Sept. 11, 2020

Online Christianity: An interview with Wyatt Taylor

Online Christianity: An interview with Wyatt Taylor

This week I talk with Wyatt Taylor about digital discipleship and how he helped bring one church online.

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Transcript
Kenny Embry:

In this episode of balancing the Christian life, we talked to Wyatt Taylor about how digital discipleship is helping spread Christianity. Welcome to balancing the Christian life. I'm Dr. Kenny Embry, we'll discover how to be better Christians and better people in a digital age. Let's go. One of the things I think most churches have been debating for a long time is what to do with the church website and social media accounts. It's a great conversation because some see those things as being irrelevant or not very important. And they make a good case. I have very strong opinions about what people are calling digital discipleship. I think the medium is simply another way people connect. And Jesus in His own ministry, met people where they were, I don't read anywhere about Jesus inviting people to the synagogue. But I do read about him talking to a woman at a well, talking about God on a mountain. we're performing miracles at a wedding. However, I appreciate people who don't think like I do. Having an online presence takes both time and money. And when those things are involved, we often see differences of opinion. I think smart while recent people disagree with me. And then Coronavirus happened. Suddenly streaming worship services wasn't a conversation of if we should do it, but how we can. One of the churches I think has been working with digital discipleship really well, for at least the last five years is Douglass Hills Church of Chris in Louisville, Kentucky. You ma have never heard of this church But I suggest you go online an look them up on Facebook o YouTube or Google their name And if you google their name know that Douglass has spell d with two s's. They have a lot f materials. They're available f r Christians to learn and gro . It's truly impressive. I' e known a lot of people at th t church for years. And one of t e guys who helped get their onli e presence started is my gue t today. Wyatt Taylor, why it is a sharp guy. He has his MBA, a d he basically got the digital b g A long time ago. He's somebo y who helped get Douglasvil e started into digit l discipleship. I hate to sou d like a broken record. But t e audio was again, not something I was pleased with. But I fe t like the conversation was t o important not to share. Li e many things with technolog . It's great until it's not. o let's get to the interview. A l right, I'm happy to be joined y a good friend of mine, Wya t Taylor. I've known Wyat , probably at least 20 years t this point. Why it is one of t e people who's responsible f r getting a local church onlin . Douglass Hills Church of Chr st in Louisville, Kentucky, he as able to see what was availa le and what they could do. So anyway, Wyatt, how are you do ng today, man? I'm doing well. ow did you guys get started? W at in your background? made ou think this is probably a g od idea for our church to

Wyatt Taylor:

