Jan. 22, 2021

Responding to Coronavirus, Part 1

Responding to Coronavirus, Part 1

Well...this was a conversation with four guys I think are doing excellent work in light of Covid. Edwin Crozier, Kris Emerson, Jason Hardin and Mark McCrary. Three of these guys are past guests. I just wanted to know how they reacted to Covid and putting together something they could use to help their members still feel connected.

This is very frank, and I so appreciate the vulnerability they express. We're all figuring this out, and I worked hard to find a couple guys who have been doing this for awhile, another who is has been doing this a shorter time, and one who is essentially brand new.

I'll say it again, I know and love these guys and I think they are talking about important things.

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Transcript
Kenny Embry:

This week we talked to four church leaders about how they're using the tools of digital discipleship. Welcome to balancing the Christian life. I'm Dr. Kenny Embry. We'll talk about how to be better Christians and people in the digital age. Let's go. Welcome to the program. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about how different churches are using tools like YouTube and Facebook for their church. I was guessing there are probably a lot of conversations about what's working and what's not with a lot of leaders. It's been a true privilege of mine, to meet some people, I think are doing some really good stuff with these tools. And I thought, wouldn't it be great to just ask them how they're doing what they're doing. I asked for people to be a part of a panel discussion. Part of this was just to be a fly on the wall and hear what they thought or their efforts. Another part was to bring them together, and have them share ideas with each other. The four people I got together are Chris Emerson from lyndale Church of Christ, Martin mccrary, from Douglass hills church, and with Crozier from Livingston Avenue church, and Jason harden from Charlestown road, Church of Christ, three of these our past guests, and this was my introduction to Jason. The conversation we had lasted almost 90 minutes long. So yes, I decided to put this into two sections. Again, I didn't plan it like that. But I thought there was a natural break and having a podcast episode lasts a little over an hour, still seems a little bit long to me. So we started out with introductions. I usually think of my perfect listener, as my 17 year old son, Jake, but I understand this is an episode Jake would probably not enjoy. I think that this was a conversation though. That's important. And I hope you'll agree. It's my great pleasure to be talking to four guys who I really admire. These are guys that are all representatives and leaders in the congregations where they serve. And they all have experience with digital discipleship. When COVID hit, there are not a lot of churches online. During COVID, there are not a lot of churches, not online. And these guys have basically had a first hand perspective on how things have changed, what they liked, what worked, what didn't work, and what they anticipate they're going to keep doing after the last administration of the vaccines. So anyway, I want to ask you guys to introduce yourselves.

Kris Emerson:

Hey, how's it going, Kenny? This is Kris Emerson from Texas. Glad to join in today.

Mark McCrary:

Hey, Kenny, Mark McCrary. I'm in Louisville, Kentucky working with the Douglass Hills Church of Christ.

Edwin Crozier:

Kenny, thank you very much for letting me be a part of this today. As you know I am your neighbor right down here in the Tampa area. I work with the Christians who meet on Livingston Ave, co host of Text Talk podcast and super excited about today's discussion.

Kenny Embry:

I did ask Roger Shouse, but Roger was not able to come, his father passed. Jason Hardin was very gracious to be a last minute invite.

Jason Hardin:

It's my pleasure to work with Roger just about every day at Charlestown Road Church of Christ in New Albany, Indiana, just across the river from where Mark is in Louisville.

Kenny Embry:

Alright guys, COVID happens. What was your first reaction? How well were y'all prepared for this?

Jason Hardin:

I don't know that we were prepared. I don't know that anybody was prepared. But thankfully, we had some framework already existed, that we were breaking in or had well broken in and were able to lean on heavily. Thankfully, the congregation had been working through the kinks for a little over a year making a live stream of assemblies available. We had even been working on video capturing a variety of our adult Bible classes. And so we were well prepared on that front. We had just started a podcast about six weeks earlier, had no idea how invaluable that would become. Once COVID hit.

Kenny Embry:

Edwin, this sounds a lot like your story.

