, but they will quite often search out the pastor’s private social media stuff. They'll take a look at your Facebook page, they'll take a look at your Instagram, and how you behave there has a big impact on whether or not they will choose to attend your church. Is that true?

Josh Givens: Yes, it is. It absolutely is. And if your pastor has a personal blog, especially, and if your pastor has a link to his own Facebook page - not profile, but page. If the church is large enough to where the pastor is either running his own page, sort of like you have a page because you're writing books and you're doing things like this. So if he has enough of a following to where he actually has a page, they are absolutely 110% going to check that out first before they decide to make a visit to the church in person.

Karl Vaters: So what you have done, pastor, personally on Facebook is more of a front door to your church than the actual physical front door of your church.

Josh Givens: Oh, very much so. All of this digital stuff on social media and/or your website is the front door more than the physical front door every time.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, we've got this idea of almost physical separation in our heads where the church website is one thing, but my personal Facebook page is… And just simply putting down all opinions, mine really doesn't change anything, right?

I see that all the time, especially on Twitter. Opinions are mine only, like, Oh, okay. Well, then I won't talk about how I think your church is because that's just the pastor's opinion and they're going to be totally different in the pulpit. It's just so weird how we make those separations out, isn’t it?

Josh Givens: Exactly, it is.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. And we're the only ones who think it matters. But everybody else is looking. Which in fact, of course, we do with others too, don't we? Somehow we have that rule for others. We take a look at it, whether it's a company or whatever, and we see how the CEO behaves and he goes, I'm not buying from that company anymore because of the behavior of the CEO. Well, it's more so in a church because we're not just selling a product. Who we are is central to the message that we carry.

Josh Givens: That's right. That's exactly right.

Karl Vaters: That's some of the personal. On the church-generated social media, what are some mistakes we've made or things we could do better?

Josh Givens: Okay. So a lot of things that you could do better there are - and some of these are real simple. I actually gave a presentation at a small church that we did some revitalization work with through 614. I gave a presentation called - I think I titled it - Five things you should stop doing on social media, or something like that. And this sort of thing came up in there. And then right after the presentation, I got swarmed by a lot of the small church pastors saying, Well, I do this, why should I stop doing that, and why should I stop doing this? And can you look at my Facebook page and see if I'm doing this? A lot of it is real small little stuff, but it's stuff that people notice. And a lot of pastors think of this as things that aren't a big deal, but to your average - especially your social media junkies - they are a big deal.

So even the little cheesy things like liking your own posts. If you post something as the church and then like the post as the church, the fact that you posted it, it's obvious that you approve of that content.

Karl Vaters: It’s like patting yourself on the back.

Josh Givens: On the back, yeah. So why bother liking it? You would be shocked at how many times I see that on small church pages. I see it constantly, all the time. And most of the time it's because the pastor, bless his heart, is the one running the page and he doesn't know how to differentiate between switching over to his personal profile and liking the content from the church page account.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Because that is different in people's minds, isn't it? The pastor saying, I like this about my church, is different than the church saying, I like this about the church.

Josh Givens: Yes, exactly. And it's just one of those tiny little things that people notice. And after, you know, being repetitive for awhile, it just starts to get a little out of hand.

So that's just one of my little pet peeves I'm going to throw out there at the top. So don't like your own content, please. And then another thing I notice a lot is just real basic. This is just, you know, simple rule type stuff. Don't use copyrighted images if you're posting stuff to your Facebook pages. Just because you find something on Google image search results does not mean that it yours to use.

Karl Vaters: I actually did a how-to video on that on my YouTube. We'll put a link to it in the show notes. One of the things that I pointed out there is if it's got a watermark on it. And I see that all the time. Oh, it’s just subtle, people won't notice. The point isn't whether or not they’ll notice. The watermark means you stole it.

Josh Givens: Exactly, exactly. That's exactly right. Thank you. I saw that and that's why I'm referencing that is because I saw what you had to say about it. And I see that a lot in the small church world. I see it in the big church world every once in a blue moon, but in a small church world especially. Because a lot of times what you run into is, Well, we don't have the tech people and the tech resources to design all of that stuff from scratch or to know where the quote unquote free resources are, so we just hop on Google image, search and grab whatever we want for Sunday's sermon graphics.

Karl Vaters: And real quick, for those who don't check the show notes, because almost nobody does, canva.com and unsplash.com are the two key places that I go. And if it's on Unsplash, especially, it is absolutely all free. The fact that it's on Unsplash makes it free and it is really high quality stuff.