Well, it's a bit of a story back in 2014, another member of the Douglass church, Daniel Matthews and I were both kind of among the oldest band of the millennial generation decided that it would be an interesting topic to do an adult Bible study class at Douglass Hills on reaching the millennial generation. And we found a book called you lost me it was done by the Barna group. It focuses on like six different reasons why Millennials are leaving the church. And we kind of built a quarter around that of a class, looking at each of those individual reasons. And then what kind of things we can do as the church without changing the doctrine to speak to this generation in their own language. And it was a really interesting class, we had some really great discussions in there, we ended up doing it two quarters in a row. And at the end of that, Daniel and I sat down and said, well, let's put together a letter of recommendations for our elders to say, what are some things that would speak to this generation be helpful, we had a whole bunch of things in there, everything from the elders just sitting down and having a meeting with that generation, and within the church, mentoring program, all those type of things. And one of them was something I had come up repeatedly throughout the class. And that is that millennials are digital natives. And you want to speak to them in their language. And there's certain things we can do online to connect with them a bit better. And so one of the recommendations we had was to appoint somebody to just sort of lead up a team and improve our digital presence, digital social media presence. I should have known that the first thing they would say is, Well, that sounds like a good idea. Why don't you do it? But that's basically what happened. So we started in middle of 2015, we started putting together a team just basically is anybody in the congregation interested in this type of work, holding some meetings, trying to come up with something of a strategy, we put together a strategy for the congregation, what kind of tactical things we would need to do and start to execute On that took it to the elders, and they signed off to our elders credit, they really, I think they addressed within a year or so of us kind of delivering that letter that they addressed everything within it in some form or another. They've been very open minded and eager to lean into this kind of thing. This strategy involves spending a little bit of money up front on some things we'll talk about, but they've been also just a driving force throughout to just make sure we can consistently do these things, and that it's sustainable. So we put together a strategy. And then in the beginning of 2016, we presented that to the congregation. And collectively, what we started with was just basically a mission statement, and what is our goal and engaging on social and digital media. And we boiled it down as simply as we could. And that's to share God's word. What we didn't want to do was get distracted with inviting people to our congregation, we wanted to invite people to Christ, we made that central to everything we were trying to do, understanding that your reach on a digital social media platform is much broader than your local community anyway. So we're just about sowing seeds and trying to share as much as we can. So we've just tried to try any kind of little way we can to get that message out there. It's been a very experimental type of effort to try different things on Facebook or on Instagram or whatever, we can talk about a number of those examples. But that's, that's really where we started when with that simple emission. And then we sort of did an assessment of what our current state was, we had a website that a member had built probably in the early 2000s. That, you know, he had done on his own time, he done a very good job with it, it served us well, it was it was looking a bit dated, needed an update, it was not easy to update, and he didn't have time to do it. So we said, you know, let's let's go and see if we can find a tool that will allow us to do that. So we found congregate, which is a website hosting company that was started by some brother, and they have a number of sort of out of the box templates to build a website. And then they also have packages where they can kind of customize it for you. So we we chose a customized platform and put that together. That was a big, a big task early on. Really, we stepped back and kind of did it did a marketing sort of branding discussion to have like, what, you know, what is our logo, we came up with a new logo, and made sure it was meaningful and was you know, something that would catch the eye, and then made sure it was consistently applied across all these different platforms. So when we started, we had a website, as I mentioned, was a big data, we had a Facebook presence, we had a YouTube presence. We were loading some video on YouTube, but not much. We were using Facebook sporadically. It was basically the part time gig for the preacher to update Facebook. And so it just wasn't being done super regularly. And so we we stepped back, we kind of did a branding suite, we applied that to all the various platforms, we created an Instagram account, updated our website, that was kind of the first initial steps, content is so important to these platforms to produce a regular stream of content is critical. And so what do we have available with what we're already doing, that we can just reshare repurpose, before we even get into trying to find new kinds of content. And one of the first things that that came along with his effort was the realization that, you know, we could live stream, our services. So that was done. A member Jim trail, and David Weller both were very heavily involved in setting that up, we bought the equipment, we installed all that so that we could live stream and gotten to the rhythm of live streaming our Sunday services. So that gives you two sermons a week right there that are going on to the platforms. And that, you know, once you have that equipment and have that kind of rhythm of understanding, then creating additional video content stuff came came easier as we went on,

Kenny Embry:

you covered a lot of the things that I wanted to talk about, one of the things that you talked about, was starting with the platforms you already had, in your opinion, are those still really important platforms?

Wyatt Taylor:

Well, that's that's really interesting, cuz I think it's changing quickly. Definitely. When we started, I think that was the right combination to have is a good solid website that where you can house a lot of content, a Facebook presence, a YouTube presence, interestingly, because we we were of course, thinking about the millennial generation when we started. But what we found around the time we got started on Facebook there, the millennials were kind of fleeing Facebook. So moving to Instagram, and then that became they went from Instagram to Snapchat Snapchat to tick tock like, people are moving quickly like that the younger generation moves quickly from platform to platform. And what's happened is in its place, you're actually connecting with a bit of an older generation on facebook, facebook, we actually made pretty central to our initial plan. We created Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, we had a number of different channels that we could put this content, but we looked at Facebook is sort of the the key one, in part because it's so flexible. It'll take written content, long form written content, short posts, it'll take images, it'll take video, but there's just so much you can do with it. And it's still has globally I think the largest reach the largest audience for now. We're still pretty heavily Facebook, YouTube, and and website based in the era of Corona virus that's actually works to our benefit. I think

Kenny Embry:

Let's backtrack just a little bit. You talked about branding discussions that you had, what did those discussions look like? Because I mean, let's face it, most churches have never thought about their brand. How does the branding discussion go from? We are a location based brand, to we are now an online brand as well.