Edwin Crozier:

Except for he had some preparation, we had none. We had two things that helped us out. We had also started a podcast about a month prior to the outbreak when all this stuff happened. We had and we still have a lot of really great volunteers and workers that as soon as this happen, jumped in and said we can do this. I believe we did really well jumping in it took us a couple weeks work out some kinks. Two weeks after we were back in our assembly. together. We were live streaming and really excited about that possibility and prospect for the future.

Kenny Embry:

Well, I kind of think of as the grand elder statesman here is Kris and Mark because I think in their congregations, Kris had basically been doing a podcast for about a year, Hadn't you Kris? Yeah,

Kris Emerson:

I think he'd been writing about it. So that that ball was already rolling. And I had been at the dal and road church and Valmont for a few years were live streaming and really, digital presence was a big deal for them for a long time. They have a magnificent setup. So when I got here two or three years ago, we moved into a new building, we got all that go. And so on the technical side, we'd kind of I guess we dug our wells before we were thirsty a little bit, had that mostly going and haven't had to haven't had to do a lot. So that was that was nice to have in place already.

Kenny Embry:

Mark why Taylor was the one that kind of started approaching approaching you guys. And that was a while going,

Mark McCrary:

I would say we've been live streaming on YouTube for about the last five years, we've had a pretty active digital presence on social media as far as like, Instagram, Facebook versus of the day, we've had some daily videocast in the past, all that was going on before COVID. Now we extended that once COVID hit into our Bible classes. And there are a couple other things we wanted to transition from not just YouTube, but also include putting our worship services on Facebook, and we had a few kinks there. But we worked those out. But we've been doing a lot of it for a couple of years now.

Kenny Embry:

Oh, let me ask all of you guys, I mean, what kind of platforms are you guys using,

Jason Hardin:

we use live stream.com as the hub of everything. And they either acquired Vimeo or were acquired by Vimeo I forget which direction it goes. But that allows us then to simulcast to YouTube and Facebook Live as well.

Kris Emerson:

And we use the same and that is not inexpensive. But it is very turnkey. It's when you say live stream, it's kind of like saying Coke, you know, you might be talking about Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, whatever. But there is an actual live stream company, live stream.com. You know, it's a couple $100 a month or something we bought their hardware as well, which three years ago was a quite an expenditure. And we really had to kind of massage that to get it through. But we did. But they do a nice job of instantly taking this huge data file that you're recording and uploading it into their system at a manageable size. They push it out for you to Facebook or your website or wherever you want it to go. We found that to be a good investment, especially, especially as we've gotten into this, and there's churches across the country where they don't have a located preacher or they haven't been able to meet, I'll just move us into a financial department for two seconds. One of the men who gets the mail said that nearly enough checks come in the mail from Christians around the country showing appreciation to cover all of the live stream costs for the year. It's one of those deals where it pays for itself if you're truly answering a need. And I believe it does.

Mark McCrary:

Now Kenny we used another service called Restream. Now that sounds like it was cheaper than live stream, I want to say is maybe $200 for a year subscription. But it basically does the same thing. We upload our information to them. They send it out to YouTube and Facebook, and we've been very happy with them.

Kenny Embry:

Is restream a software solution? Or is restream a hardware solution as well.

Mark McCrary:

We didn't have to buy any hardware. It was just signing up for their service.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah. And and Kris, you guys had to put this the stream feed is is basically also a hardware solution as well, isn'tit?

Kris Emerson:

Yeah, it's hardware. And and they do a software side as well. You know, look, the hardware is expensive. It's when you want to mix, if you want to put out the board with your slides and multiple cameras. That's a bit of an investment. There's no question about it. I'm interested to hear guys like Edwin, how did you jump into that? And did you find the costs that come down?

Edwin Crozier:

So the great thing about this congregation is that I preach the sermons. And some of these questions that you guys are answering I actually don't know the answers to because I don't have to know them. I will say that when we jumped in, it was not cheap. Because one of the decisions that we made was we were not going to pop up an iPhone and record on YouTube and just do what was quote, good enough. When all of this started, we had a couple of fellows that were here that had been thinking about it for a long time, but had never gotten it approved had never been able to get the congregation moving in that direction. COVID of course provided the impetus that made a whole lot of people think differently about it. It was not cheap, Ben and there was some debating back and forth. By the time we were done. Pretty much all the men of the congregation had bought into it. I think there was still a little bit of reservation from some people but by the time we were done with that they were willing to say all right, if our shepherds believe this is the way to go, we'll go along with that. So that was very helpful for us and I think we have a lot of people that respect our elders and sometimes even when they don't think that this decision is the very best thing it could be, they're able to say, but if our elders think it is, we'll we'll follow behind it. That's great.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, there's an army that goes behind this as well. I mean, Jason, when I was talking to Roger, one of the things he said was, you guys have a kid over there that that just loves to edit is how many people works on on the stuff that you guys do.