Josh Givens: Oh yeah, really good stuff.

Karl Vaters: So there are places you can get it for free. If you go to other places like flicker or whatever, you've got to designate that you're only looking for the free stuff and that kind of gets complicated. But Canva and Unsplash, you can't use it on Canva unless you pay. They are really secure about that. And they also help you with design and all kinds of cool stuff. Anything else real quick on the mistakes we make on our church Facebook or social media pages?

Josh Givens: Yeah, those are the two biggest ones that I see. And then of course another one is a really, really top one that I'm seeing right now, and that I'm talking a lot about right now is not engaging with your audience when they leave comments. When people leave comments, especially if it's something like a prayer request thread that you throw out. If you ask a question, if you pose a question on Facebook and people start leaving comments on it… If you ask the question, How can we pray for you today, and then people start leaving comments, and then you don't reply as the church and/or the pastor, they're going to stop leaving those comments because they're going to wonder what's the point. So always engage, always reply, show them that you care, that you're there and the church and you as the minister have a presence right there on the page with them.

Karl Vaters: And for me with those, what I do is if I put something out, sometimes it’s just an announcement and people go, I'll be there, and you don't necessarily have to respond to that. But especially if you're asking a question and if it's going to be a prayer request thing, what I'll do is I'll go to my phone and I'll make a note in there, like two days from now, check this post, to remind myself. Because there is a lot of stuff going on, we can forget about things, but a simple follow-up is really helpful.

So we're skimming across the surface of this, of course, but that's some of the social media stuff. Now let's take a look at the website and a couple of questions that I know most small church pastors are going to have when they hear you have to have a website. Question numbers one and two are going to be, How do I do this if I have absolutely no technical expertise? And two, without it costing me a ton of money. I get that I'm going to have to spend something in order to actually own it, but when we go to web design companies, the money starts mounting up real fast and it feels to a small church pastor especially, I'm not going to get a website that I'm not embarrassed by unless I spend several thousand dollars. So how do we begin to approach that?

Josh Givens: The first question I always have to ask right out of the gate is what's your budget like. And if your budget is hardly anything at all, you're going to be looking at the resources like WordPress. You're going to be looking at resources like weebly.com, where you can build a website or even a blog site that looks like a website and functions like a website. And where you can still maintain complete control of all the content that's there and everything that is posted there and all of the pages, and you can design it to look the way that you want it to look. But you are going to be - particularly with Weebly and even in some ways with WordPress - you're going to be designing within the themes that they have in most cases.

Karl Vaters: Right. Now, you're talking wordpress.com, not wordpress.org. Because.org is very robust, and that's what, like, half the websites in the world are built on or something like that. But wordpress.com is basically out of the box.

Josh Givens: Right, right out of box.

Karl Vaters: The bottom line is the easier it is, the less control you have?

Josh Givens: Yes, exactly. And if you don't have a lot of web design expertise, especially with, like, what I had to go through in college with writing HTML code from scratch and all that kind of stuff. If you're not in that world, then you're going to probably want to work within a theme. You're going to want to do the whole, let's pick a theme, let's buy a domain name, let me just, you know, design a logo, stick it up there and start going from there.

Karl Vaters: Aside from the word logo, you just said a bunch of things that 75% of the listeners aren't going to understand what they are. So let's get into those. And the only reason I understood it is because seven or eight years ago, I had no money but I was determined to get this ministry going, and I built mine from scratch. I do recommend it, both for the time and frustration it will cost you, plus it'll never look quite like it should.

So let let's start with that. Let's make the assumption that most of the people listening right now are in small churches, they have a limited, very, very limited budget, that they're on Facebook and social media only at least partially because of the cost and because of the ease, they don't have neither the time nor the finances.

So what does the pastor of the small church who's hearing, Yeah, I get that I need a website, I really want to be on a website. I want to control our own content, and I want people around us to look at it and go, Oh, they have enough concern and care about the message that they're putting out there to have gone out of their way to create a website and the website looks decent. So what are a couple first steps that they can take to at least put some hope in their heart that this is something that's accomplishable by the average church of, you know, 40 to 50 people or less?

