Phil Cooke has a unique resume. He has a PhD in Theology and is an active producer in Hollywood. Phil was Executive Producer of “Let Hope Rise – the Hillsong Movie” released to theaters nationwide, and Producer of “The Insanity of God” a feature documentary that premiered nationally as a Fathom Event. He is the founder of the Cooke Media Group and is the author of several books including his most recent book, Maximize Your Influence: How to Make Digital Media Work for Your Church, Your Ministry, and You.
Would you regard 2020 as a year of opportunity? It feels more like a year of loss and disruption. How can we see a blessing in something that feels like a curse?
Children have lost close contact with their classmates. Adults have lost the feeling of getting ready to go to work in the morning. Parents have lost their sanity. Believers have lost their ability to gather in-person in some places. People have lost their jobs and lost income. As a society we’ve lost the sense of safety. We’ve lost the carefree ability to do anything we want whenever we want. We’ve also lost the notion that racism is not our problem. People have experienced a great deal of loss. You’ve lost too. Yet, there is something quite hopeful about 2020.
Back in the 80’s I attended a church growth workshop with Dr. Elmer Towns in Kansas City. The main crux of his talk was that people are open to change in periods of transition. When people graduate from high school, college, or grad school, they are open to change. When people get married, have a baby, change careers, or move to a new city, they are open to change. When people go through a divorce, become widowed, or retire, they are open to change. Dr. Towns encouraged us to figure out ways to connect with people during these times of transition and disruption in their lives. Do you see the gift of 2020? Everyone’s lives have been disrupted in some way.
All of this disruption – as painful and scary as it’s been – has made people ripe for the Gospel. Nothing in their lives is working exactly the way it used to work. Everyone has transitioned from the life they were used to, and the fact of the matter is that they will never see that life again. Some say the effects of Coronavirus on health and the economy will have implications for five years or more. People are ready for a change. You have the answer. But, if people weren’t going to church before COVID-19, why would they risk going now?
Finding the Solution in an Accident
On April 11, 1970, three brave astronauts launched into space aboard Apollo 13. Not long into their mission an accident caused damage to the capsule which compromised the ship’s cabin which began to fill with carbon monoxide. The astronauts wouldn’t make it back to earth. Engineers met in a conference room at mission control. In the movie with Tom Hanks, one of the engineers dramatically spills a box of supplies on the conference table and announces, “This is everything the astronauts have in the capsule. We have to figure out how to build the CO2 filter out of this.” They got to work. Using only what was available to the astronauts, the engineers created a CO2 filter. The astronauts arrived back to earth alive.
You as a pastor don’t have all of your normal resources at your disposal. While the church relied heavily on the weekend worship service to do more than it was capable of doing, quarantine quickly revealed that the church had to be more than a weekend service or a building. What do you have to work with? If you took the resources of your members’ lives and dumped them out on a conference table like those engineers from Apollo 13, what do they have at their disposal?
Most have a computer, a smartphone, social media, email, text messages, phones, pen and paper, and maybe a little time on their hands (maybe not). How can your church reach people whose lives have been disrupted and frankly are more than a little scared? (HINT: It’s not what most Christians are doing on Facebook and Twitter right now).
Reaching Your Community Digitally
How can you and your church staff equip your members to spread hope amid all of this disruption? Here are a few thoughts for you to bat around:
Create social media and email invitations to online services.
Offer Instagram and Pinterest posts with encouraging Bible verses or quotes from the sermon.
Write sermon discussion questions so anyone can invite their Facebook friends into a Facebook group.
Put your membership process or Growth Track online.
Offer online on-demand training to equip people to serve.
Encourage your members to find a need and fill it.
Encourage members to offer their experience from online school or homeschooling to parents who are new at it.
Offer support groups online – Celebrate Recovery, DivorceCare, GriefShare. Substance abuse and pornography use are at an all-time high.
Offer online budgeting classes, marriage seminars, parenting courses, and stress management workshops to invite the community.
Ask your members to record a short version of their testimony. Share these in your church’s social media and website.
Create interactive online experiences – Bible studies that are a discussion rather than a lecture. Use Facebook Live and respond to the comments and questions.
Don’t waste the opportunity of 2020. Don’t sit around waiting for things to get back to normal. Normal is gone. Normal isn’t coming back. Embrace the disruption of 2020. The field is plowed. It’s time to plant.