Jason Hardin:

We've got one Rockstar, who is basically driving the bus. And he's a sophomore in college, he had done a lot as far as in high school, video editing, camera angles, lighting, all that stuff, pre pandemic, he really was not doing any of that. For us. It was just a hobby. His father is a deacon here. He was watching as we were using what we already had, and slowly approached us and said, You know, I think I can help on this front. And he has become just an enormous asset. We've got probably a team of six or seven people who know, various pieces of it, but only two or three who know, the whole system. And so that's one thing that we've turned our attention to in recent months. We we call it around here, the hit by a bus phenomenon. We don't want any one work to hit be hit by a bus. There just be one guy who knows all of it.

Edwin Crozier:

Can I jump in with a question here?

Kenny Embry:

Absolutely.

Edwin Crozier:

You talk about having one fella who is a rock star who just jumped in and now can kind of drive the bus and lead it. And because he's got a passion for it, a team kind of comes around him, as you're saying that I think about we're kind of in the same boat, that we weren't involved in a lot of live stream in any live streaming before COVID. I look at the fact that we had a really good audio video team. But that was because we had one fellow that was really passionate about it. And then a second fellow came along who actually his job was audio stuff. And he's very passionate about that. Then that developed a team years ago when I first started blogging, and so the church I was with in Franklin, Tennessee wanted to get online and wanted to be on the internet and have blogs. And well, what made it work is there was one guy who was really passionate about it, he made sure all the sermons got up almost immediately. I'm throwing this out to all of you guys, have you seen that a lot of times this works, because you have that one person in the congregation who's who's passionate about it, and he makes it work, then develops a team around him.

Mark McCrary:

Yeah, you know, Kenny mentioned white Taylor earlier, he's a member of our congregation, he was the one who initiated all of our social media stuff about five years ago. So he was passionate, he was driven and pulled some people in. And so yeah, I very much agree. I think you can broadcast stuff through the internet with just an iPhone. But to have someone who knows what they're doing, they've got a drive for it. And they think of new ways to make it look better. It is very helpful to have a person like that.

Unknown:

It's so tough, because that guy has passion that guy knows is why if you go to that guy, that guy at our church is named Matt miles. And you say, Matt, why are you putting in so many hours, he will say, first of all, I love it. And it's something that interests me. And I know we're helping people. And he's got like his wild figured out, but he'll burn out just like preachers will. And what I've had to try to convince him in the last year is or specifically the last few months, is man, you got to get a team of people, but you can't get a bunch of people who you tell what to do, they have to know why also, and I would just say to all the guys, people listening, and you guys, as I try to convey as often as possible to our workers, the emails that we get the text, the Facebook messengers, the people who are helped the people who are affected, because he needs a team. And he doesn't need to be the guy pulling the levers back there every time he needs to be the guy that team references when they're having a problem. And you guys know, I've talked to most of you in private. I mean, the the American culture, elder, Deacon preacher setup needs to be reset and re evaluated. And this is just an example of that. I mean, you need a guy who gets a team, not a guy who does all the work, but he's the guy with the passion. It's been interesting and challenging, but he'll burn out and he's already burning out. And so we're trying to, to get people but you can't just get lever pullers. They have to understand the passion behind why we're doing it and the difference we're trying to make.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, Ithink what you're talking about there, Kris is is basically a vision. I mean, this idea that you call it your why and I think you're exactly right. It's that why why are we doing this?