Josh Givens: Again, WordPress. Go to wordpress.com or wordpress.org, and learn those site. You need to be digging into that and setting that up. And if you, as the pastor, can't set it up, maybe you have a millennial in your church who is technology-inclined, maybe you have a college student in your church who's tech-inclined and you can get with him or her and say, Hey, I would love for you to set this up for us, would you be willing to get with me and take a few minutes to help me understand how this actually works? Whatever that looks like. Now, there are some great - and I do recommend these - there are some fantastic tutorial videos on YouTube for all the WordPress stuff. So if you start digging into WordPress and you're unsure of how to go about doing it, there's some great tutorial videos on how all of that works.

Karl Vaters: If you've got even minimal experience with tech where you're comfortable opening up a Zoom account, you're comfortable. You're the one who actually opened up your church page on Facebook and you're comfortable with that, you know how to do a word doc, you know how to do a YouTube search, these basic things, and you're like, yeah, I'm comfortable online, then my thought would be wordpress.org because that's the one… It takes a little more work but you actually own the functionality of it.

Josh Givens: Yes.

Karl Vaters: Whereas wordpress.com is easier, but they really own it more. That's a weird thing online. We talked earlier like if you have a website it's like owning your own property. It really isn't because everything online is kind of owned by somebody else anyway. There's always somebody else with a hand in the pie. There's the server… There's all the different things. But wordpress.org, I think probably gives you the most control, the most functionality, the most options.

Josh Givens: That's true.

Karl Vaters: So you go to wordpress.org. It’s really easy to sign up. You can actually get a blog going in about 20 minutes. You just pick a standard theme. Would that be a way to do it, maybe even just get on there with a couple of decent photos with a map to the church, with your service times listed, and then as you go week by week, month by month, you just continue to build it. Is that a good way to even start?

Josh Givens: Yes, I do recommend that, but also if you're going to…When you're going to put all of that kind of stuff up on your site, go to your pastor as well and ask him, get with him about the kind of stuff that he wants on the site too.

I did this one of the first websites that I ever set up for our church years and years and years ago, which was a WordPress site. And I got with my dad and said, What all are you looking for on the site, before I put it up. Obviously all of the essentials, like you were just talking about, have to be there, but what else are you as the pastor wanting to be on this site for visitors to stumble across? Obviously there's the seeker friendly stuff, but the pastor is going to have some really good insight into, Okay, well, when people see our church online and connect with our church online, this is what I want them to experience. So photography wise and beliefs and all that kind of stuff.

Karl Vaters: Including before you go to wordpress.org, because I discovered this. I got on there and then the first question was, what URL do you want or whatever. So you've got to decide what you want your site to be called. For instance, if you've got a fairly common church name, you're going to have to come up with a www.name.com, .org, .church, whatever, but decide that before you get on there by doing some searches and finding, does somebody else own… Because if there's somebody else that has exactly your church name, guarantee you, it's been picked up already. Which you're going to have to add your city name or something in the URL, but you need to decide that in advance or you're going to get partway through and then just give up because you can't even pick a name that works.

So you want to pick your name, you want to decide what do we want like on the home page, do we want service times obviously, a map to how to get to the church. If you've got online services, a button that says, Here's how you watch online. But make as many of those decisions as possible before you actually get engaged in the building of it process, because otherwise you're going to be frustrated like crazy if you're making those decisions on the fly, right?

Josh Givens: Exactly.

Karl Vaters: 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.

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One of the things I learned when I started my website was that it was really frustrating to get on, to begin the process and then to face questions like, What do you actually want your URL to be, what photos do you want, do you want a map? So before anybody - whether it's you as the pastor who has some tech ability, or you have somebody who has tech ability… Which small church pastors especially even if you are good at tech, I really encourage you not to be the one who does it. It's just a frustration you don't want to add to your day. Even if somebody else is learning, let them learn it. One, let them develop the skill; two, it gives you somebody who's really serving. And in fact, find a millennial, find somebody who's younger, who doesn't realize they can serve the church, then they realize, Hey, wait a minute, I can do this, I know how to do this. They have the chance to do that.

Josh Givens: That’s exactly how I started. That’s how I started in high school.

Karl Vaters: Oh yeah. There you go. This is one of those areas where you don't need to have a lot of Christian maturity. It can just be someone who knows the tech. Now, obviously you want someone in your church who knows the Lord. I think it's important for these kinds of things to have someone who is actually a Christian, I think that helps. But you don't need someone who's got the depth of spiritual teaching. It can be a young kid who, you know, who loves Jesus, who's coming to the church. You're not having them teach a Sunday school, they're just building the tech. And the tech matters, but it doesn't have to have the kind of spiritual maturity that teaching a Sunday school class requires.