Wyatt Taylor:

Yeah, so it was funny actually, when I started kind of pushing this part of the discussion, I have a business background. So I have an MBA, I speak like a business person. And so you get a lot of stares from certain people in the congregation when you start talking like this. But it seemed to me like it was very obvious that we needed something that was consistent across all these platforms that kind of tied it together that was more integrated, something that was meaningful. I think what we had was sort of like a script dh for total sales. And it was a black and white sort of thing. It just wasn't very captivating. didn't say much. And so we had a lot of discussions, just that process of like, what should a logo look like, went on for weeks. And we had some people, Mark McCreary, who's our evangelist, there is an artist. And so he had a number of drafts, we had another guy who's really good with graphic design, magnetic he was he was putting some ideas together, we looked at the color wheel and to try to decide what colors do we want it to represent? And what are those mean? And what kind of imagery Do we want it to have we so we settled on an open Bible with sort of Earth image above the open Bible. That's symbolic, it means something and then tried to be consistent with how we applied it. It's tied to our mission.

Kenny Embry:

Let me ask you this. What were some of the things you are not trying to do with your online presence?

Wyatt Taylor:

Okay, question. So, I mean, the first thing, as I mentioned earlier, I think we do invite people to our services, but it's not all about that. Right? You know, we're not so target focused on the little geography of Louisville, Kentucky, to the exclusion of everything else, because you're missing a huge audience if you if you do that, right. And so what we wanted to do is how much there is a lot of teaching that goes on in the in the walls of our building great sermons that are delivered great Bible class content, that's, that's done that people put a ton of effort into, that's great. If it's not recorded, it just ends there, then we're not maximizing our leveraging that in any way. And so we wanted to say how can we take that to a broader audience, we repurpose sermon, audio and video in a number of ways it goes up on YouTube, it goes to iTunes, it goes to google play in the form of podcasts. It's on the website, and the term and audio form, you do one lesson, but it can reach a much larger audience in that way. We want to grow our our reach on platforms like Facebook, but not so that we can, you know, make Marty McCreary a star, it's not about that. It's about lifting up scripture and lifting up Christ, one of the things we did that was kind of key to our brand early on to is the scripture images. So just take a scripture, put it on kind of an eye catching image. That's the kind of content that goes on Facebook, it works great on Instagram, it's a nice little encouraging, uplifting, see that you can so to the broader world, and it's easy for people to share, and so forth. So that was one of the things we focused on early, is trying to get out there. That's kind of the presence we want. We're just giving you little drips of content of Bible content throughout your day or throughout your week. That's what we're trying to share. And it can be something very, very short and simple like that, or it can be a full 45 minutes.

Kenny Embry:

How do you know that this is actually working? Or how do you know, we're just spinning our wheels here, this is not successful?

Wyatt Taylor:

That's been probably the hardest challenge of the whole thing. Because the temptation is to say, okay, we spent some money on this. You want to measure results, you want to see, is it leading to more people coming to the door? Is it leading to people getting saved? Right? I mean, that that would be the metrics you would like it to be. It's almost impossible to really tie things back to that though. And as is the case with any kind of evangelism, it's not just about getting people wet. This goes all the way back to Paul in First Corinthians, right. I mean, we want to plant a seed, somebody else may water somebody else may read. That's, that's just the way it is. You know, early on, we had high hopes, not sure exactly what this would look like in terms of results. And we'd love to be able to tell you so X number of people have come to our church or X number of people have been saved because of it. We've kind of shifted from looking at it that way to just saying look, I mean look The volume of content we've put out there, look at all the the seeds that we've sown. You can see on platforms like Facebook, you can measure your, your traffic on your website, you can get a sense for what the reach is for these things, and you want to try to grow that reach. So we've been much more tactical in that regard of just, you know, what are the metrics available to us it's reach, it's how many eyeballs are hitting these posts, and try to grow that by being smarter about the kind of content you're putting on. And I think, to very much to their credit to the elders have been great about that of understanding that it is about just sowing seeds and, and trying to grow, reach and try to do it in a smart way, but not expecting a whole lot of people coming through the doors, I think we've seen, we've had people come to me, because they saw ads on Facebook, and so forth. We've had, you know, people, Christians who moved to the area who found us because they saw that we had a very active online presence. So we've we've had good results in that regard. I think you have to temper expectations in that way, if you're going to lean into this.

Kenny Embry:

I think one of the things that you're kind of bringing up and it's one of the things that I've grappled with as well is how do you measure spiritual maturity, I mean, part of it is getting them wet. And that that is part of it, you do want people to get baptized, and you can count those. And it's a beautiful thing to count. And you should, but part of it is also growing a Christian from I don't know very much to Wow, I know a lot more than I did a year ago. And I think one of the things that these, especially these digital platforms, where you start forming relationships online, helps people mature. And I think it's hard to put a number to that. So I think one of the things that I think is really smart is let's try things. And let's see if people are actually engaging with this content. And if they're getting any better because of this content,

Wyatt Taylor:

we post content that people most likely to engage with it are our members, you're also feeding your own flock in that regard, right? What we've been able to do is create sort of a sustainable rhythm for this, that doesn't involve a ton of investment on an ongoing basis. Once you get it running, and you have it kind of going and you share the work with a lot of people we have, I was sat down last night to try and add it up how many people we have participating, it's probably 30 to 35 people, you know, in terms of actively either generating content for it or posting and, you know, contributing in that regard. You want to create something sustainable by sharing the load as much as you can. And that was the first year. So we had monthly meetings where we invite anybody who is interested, we put together a content schedule, we talk about new ideas, to try to figure out who could execute and we had a pretty small team that was executing most of it. And then over time, we've had to try to kind of push to Okay, who else can generate a scripture image like this, who else can can write a blog post, who else can post our do some of the emails with news updates for the congregation or whatever. And so we farmed a little bits and pieces of it out until now it runs much more sort of an automated regular way.

Kenny Embry:

That's pretty impressive.

Wyatt Taylor:

You know, leadership from the elders matters a lot, right? So they've done great to continue to, you know, make sure that they're and they're the ones announcing and encouraging people to come to these meetings, they come themselves, and they'll often just sit there and go, Hey, I don't know what I can contribute. But I'm just here to support the effort. And part of this process I I was kind of tasked early on with with trying to pull this together. And for the first year or two, I was the ones that have sort of organizing the meetings and such. And as my work got busier and life happened, it's difficult for me to sustain it for one person to just kind of sustain that. And so we ended up sort of handing it off. Steve, when one of our elders now sort of organizes the meetings puts together the agenda does the the notes afterwards. That kind of organizational health matters a lot. And I think it matters a lot that it's an elder who's doing it too. It's just shows the importance of it to the congregation. So leadership matters a ton. Well, one of the things that I know is,

Kenny Embry:

let's put yourself in a position of a congregation, maybe about your size. And what they have is a WordPress website that was done 15 years ago doesn't really look like anything that anybody else uses YouTube. Well, you've heard of it. And Facebook. Well, yeah, I love Facebook. My wife is on there all the time. Let me ask you, that's where they're starting. What should they be looking at? How should they get started?