Unknown:

I agree with Kris when it comes to feedback. I think that's one of the things Just little doses of fuel for people who are working like that really hard behind the scenes, I was able to pass it along to great pieces of feedback that came directly to me. All I had done was prepared some thoughts and step in front of a camera. And those efforts would not have gotten to this young lady in Oklahoma, for instance, who reached out and, and expressed appreciation, were it not for that team.

Kris Emerson:

They're probably preachers and deacons and tech guys listening to this episode, thinking that the bottleneck are the shepherds. I think if you look across the country, they're their elder ships who get it and their elder ships who don't. And part of it is feeding that why in that passion to the leadership, there are some elders who say, look, our responsibility is just the people who come to this facility. Those are our sheet. And we don't think that tech and live stream and nice cameras or any of that really makes a difference. In fact, we suspect that it contributes to people staying home, which used to not be a big problem, it's gotten to be a big problem. I think we'll probably talk about that. But if we can get this concept of that spiritual maturity is teaching and making teachers, we've got to get past these walls, we need to teach people wherever we can reach them. And we need to help make teachers wherever they live. Ultimately, getting buy in passionately from leadership is huge. And it's been a journey here. We gotten there, but it was a journey.

Mark McCrary:

Let me say something about the leadership that Chris was just talking about. None of our elders five years ago, were tech savvy. But why it came and talked to them. And I don't think they fully bought into it at that point. But they trusted Wyatt. And they trusted that he was talking about things they did not understand. But he did. And so they gave him free rein. That's a sign of a wise, competent eldership. They don't have to know all the answers, but they trust the people who do have the answers, and they're ready to act upon it if they're convinced that this is a good thing,

Kenny Embry:

Just as a poin of reference, about how many people are working on the stuf you guys are producing.

Jason Hardin:

We've got about six or seven who from capturing things in a sound booth all the way down to editing things for social media or standalone Bible class videos, probably six or seven.

Edwin Crozier:

We already had an audio IT team put together that has really been kind of the anchor of what we've been using now. And I think that was probably eight to 10 fellas, it was working on that. And then our fellow that jumped in to be passionate and work on the video side of things. And then he's pulled in a few people working on the camera science, we're going to be at around 15 people who have a hand in it at some level,

Mark McCrary:

I'd say the same rough 15.

Kris Emerson:

Oh, we got it down a little smaller than that. We have one guy over the AV stuff. And he puts a little team together. And then we have the couple older gentlemen who've been doing the website a long time, I would say probably five or six active guys and leadership and then they bring in people to help along the way.

Kenny Embry:

What other platforms are you guys using Facebook, Instagram, whatever, very active on Facebook,

Jason Hardin:

Twitter, Instagram. And then we really are working hard to build the website as the hub, from which everything goes everything that we do we try and tailor to pointing back to the website.

Kenny Embry:

Sure. Edwin, what platforms do you guys use,

Edwin Crozier:

we do have a Facebook page. But I am the one who does most of the stuff on that we don't do very well with that. I honestly feel like as I'm in this virtual room with these other fellows that I am the late comer, we jumped in and I was super excited. And we've I think done really well with what we've done. But we've started small and now we're starting to try to figure out what all we can do with that. And we really are the congregation that was not doing anything until this hit. And now now we're playing catch up. And so we're we're behind the eight ball compared to some of these other fellas. But I think it's gonna be great stuff as the days go on. All right, mccrary.

Mark McCrary:

Like the other guys, Facebook, YouTube, pretty active website,

Kenny Embry:

Instagram, and you're using Facebook and a really interesting way quite honestly, you're using

Mark McCrary:

private groups. Once the pandemic hit, and we had to stop, we couldn't assemble for a couple of weeks, decided to create a Facebook members only page is dh members only just for our members. And we sort of use that as an opportunity to share information announcements that we couldn't be making publicly. And it's really turned into a an extension for the community of the church. Sometimes it's more active than other times but it's a really neat place for members just to go to Talk to each other.

Unknown:

Ooh,

Edwin Crozier:

let me jump in. We were doing that before all this happened with COVID. That's about the only thing. We did have some private groups on Facebook. So we've got a women's group, we've got a group for our teens. And then we've got one that we call all things in common, which is, again, all these are just for members in the congregation. But that one's specifically for, hey, I need this or I've got this to give away, or here's this announcement, or do you have recommendations? So we were doing all that?