Click here for a replay of webinar on digital ministry with Phil Cooke. Phil is a PhD in Theology, a filmmaker, author, and media producer. His skill set is unique, and he has much to share with the church on getting the message of the Gospel out and maximizing your influence.
Tell me what your church is using to connect with lost people. Please share your comments below.
“The digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even of printing.” —Douglas Engelbart
It’s no secret that reaching a congregation, community, or media audience in today’s distracted and disrupted world is a real challenge. Although we have more channels for reaching them than ever before, those very channels slice up the audience, making it more difficult than ever to actually connect.
It all starts with strategy, which is the art of discovering what sets you apart and who would care most about your message, cause, or story. Today it takes more than someone with a video camera, a social media director, or a graphic designer to communicate your message. Before any of those team members start working, it’s critical to find the answer to “why,” and that is a leader’s job.
It’s been said that any soldier can take the hill, but a leader knows which hill to take and why it needs to be taken in the first place. Far too many churches allow the big picture decision making to be made by other members of the staff. In a large church or ministry with an experienced, high level communication or media team, that can be a good thing, but with less experienced members it could be a disaster. And in either case, it should never happen without the input and insight from the pastor or ministry leader.
The Big Picture Matters
Whatever you do in media—build a website, produce a video, launch a marketing campaign, publish a book, or whatever—understand that each of those elements are part of a much bigger story and strategy. In today’s distracted world, where people are being overwhelmed with communication and media messages, anything you create has to be part of a bigger, multi-platform strategy to maximize those opportunities.
Talented video, social media, and communication teams with brilliant ideas are a great start, but until they understand the bigger strategy of how to reach your audience, you’ll never make an impact. It’s been said that if you want to know which road to take, it helps to first know where you’re going.
Think Before You Produce.
Ask the “why” before you explore the “how.”
Then, once we define your why, we bring that to life with messaging— clarifying exactly what your message or story should be at this moment. Oddly enough, most of our clients try to communicate too much—largely because they’re thinking of themselves, and not the audience they want to reach.
In a cluttered world, simplicity and clarity are what get people’s attention.
Certainly many organizations and visionary leaders have much to share, but in today’s hypercompetitive world, most people respond to too much information by shutting down and turning off. So it’s essential that we streamline the message and focus on what matters from the audience’s perspective.
Speaking of clutter, identity development is a key step in our process since “perception” is so important in a distracted world. We’ll discuss branding and positioning in a later section, but it’s important to know how sensitive perceptions are in a distracted world. Positioning is essential to help your message rise above the noise because it focuses on what your audience thinks, what they need, and how you fit into their lives. This goes beyond your brand and is often overlooked by many organizations.
Finally, deciding how to share your ministry or organization’s message is vital, via social media, short video production, broadcast radio or TV, movie, live events, blogging, podcasting, live streaming and more.
It’s not how you want to reach them, it’s how they want to reach you.
There’s no point in creating the best podcast ever produced if your audience is somewhere else. That’s why finding the right platforms are so important for connecting with your audience.
These steps aren’t designed to overwhelm you or make you think that engaging media is too complex or difficult. My purpose is to remind you that a high school kid with a video camera isn’t enough. A talented graphic designer isn’t enough. Even a well-intentioned communication director isn’t enough—if you haven’t spent time thinking about the bigger picture.
These days, a great number of leaders and teams recognize the power of media, but don’t understand the best way to leverage that power. There was a time when sharing a message meant standing on a soapbox and talking to people passing by, preaching in a pulpit, or printing a book or newspaper. But today with an almost endless number of media options, making the right decision about the what, when, where, how, and why of your message can be the difference between success and failure.
The stakes are high, and your message matters. Choose carefully.
Phil Cooke has produced TV and film programming in more than 60 countries around the world, and in the process, been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California – he’s helped some of the largest Christian and nonprofit organizations in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture. This post is an excerpt from Maximize Your Influence: How to Make Digital Media Work for Your Church, Your Ministry, and Youby Phil Cooke (Burbank CA: Cooke Media Group, 2020, pages 19-22). All of the proceeds from this book go to The Innovation Lab.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, pastors have become online content machines. Pastors have always been content machines, we’re just seeing more of it. Phil Cooke said that the church is currently producing more media than Hollywood. How about that?