Josh Givens: That's right.

Karl Vaters: So you can have that for people. You can get a good starting on-ramp for them. But give them all of that. So let's do this before we get into the lightning round questions. Let's assume, Okay, we've got somebody who technically knows how to build it. They go to wordpress.org, they pick a decent theme. We won't even talk about what themes are because once they get in, if somebody does know WordPress they'll know what a theme is. What would be four or five things that your website needs to have?

Josh Givens: Okay, so four or five really basic things your church website is going to need to have. I'm going to highly recommend, like you said a second ago, obviously, a Google map plugin. That's one of the first things that I always recommend. And if you don't know how to do a Google map plugin, you can literally look up your church's location. On Google maps, there is an option to embed the HTML coding, and you can plug that into the HTML of your WordPress site and put the Google map there. So it makes it accessible to any visitor to the site and they can click on the map and either blow it up larger on their screen or on their tablet or their smartphone. They can make an offshoot to Google maps. They can open it up in their Google maps app if they're viewing it on a mobile device, which is really handy. That's definitely a really big deal.

Karl Vaters: As intimidating as some of that technical language you just did might sound to a lot of the pastors listening, if anybody has a comfort level of being able to build your website, even if they're learning it, what Josh just said is not intimidating at all. It's actually very easy.

Josh Givens: Right, right. It's literally a matter of copy/paste because the cool thing is Google has actually done the work for you by providing the HTML code that you need. So on their end of it, all you're literally doing is copying and pasting their coding, and then dropping it into the appropriate place on your site, wherever you want the map to go. So that's real easy. The other thing you're going to want is obviously you're going to want a beliefs page, is going to be really important on a church website.

If I'm in checking out your church online, I'm going to want to know what you believe, where you are - we already mentioned that with the map - what your service times are. So service times are really big. And I'm going to want to be able to either listen to and/or see your pastor. So a sermon audio and/or video, depending on which one of the two or both that your church is doing, is going to be big.

So you need to have a messages page. So even on a WordPress site, if you're just going to be dropping in little MP3s of your sermons, which our church did for a number of years, that's something that you can always do. So have a sermon audio player section. And then I'm going to say it's going to be a toss-up between a calendar or a way to give online. I would probably say giving online is going to go above that for me. You need to have a little plugin - and there's tons of ways you can do this on a WordPress site - to where people can give to your church through your website.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Especially important now with COVID where a lot of your regulars who would normally attend and are still very committed to your church, simply can't physically be there.

Josh Givens: That is exactly right.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, our online giving has increased exponentially over the last year and a half, as in it's transferred over from actual physical checks in the basket to online giving instead. We haven't had a massive increase in giving, it's just simply migrated from physical to virtual in the last year and a half. And if we didn't have the option, we might've simply lost that money, it may not have been given at all. It seems weird because you said, you know, the service times, your address. It is amazing how many times I've been to church websites and I can't find their address.

Josh Givens: You have no idea where they are.

Karl Vaters: I mean seriously. Or I can't find a phone number to get ahold of somebody. Just the basic contact information. It needs to be there, and it needs to be really quick to find. They shouldn't have to click two or three buttons to find it.

Josh Givens: Exactly. It should not be something that they have to filter through a lot of pages to discover on your site. They should literally be able to… And on our church's website, if you hit Northsidemobile.org, we have a page called New Here that is specifically for visitors to the site and people who are interested in coming to the church in person. If you have a New Here page that tells a seeker, this is just for me, this church went out of their way to make a page just for me with information that I'm going to going to need before I make a visit. Service times, location, map, all that good stuff.

Karl Vaters: In fact, that would be a good idea. Northsidemobile.org?

Josh Givens: Yes, sir.

Karl Vaters: That would be a great place to go just to physically see how it works. For our church, cornerstonefv.com. Same thing. Just to give you an idea of how two small churches are doing it in a way that is very accessible, very usable, that kind of demonstrates a lot of the stuff that we're talking about. So many things we could go into this and at some point we probably will come back with you again to do that.