Kenny Embry:

Chris? What what platforms are you guys on?

Kris Emerson:

You know, it's similar. Facebook is probably the the main, the main thing and sort of trying to channel people towards the website. You know, my focus has changed in the last year or two from shotgun blast to rifle shot. shotgun blast is just how many people can we expose this information to? When I started the podcast? That was the big idea? How many people can you expose it to really want to work on Facebook likes, you know, got it up around 3000. But dalen was at 10,000. And I think Jason over there, they've got like, 30,000, and you're thinking that's it, you know, it's it's exposure to to the masses, but you know, they're diminished returns on expectations related to mass exposure, we've really tried to channel it lately more towards very focused interaction. So for instance, we've gone from Facebook pages to occasionally saying, Hey, we have private email lists where we send links to the sermons and bonus information, but we want you to reach out, we want you to say, here's my email, or email and say, Please send that to me. And I found that much, much more rewarding. Look, it's it's three or 400 people instead of three or 4000 people, but they had to make a step they had to do a thing in order to connect to it. podcasting is kind of like that, because I have to go subscribe and go through a little bit, a little bit of hoops, but we do the public social media platform, but I don't think it's near as awesome as the numbers look like it is. The question is, can you get them to do a thing. So I've turned the focus more towards a private email group, and some of those kinds of things lately, and I feel like that's where we've been getting more just great contacts, evangelism opportunities, and all that kind of stuff.

Mark McCrary:

Kris, tell me ore about that. Explain that to e.

Unknown:

Well, it started for me with the with the Excel Still More, I started an emai group and that, you know, wher I would say, Hey, would you lik bonus content and this and that that was okay. But mor important to me lately in th last six months is, I send ou an email on Mondays to peopl who tell me that they wanted it's got, you know, the slide from Sunday, it has a littl bonus data about the sermons i has the handouts that peopl only get here, it has a yo know, every couple weeks, I'l say, hey, check out thi evangelism booklet that we'v been using. And they have to sa they want it. So for instance once every month or so on th Facebook page, I'll say, Hey, i you're not a part of the emai group, and you'd like some PDF and attachment, the feedbac from that from people who emai the next week and say, Hey, was able to send that to m cousin. And this happened. Lik that feels one person saying, took that gospel message book what you sent me, and this i what happened with it is wort so much more to me than Whoa that sermon on Facebook got 20 likes, like, I just think tha those things aren't what w think they are. So anyway, we'r trying to create that. And s every week I get more requests and I've been putting it in th sermons live stream some saying hey, look, if you'd like a cop of these notes, you know, reac out, get us your email, and just feel like you guys kno this, but one on one is, is th great reward of our work. That' cool, Chris

Kenny Embry:

I love that idea. And I'm kind of kicking myself that I didn't think of it myself. But what you're basically doing is you're having your your group identify the people who are really in too many people, in my opinion, using Facebook and Instagram and these other tools, as our broadcast media. And really what you're talking about is an interpersonal medium.

Kris Emerson:

Yeah, I would say so, you know, in the business world of podcasting, and monetizing one of the great ways that they do that is they create the private Facebook groups where people pay to get into them, and now they're just there. And they expect you to know their name now, like, you're paying $100 a month or whatever. Well, we don't do that. But in a sense, we accomplished that with join this group. And we'll send you these emails and maybe every once in a while touch base and I just feel like they feel invested. Look, people want to feel important. And social media used to give us that little kick of, ooh, look, we're important. Somebody liked our post or whatever. We know. That means almost nothing now. We have to create real personal connections. And what's been really, really cool are guys, they're their churches across the nation. They don't have preachers. They can't get out. There are people stuck in their homes, I want them to listen to our lessons and be a part of our worship via, like you said, just consuming a broadcast. But more than that, I want to know them. And I want them to feel like we can help them if they need it. I wondered if I'd get overwhelmed by that. But you don't you never do. You're helping people, you know their name. Moving into that direction has been a very recent passion for me. We recently got on email kick with a Bible study platform that we have built just for families, and similar tensions where you could tell that okay, we can blast this out to 1000s of people. But number one, are they getting it modern day algorithms and things like that? Number two, how

Jason Hardin:

are we going to know that this is connecting? Right around the first of the year, we launched a new initiative for Bible studies as families at home, and it was email opt in, we filmed a couple of basic videos just to explain it, and try and generate some excitement. And we blasted those all over the place. Several weeks in now we've got about 200 households that we're connecting with via email every Friday, and we can tell them through the magic of MailChimp, how many of those emails are being opened? How many links are being clicked on? That has been a new phase for us trying to make those connections more personally, I think it's the right direction.