Wyatt Taylor:

Well, I mean, you could start very similar to what we did, basically. So I would say, you know, congregate is a great tool for for what it is they're going to give you some tools right out of the box to put a website template together. It's designed for churches, so it's got things like a place to store your sermon, audio and blog and it's got a directory function, so that you can communicate with your members, all those things in It's those those guys were really good to work with early on in the setup. So I would say, if you don't have someone who can go out and build a nice

Kenny Embry:

website, you're starting with the website. And by the way, I think that is the smartest place to start. Why are you starting with the website?

Wyatt Taylor:

Because it sort of functions as your home base. It's one place where, you know, what we thought about a lot with this early on is how do people find us, right, and we looked at our website, one of the things that early on people identified in the meeting is that you can hit our website, and you don't know when our worship times are like, so we found a template that puts the worship times are right at the top of the page. So just little things like that, it just sort of serves as your home base, you can link to your Facebook, to your YouTube to your Instagram, Raul right off of there. It can be a blog. So it can be where you store sermon audio, you can just put everything in there. It's your one stop shop. And then you can do things on those that it's not as easy to do in other places, like you can create pages that, like we created a video correspondence course, that just sort of has. So you can watch a video that we we host the video on YouTube, we share it, it's right there on the screen on the page of the website. And then you have an online form below it, where you fill out the things you you submit and the email generates it goes to us. And then we can interact with you, send you the next video, and so forth. So you can do those kind of things on our website, you can't really do very easily with Facebook or YouTube. So I would definitely start there. And it just gives you sort of a presence of some sort that people are going to find you when they Google your name and stuff. And then you know, Facebook is still probably just its sheer number of people is the place to start on social media. And because it's so flexible, it can take so much different types of content, repurpose the content you're already generating, look around your worship service your Bible studies and realize that people are putting a ton of hours in creating those. And then over time, you can figure out how you generate stuff that's a little more specific to you know, so we do minute with the word videos, or Mark does and posts on Facebook. That kind of a content that's more optimized to the platform can come later. I would start with just repurposing what you already have.

Kenny Embry:

you've alluded to this a couple of times this thing Coronavirus. What's changed? And what do you think is important to change? Where should people be looking to right now,

Wyatt Taylor:

it's kind of an interesting moment, because we were just fortunate that we were have had a few years to sort of lay the groundwork for this right. And then when Coronavirus came around and worship services needed to halted temporarily. We already had the facility to sort of live stream something we already had our members already used to live streaming when they were sick or away or whatever. So that that kind of capacity was already built in, we already had all the groundwork laid. And in this time, we've been able to sort of, and this happened pretty organically to have. It wasn't me pushing it or anything, it was just sort of like hey, we can also mark found a tool where basically you can connect your YouTube streaming to your Facebook streaming and it goes through one channel. It's called Restream. It just made it a lot simpler to say now everything that we would normally stream on YouTube, we stream straight to Facebook to Well, what's cool about that is, you know, not every congregation has that kind of ability, but they were all everybody was locked down. So folks from other congregations were able to participate in that. And then I think kind of found their way to also the rest of our Bible study content. So we were have really gone deep in in terms of it started with our worship services were live streamed, and then we started live streaming some Bible classes on Wednesday night, then it was Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night is a Saturday class, we started using zoom to, to do some of our Bible classes as well, definitely some of our members had never used zoom, you had to teach them a little bit about that. But that, I think because we'd already gone through the process of you know, back in the day, we were teaching them how to like a post on Facebook and how to share a video and how to do these kind of things so that they could interact with our content, it's been an interesting way to see how people have kind of adapted and having these tools have have mattered a lot.