Our faith is multifaceted. God gave us a book and a brain, so there is no coincidence there. We are people of the Book, the Bible. After all, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But, that transformation involves a few other things like our experiences and our relationships, our attitudes and our actions. While nothing supersedes what the Bible gives us, transformation is not merely a knowledge-based enterprise. As pastors continue to pump out content, we must also realize that people don’t grow by content alone.
People are Inundated with Content.
From newsfeeds to blogs to everyone starting a podcast right now, there is content for days. For a society that was already on information overload, quarantine has caused the overload to level up several times over. In addition to content, people need a place to process all of this content and do life together, even while they’re apart.
New Facebook devotionals and midweek services are great, but how can your people talk back? Actually they can. People can join in Watch Parties and message each other. People can communicate with the presenter. Give people time to interact with you and with the content. Offer a question time, or give a question for the group to discuss. Using these simple tools you can turn your content into a conversation. I watched one group of pastors online last Sunday night reading and answering their congregations questions from the chat. Your people need conversation, not just content.
Smaller Churches have the Advantage.
If you pastor a smaller church, you can actually call every one of your members on a regular basis. You can have an actual conversation with them. While you still have the deadline of the Sunday sermon and Zoom meetings, the schedule has shifted. A pastor serving a regular sized church of 90 people could actually have a personal conversation with every member over a 30 day period by just calling three people per day. Pastors with 1,000 or 10,000 can’t do that. While online services are a necessity these days, personal touches count more than ever.
In larger churches, staff and church leaders should be enlisted to make similar contacts. Call all of your leaders. Call all of your regular givers, if you aren’t already. While you should have started this 60 days ago, you can still start now. There are lots of ways to reach out to folks and even practice the “one anothers” amid social distancing.
Small Group Churches have an Advantage.
Online worship services only go so far. While worship and the Word is vitally important during these days of isolation and fear, the reality is that once people go online, they will find a better online worship service out there. That’s okay. These are unusual times.
Small groups, however, are the glue that holds the church together. Many churches are starting significant numbers of new online groups. Remember, people need conversation and not just content. The format of groups is changing. I’ve done online coaching groups with pastors from across North America for years. My online coaching has changed. Rather than just diving into the topic, we take a little time to debrief our current situation. The pastor in Washington talks about quarantine life and ministry over the last two months. The pastor in Nebraska is just now getting into the thick of it. There is a need to talk about what we’re going through.
There is also much to learn as churches are innovating ministry right now. One church developed an online small group study called Cabin Fever to help people deal with living, working, and schooling in quarantine. Another church developed an online resource for members of their community to post practical needs. They are then matched up with a church member or a group who can meet that need. Another very large church has tasked their staff to call 160 church members per week. They are also making N95 masks for medical personnel. If pastors ever wanted to experiment, this is the time. No one is looking for perfection these days.
New Online Groups are Adding up to 50% More Groups in Some Churches.
Sure there are excuses about Zoom fatigue, but there used to be excuses about not having enough time for a group. Some people will always have reasons why they can’t join a group or just don’t want to. That’s okay. Move with the movers. If you make the offer, there are folks who would love to connect with others. Read more on starting online groups.
What is not working right now is assigning people to groups. Let’s face it this has never worked very well. When starting new groups online or offline, the leaders should start by making a list of people they know. They can invite a couple of people, then ask their new members to invite a few people they know. Before they know it, they have a group.
Now, there may be people who want to be in a group but aren’t invited. Normally, I would recommend creating an environment where prospective members can meet group leaders in person, then decide whose group to join. While you can’t do this at a physical location, you could do this online. Host an online meeting where leaders can introduce themselves and talk a little about their groups. Prospective members can listen, then indicate which group they want to become a part of. Everyone knows what they’re getting into.
Content is great. The Word of God is powerful. But, the reality is that people need each other in addition to needing your teaching. Try different ways to help them connect online and offline during this time. Get on the phone and give your people a call. Send them a handwritten note in the mail. Create new online groups. We don’t know when restrictions will end. Every state has a different opinion. We also don’t know if and when another outbreak may occur. If you learn what to do during this crisis, you will be better prepared for the next one.