Josh Givens: Before the lightening round, I will throw out one more quick note. To answer your question of why you do need a website and not just a Facebook page, is one more really good reason that I was just rattling around in my head is that not everyone - believe it or not, even in 2021, not everyone is on Facebook, as shocking as it might seem. Even in my travels with 614, when we've gone to a lot of these real small churches, especially churches in rural areas, there are still people that we encounter who do not have a Facebook profile, who are not Facebook savvy. There's a lot of senior saints who are not on Facebook in small churches. They just don't want to have anything to do with it. They're not engaging with it or anything. But when they want to find out something about what's going on at the church or an event on the calendar or listen to a sermon they missed or something, they need a place where they can do that and a website is one of the best places to make that happen.

Karl Vaters: That is a huge point that I can't believe both of us forgot until right now.

Josh Givens: Yes. It's a really, really big thing. Facebook… I mean, the whole world is not on Facebook.

Karl Vaters: And even on the other end, those that are tech savvy, there are more and more who are just done with Facebook. With the decisions they've made, whether you like it or not, I'm not going to make those arguments about it, but there are a lot of people who are leaving. In fact, the younger your church is, the more likely they're going to be on Tik Tok and Instagram and not on Facebook. Facebook is where grandma is.

Josh Givens: Right. By now, your youth pastor and/or college pastor or your student ministry pastors have probably gone viral on Tik Tok, and that's where they are.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Well, Tik Tok would be another conversation at another time. I'm not even on that yet. But the point of it is both the non-social media aware are not on it, and the overly social media aware are looking at Facebook like a dinosaur that they have left.

Josh Givens: Yep, that's right.

Karl Vaters: So on both ends, that’s another reason why we need to have our own space. Okay. Now we're going to subject you to the lightning round question.

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?

Josh Givens: First of all, I've been doing this whole church communications thing for almost, I'm closing in on 20 years now. The biggest change was obviously when the pandemic hit and the church, quote, unquote, as we know it suddenly had to go completely digital. Right? So everything had to move online because people were not attending in person. That for me was one of the biggest changes. Of course, a lot of churches, particularly the really large ones with tech staff and budgets, they were already live streaming to Facebook and YouTube even before the pandemic, but a lot of small churches, they had no experience with that kind of thing. They didn't do any of that because they didn't have a need for it. So having to go fully digital within the small church space was a really big shift and a big change.

I would also say the reality that the majority of church attenders now, especially as far as the future kind of continues to roll on, they're not going to be physically in the building, is another change that we're going to have to grapple with. We've kind of adapted to this by creating and generating content that meets with people where they are, which is online, and then we engage with them through comments and messages and things like that. But yeah, that's been a huge change.

Karl Vaters: What it’s really done, as we mentioned earlier, is it's moved the front door.

Josh Givens: Yes. There is a lot more digital strategizing involved now than there ever was before.

Karl Vaters: All right. Secondly, what free resource like an app or a website has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

Josh Givens: I am going to highly recommend the one that you mentioned earlier, which is Canva. I've been using Canva for a long time and highly recommend it to all of the small church pastors that might be listening to this podcast. It's a great and simple, free, inexpensive platform that can be used. You can even link it to your Facebook account and log in through that, which is what I do. And you can use it to make everything from Facebook headers to flyers and brochures, to social media graphics, all that good stuff. And it's very simple. If you can learn Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you can learn Canva. It's not complex. It's very easy to use.

Karl Vaters: And it’s becoming more robust as it goes along. We're just beginning to scratch the surface of it. There's so many things in there. And it helps you even with things like the graphic look of things. There are several places where you can just go and take their template and just put your words into their spot and it looks really, really good. So there's a lot in it. Canva.com is great. We use it.

The next one, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

Josh Givens: I'm going to give a little shout out to my dad here for this one, because he is a lead pastor and has been in pastoral ministry for, gosh, 40-plus years now, long time. It's not so much a piece of advice, maybe, as a statement of truth that I've taken to heart over the years. And he's very fond of saying ministry is hard work. I think it just rings so true for me and for my generation being a Gen X-er and coming up through the millennial years, and even for the Gen Z-ers and all that out there who might be listening. Sadly a lot of them haven't been raised on that value of hard work, and ministry is not just about this romanticized idea of getting all your hopes and dreams met. A lot of ministry really is getting into the nitty gritty of it, working with people, getting your hands dirty, loving people, serving people, not expecting anything in return. And even in the tech world, it means late nights, it means long hours, unexpected work, last minute work. I mean, I can't tell you how many times I get a phone call from an assistant pastor at the church who says, Hey, I need a graphic about this and I need it tomorrow morning, and I'm like, What in the world are you talking about? So it really is hard work, but it is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do with your life.