Kenny Embry:

I completely agree. And I think one of the things that both Chris and Jason are talking about there is this idea of how do you define what success is,

Jason Hardin:

it's definitely not in having the ability to broadcast or keeping you know, a team of six or seven people busy doing the broadcasting the success is having that content coming in contact with human hearts, and then allowing that human heart to be worked on by the the divine message that's contained in that content.

Edwin Crozier:

For me the idea of success and measuring that is still more about how many of our members are talking about it, how many of our members are sharing it, how many of our members are getting something out of it, rather than how many likes how many people did we get a Bible study with it's it's one of the things I've tried to share with folks over the years is that I push back even like as a church saying, alright, this year, we want to have 10, baptisms, we won't have 25, baptisms, we won't have 50, baptisms, what or whatever that is. Because there's so much of that, that we are an absolute no control over that's Yeah, that's the person we're studying with. That's God and His interaction with them. That's, that's not our part of it. If God wants to use what we're doing, he can and he will make it where he wants it, he will get it where he wants it. Our job is to provide the content. And so for me, success is measured more in are we getting out valuable content, and our members pushing that out.

Kris Emerson:

I would say the first and Edwin has been a big help to me on this. We've been talking but the first measure of success is to get over yourself. There is a preacher century centric sense we have very thin skin, we have a lot of pride, we like being noticed. We check the likes, because we want to see how many people heard us. We are the ones doing most of the preaching, sending out the message. But it's almost like we're selling ourselves. We have people to like us, listen to us, share us care about us, do all those kinds of things. And it's hard to get over. But you have to, you really can't even assess success until it's not about you anymore. And how to get there is a journey. It is not a switch that you flip good conversations that I've had with guys like Edwin have been very helpful. At some point maybe you need to be sure you promote what other people are preaching and teaching in your church with as much vigor as you do your own that can help. But really, it's an internal thing. I feel like this year has been a big step forward in being like, I'm nothing I'm just a vessel and who cares. The question is, is this message going to help? And then all the stuff you guys said becomes not just more visible, but it becomes more important and more rewarding. And I just recommend that guys address themselves and get themselves out of the center of this thing. So that the Spirit can fill that void And do good work. And so for me, it's been a lot of internal wrestling. And some of that is sometimes you have to taste a little bit of success, like the podcast or something, and then be in that for a few months and be like, you know what, my wife doesn't care. And the church in limbo doesn't care. And you know what? Nobody cares? Is it good? is it helping becomes the only thing sometimes you got to taste it a little to know that that cup goes empty kind of quick.

Edwin Crozier:

I know mostly what we're talking about here is digital discipleship and the tools that will help people grow. But we I need to make sure that I don't lose sight of personal discipleship. It is hard for me to get myself out of the center of that even just the other day, Kenny, I was listening to your podcast and excellent interview with Phil Robertson. And, and he referenced some other preacher and some article that he had written about a particular topic. And I thought my first thought was, I've written an article about that, how come you didn't mention me? And it was like, and all of a sudden, it hit me. I thought I had gotten over that I thought I thought I was really making strides on this this podcasting article, digital discipleship competition that I feel with with so many others, but man, there was just right in the middle of it, and I had to catch myself and, and just it's it's a struggle. So Chris is absolutely right. So this may be the danger of some of what we're doing with digital discipleship is that it? It becomes, the message can become us because the medium sometimes is us.

Kenny Embry:

Well, I hope you enjoyed that. Next time. Oh, to pick up this conversation with these four guys. This definitely goes back to digital discipleship, but I've heard from several of you are interested in this idea, and I thought I could probably devote two episodes about it. So until next week, let's be good and do good.