Kenny Embry:

Obviously, most of us are not going to a building, what are we losing? What what's the trade off here,

Wyatt Taylor:

we lose quite a lot. This is no real substitute for the kind of worship that we would all wish to be doing back at the building. You know, part of our worship is kind of serves when we're present together serves kind of two purposes, right? I mean, we're it's directed to God. But the fact that we do it collectively is an encouragement to one another what I thought was interesting back in March, when we started doing see kind of going all live stream is if you get up and and watch the live stream live instead of watching a taped version or something like that, and you know, and you can kind of see the count of how many people are watching this, this live stream and you know that are 300 or so members. Doing this in their living rooms across the city. I hope that people see these as a tool as a temporary tool and don't get too comfortable with it being a replacement. I think some sense when we started doing live streaming that was some people's fear in general, was that we don't want to give the image that this is the same thing. But what we found through the years is, I can't tell you how many how many times I've had members come to me and say, I am so grateful we had the live stream when I was sick, and couldn't be out. But I had this surgery or whatever, I was just kind of bedridden for a week or two. And I was able to still participate, I was able to still feel like I was part of the congregation. I mean, it was, and that's our own members. And then I think for visitors, it's a way for them to sort of sample what they're going to experience when they come to the building. So there's a lot of benefits to it being out there, it's just never going to be quite the same. And I think as long as we keep it, a lot of this stuff is just about keeping it in perspective. You know, none of these things are replacement for our personal evangelism efforts. I mean, it's an amplifier.

Kenny Embry:

I think one of the things that's been interesting to me, and this is my bias, I think what we can't replicate online, is the parking lot conversations.

Wyatt Taylor:

It's interesting, like Facebook especially is very well built to the comments and so forth, to have that kind of interaction. But it's really hard to get people to interact with, I mean, almost any piece of content, like our engagements are much more likely likely to be a like and a share, or a quick comment of like, you know, an Amen or Thank you or something but very unlikely to be a real grappling with material in the comments or something like that, right. In fact, our tag I mentioned our tag on it's actually share the good news, a lot of what we lose by going to these tools, and it's so easy to just lecture and and kind of leave it at that. So it's worth pushing people to try to interact, and you got to work a little harder for it, I guess. I mean, it was a little bit harder to get people to answer questions, even on the zoom, when we first went to that, because it was just like, it's just different. You got to work

Kenny Embry:

for it. Yeah. And I think one of the other things that's happening is we're starting to have streaming fatigue, we're just getting to the point where another zoom call, really, I think one of the things that I think a lot of churches are seeing is we started off the crisis with 80 90% participation. And now that we're a few months in 3040 50% participation, are you guys seeing increased participation about the same decreasing,

Wyatt Taylor:

I'll just be honest, I haven't looked at the numbers over the last couple of months that I would be able to tell you that may have felt like we had really solid participation during the time of the full lockdown. I haven't looked at it since we kind of reopened or reset end of end of May, it's probably a little bit less, just because some folks are actually present in the building and stuff. So I'd have to go back and look, I think we're we've picked up some audience in terms of just people seeing the videos on Facebook and on YouTube and stuff that isn't our own people. It's just people that are it's reaching, because we have a presence there.

Kenny Embry:

Right. And I think you're making a really good point here, which is online tools, ie race, erase geography, and they really erase time restriction. I mean, you can go back and watch something that you recorded two weeks ago, the content is still basically just as relevant. Well, I'll tell you what, why this has been a great conversation, I realize you probably have a life to get back to. So I'd like to, I want to ask, just what did I miss?

Wyatt Taylor:

We've talked about millennials moving on at different sites and stuff. But in general, digital social media is a baseline expectation of a younger generation that you have a presence there that you look like, you know, what, if you're not super professional with or that you're trying right to engage in this way?

Kenny Embry:

Why? Thank you very much. If somebody wants to try to connect with you, how should they do that?

Unknown:

Probably the best way they have questions around this, you can email Douglass Hill church@gmail.com. That's, still see those emails. You hav a question around this. I' happy to interact with you

Kenny Embry:

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Wyatt. I think one of the things most impressive to me, is how leadership helped make this happen. And how many people double sales make their digital presence possible. I think there's a lot to learn from how they do what they do. I hope you have a great week. And until next time, be good and do good.