Karl Vaters: I love that. That’s one of many great pieces of ministry advice I'm sure you've heard from your dad over the years, but that's a good one. Love it. Alrighty, last one.

What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

Josh Givens: I thought real long and hard about this one and I think I actually mentioned it to you when you came in to visit for the Shepherd summit, but I'm going to have to bring your audience in on it now because it was just that good. So you know from being there in person at Northside that we recently, within the last couple of years I guess it's been now, remodeled our sanctuary.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, beautifully done too.

Josh Givens: And we took out a bunch of our pews and put in round tables. We left a few pews on the sides and a couple in the back, and it just brought this whole modern look and feel and vibe to the sanctuary. We got like a little table with a coffee machine on it and everything. And I remember back to when we first did that, it really… And again, this just goes out to all the pastors of small churches out there, and they know how this works. It really freaked out a lot of the senior saints. They did not understand the change and why we were getting rid of pews. Of course, you know, the pews are kind of a sacred thing, so a change like that is very hard for that generation. And I remember in particular, one of the very sweet, very elderly, senior saints of our church, very elderly lady who's with the Lord now - she was basically a second mother to my dad - coming into church that day, seeing all of it for, I think the first time, and we had put black tablecloths on the tables. And she came in and wanted to know why the tablecloths were black because black was a satanic color. She literally asked my dad, Why is the sanctuary satanic now, this is a satanic sanctuary. And here is the irony, Karl. Would you like to know what color her entire outfit from head to toe was? She was asking that question. She was asking him, why is the sanctuary satanic, and she was wearing black from head to toe at church that day.

Karl Vaters: Talk about lack of self-awareness. My goodness.

Josh Givens: And that just goes to show you how that generation kind of tends to process things sometimes. And of course, when you're in a pastoral family, you know, you come home from a long day at church and dad's like, Hey, let me tell you what happened at church today. And and you can kind of have that banter when you're a pastor's kid. So the line from my dad that he doesn't mind me sharing that just cracked us all up at the house that day was, he said, you know, I looked at her and I said, you know, Mrs. So-and-so…. He was thinking this in his head, he didn't say it out loud.

He said, I was thinking, you know, Mrs. So-and-so, I was really just kind of standing there thinking, You wear black almost every Sunday, and I never call you a witch. This is not about what color the sanctuary is.

Karl Vaters: Wow, that's a good thing he kept that as internal dialogue.

Josh Givens: Exactly.

Karl Vaters: It could have been a real problem. But yeah, that's where she was going with the accusation of the black tablecloths. Wow. You just never know what's going to tip somebody’s meter, do you?

Josh Givens: You never, ever know. It's one of those small church stories.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, there you go. Hey Josh, so much good stuff here and I know it's going to probably generate some more questions from folks. How can people find you online if they want to follow up on this or any other ideas?

Josh Givens: Yes, please check out 614ministries.org is our main website where I'm the communications director for the church revitalization ministry. But I would also highly recommend, and if you need to get in contact with me, check out JDgivens.com. That is my church communications blog, where I write about all things church communications and church tech related, and you can contact me directly through that site as well.

Karl Vaters: So much great material from 614 ministries.org, the podcast, great material on the website. Josh regularly writes articles, one of which was the inspiration for this episode today. So I really encourage you to check with that. He and Stan have great hearts for the church and for small churches and for small church leaders and pastors, especially. So Josh, thanks so much for all of your help today. I really appreciate it.

Josh Givens: Thank you, Karl, it was great to be here.

Karl Vaters: The online world is filled with so many opportunities and potential pitfalls, isn't it? But we have to engage in that forum if we want to meet people where they are. I love how Josh tackles the important issues regarding our churches online life, from the pastor's personal presence to how our church communicates so much before people ever step inside our buildings.

So can this work in a small church? Can we connect better with people online with both a website and social media without it costing a ton of time and money? This time the answer is yes and no. Let’s take a look at both of them. Yes, we can and must get online and stay connected to the people that we meet there. No, we can't do it without it costing us something in both time and money. Yes, there are ways to get on social media and start a website without breaking the bank. But no, You cannot own your own online real estate without investing some money and some time to do so.

But it's no different than the time and money it took to find and rent your church building or to build your church building. This is a huge part of how people connect today and the message of the gospel is important enough to make the investment to be online, both in social media and on our own website.

If you would 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.

This episode was produced and edited by Veronica Beaver. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of Jack Wilkinsmusic.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.

April 18, 2022

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